Carefully housed in a separate setting at the ongoing Serendipity Arts Festival here is an exhibition titled “Anti-Memoirs: Locus, Language, Landscape”, a reflection on the purpose that memoirs — both photographic and written — serve in recording that which is in the past.
Memoirs are quite the trend in contemporary Indian publishing, but little do we realise that they are also a substantial element in the photographic world. The pictures that acclaimed photographer Raghu Rai captured of the late Saint Teresa were recently published in the form of a book. Wouldn’t one call that a memoir too? A photographic memoir, perhaps.
“They tell us that we have a single past, a past painted in one colour. They tell us that we have a single future, a future painted in one colour. But the present troubles perplex them. Because the present refuses to be painted in the one colour which they approve,” Ranjit Hoskote, the exhibition curator, told IANS.
Thus, “Anti-Memoirs” delves a bit deeper into the purpose that memoirs are said to serve. Consider, for instance, a set of 12 images that form a part of this exhibition:
The first photograph depicts a lane in a forest lined with trees whose leaves have fallen on the ground to suggest that it is autumn. The photograph carries a single-word caption: “This”. The next image in the series is that of a stream flowing downhill through a lush green mountain. Its caption: “Is”. And then the next image takes you back to where the first ended — at the end of the same lane lined with trees. It is much broader and seems to diverge into two, much like the scene that Robert Frost conjures in his iconic poem “The Road Not Taken”. This image is captioned “Not”.
The story slowly builds up and takes the viewer inside the forest in the fourth photograph, which shows the dark roots and trunk of a tree while the greenery of the forest forms the backdrop. The caption, this time is simply “A tree”. The next is of an electric box and the caption is “You”. Viewers may wonder what an electric box is doing in the middle of a forest. Well, that is, as the caption says, “You,” referring to mankind. And the series continues till the last picture, each with a short caption.
When read in its entirety, it makes sense: “This is not a tree. You are not a forest. This is not here.”
“Anti-Memoirs” is a contradiction of everything that memoirs are said to stand for. A memoir narrates the story of a person or time or society by looking at the past. This one, on the other hand, shows you little elements to convey that “This is not here”. It is an anti-memoir, beginning in the present tense, going into the past and ending again in the present tense.
“In ‘Anti-Memoirs’, we present artistic practices in three distinct combinations: Locus, language and landscape. These are not identical archives of association and nuance, nor do they dredge up the same time horizons as incarnated in technology, literary manner, or iconography. Language can appear as a measure of silence or music. Landscape can insist on its deep geological or oceanic strangeness, like the tidal sand that pulls away from under our feet,” Hoskote explained.
Memory is undoubtedly the most crucial element of any memoir, but in this context, it is not reducible to simple remembrance or anecdotal recalling. Rather, it is an urgent form of recollection. “Anti-Memoirs” was also the title of the famous 1967 book by writer-politician Andre Malraux, which traverses his journey to the East in 1965. “I have called this book ‘Anti-Memoirs’ because it answers a question which memoirs do not pose and does not answer those which they do,” Malraux wrote about the title of his book.
“In this spirit, the exhibition essays a creative autobiography of contemporary India, by traverse means,” Hoskote maintained.
The exhibition will remain on display at the Serendipity Arts Festival till December 22.