Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Mandai Nostalgia

Mandai 26 Jan 2021

Yesterday at Mandai was so very different from what it has been for the past five years. 
Since 2016, the first half of Republic Day at Mandai, Pune’s iconic vegetable market, has been a scene of festive crowds enjoying an art event. For the sake of continuity, I took a cautious break from isolation yesterday, and went to attend the flag hoisting.  Hanging out for a bit with Anuradhabai, my neighbour and colleague, felt good too. 

Mandai 26 Jan 2020

The world had changed after the pandemic, and naturally Mandai had too - it was a lonely morning, quite different to the crowded, bustling time we had last year with people pouring in to participate in the very exciting event that Gauri Gandhi, a professor at Flame University, started planning in late 2015. 

I'm grateful to Kunal Ray for suggesting my name to Gauri, and to Gauri for her wonderful idea and all her efforts in establishing it. Her idea of integrating with public spaces and local communities was very attractive. Mandai is a beautiful, historic building, not just a place to buy veggies but an icon of public art where art lovers and art students visit, and the Aggarwal nashta is pretty ok too! 
Each of the five events I took part in were great fun. You can read about some of them here and hereMandai was a wonderful opportunity for me because it took me out of my comfort zone and I suddenly found myself free to use absolutely any material and let it speak for itself. One of the purposes of Mandai was affordable art and I thought it would be good to use a low-cost material, so started off with roadside stones, offering them in the kind of baskets that the vegetable and fruit vendors of Mandai use.
Today's Catch Pune Biennale 2016
Some of what I have made over the years has been with things given to me by friends who did not have the heart to throw them away - like cassette collections and saris, once precious, now too old to be used.  It has been so very gratifying when people visited my stall, thronged around, and purchased. These are some of my favourite photos, surrounded by happy customers, money in my hands and glee on my face!

In 2020, when Gauri announced 'Harvest' as the theme of Art Mandai, I went a bit berserk with ideas, making collages on tiny canvas boards and turning them into magnets. There were harvests of corn and rice, of course; there were also harvests of fish (some lay dead in seas of plastic), eggs, flowers - and lice, snakes and even blessings. Unable to conceive of harvest without some kind of tribute to the Indian farmer, I did a series of 'farmer-suicide' magnets too, little expecting that anyone would buy - and was surprised when most were purchased. You can see some of them in the image below - I was sticking them on my heirloom Godrej cupboards as they got done, and this was taken a few days before the Jan 2020 show.

Mandai 2020 was also special for me in quite a few different ways! For the past four years, my business partner was my husband, Ajay, who always came along, dressed for the part, and took the wonderful transactional photos you saw above!
But in 2020, we had a family wedding in Delhi (I rushed to the airport to join them as soon as the Mandai event ended!) and I had two good friends, Ruve Narang and Dhananjay Kale come and sit with me instead, attending to customers, and keeping the collection safe!

Ruve was a member of Art Mandai in the early years, and she is the one who designed the group's lovely logo.
In 2020, I was also quite gratified to find that the Art Mandai PR team had made me an icon of the event! My photo appeared in all the media clips announcing it, you can see the Times of India clipping at the end of this post. Over the years, I found a lot of validation in seeing that I and my work were regularly featured in newspaper articles that covered Mandai. My basket of stone faces can be seen in the first article about it on this link and here are a few of the other clippings too!  

The Monet's waterlilies you can see in one of the images above are made from the old cassette boxes from my friend Candy's precious music collection, stuffed with pieces of chiffon torn out from a gorgeous sari that my friend Gita gave me as it could no longer be worn. And the inspiration came from Musée de l'Orangerie which I visited while in Paris to present a paper at a conference on Sindh Studies in ECSAS in July 2018. It's not like I knew I was going to do this, but after I saw what was emerging, I knew where it was coming from.
If you'd like one of my magnets - email me on!