Amidst the rampant din of construction in a fast-paced world of globalization, it’s quite hard to imagine that there was once a time when the city of Mumbai was an idyllic archipelago of seven islands. Among several indigenous tribes that inhabited these islands, were the Kolis, a fishing community, that primarily inhabited the islands of Worli and Mazagaon, as well as parts of the other islands in the archipelago. These islands provided them with access to the sea and its resources, allowing them to thrive as skilled fishermen and traders. They played a crucial role in supplying fish to the local population and contributing to Mumbai's maritime economy. As Mumbai grew and underwent urban development, the Kolis' way of life and occupation evolved, but their cultural heritage and historical connection to the sea continue to be an important part of the metropolis’s identity.
Now, in an ongoing exhibition titled Archipelagic Archivist, Mumbai-based artist and a member of the Koli community, Parag Tandel, is showcasing a series of fantastical sculptures that archives the cultural legacy of the Koli people, who created a thriving relationship between themselves and the vibrant coastal ecosystems of Mumbai. Titled Into the Bones, this work was made in collaboration with metalwork artists in Mr. Bhupen Jaidev Baghel's studio.
Harnessing the conduits of oral literature, the Koli community has always embarked upon the noble task of transmuting wisdom across generations. However, the Kolis have been left out of the process of chronicling their own history through the written word. Tandel's artistic pursuit manifests as a direct riposte to this historiographical subjugation. The exhibition has unveiled a constellation of sculptural creations that incorporates the culinary rituals, maritime vocations, and spiritual tenets intrinsic to the Kolis' existence. In a deliberate renunciation of imperial methodologies typified by cartography and ledgers, the artist embarks on a reverberating journey into the domain of affect, birthing an idiosyncratic archival medium that harmonizes with the ancestral ethos.
Shaunak Mahbubani, curator
Embarking on a historical sojourn spanning from the Portuguese incursion to the contemporary coastal thoroughfares, Tandel resurrects a trove of interlinked chronicles. The sculptures made from the venerable Jambul tree encapsulate the ramifications of 17th-century edicts that proscribed time-honored Jambul wine craft. Commensurate with these sculptures, the limited edition compendium titled Ek Bagal Mein Chand Hoga Ek Bagal Mein Rotiyan introduces gastronomical paradigms from Koli kitchens, an epicurean heritage presently imperiled by urban encroachment and marine pollution's bane.
Yet, Tandel's ambition is not circumscribed by retrospective musing; it germinates in the fertility of prospective vistas. Into The Bones stands as a transcendent collaboration with metallurgists from the Bastar province, an alchemical melding of indigenous craftsmanship from disparate landscapes, yielding an ensemble of a dozen intricate mixed-media sculptures. A clarion call to nascent generations is embedded within the gamut of the exhibition's zenith, characterized by an assemblage of fervent thread sculptures. These ethereal creations, emblematic of Koli spirituality, interlace fervor with the undulating energy of the oceanic realm and its myriad inhabitants. Dubbed 'भराली,' these talismans unfurl spells for a harmonious interplay between coastal species.
With a poetic cadence akin to tidal undulations, Parag Tandel guides the beholder across the maritime avenues of erstwhile Bombai's archipelago. An epic narrated in tides of mirth, sorrow, and unyielding optimism surges forth, as Tandel meticulously resurrects the submerged echoes of antiquity. Through the interplay of artistic ingenuity and historical consciousness, the exhibition reverberates as a luminous harbinger, illumining the hitherto obscured moorings of the Koli legacy.
Opening preview: August 10, 2023 from 6 pm to 9 pm
On view till: September 30, 2023
Venue: TARQ, Fort
Time: Tuesday - Saturday 11 am to 6:30 pm
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