The Bangalore Hunt, it ain’t over yet!
There is a legend about Kempe Gowda I, considered the founder of Bangalore. This ruler of the Vijayanagara empire was a hunting enthusiast. On one such expedition, he reached the village of Shivasamudra, near Hessarghata. Here, he saw a hare chase his hunting dog. This omen helped him decide to build his capital in Bangalore and he called his Bangalore Pete (market centre) the ‘gandu bhoomi’ (place of heroes).
As one entered the Venkatappa Gallery to look at the recent art show titled The Bangalore Hunt June 10–12), one was invited to pick up Amitabh Kumar’s eight-page untitled comic in which he equates this hare that built a city to the ‘hare of time’. Other than that, strangely enough, no mention was made of the ‘hunt’ being a mandatory cultural aspect of rulership, whether British or Indian.
The show primarily took some critical and satirical pecks at the British colonial indulgence of hunting and the extensive paraphernalia and infrastructure associated with the ‘barbarous’ practice and its glorification.
The centerpiece was Ayisha Abraham’s ‘archival’ series of photographs and newspaper clippings of the Bangalore Hunt, its related personae and varied aspects. These occupied several tables in the centre of the gallery. Along its four walls, several well-known artists put up what Ayisha called ‘annotations’ or ‘punctuations’ to the centerpiece.
The rare photographs were sent to Ayisha by a friend in New York who had found them at the bottom of a trunk in Jamaica following the death of Simon Simmons, a British military man. He had shot these pictures, an extensive documentation of the Bangalore Hunt and associated activities — riding, hunting, picnics, parties — when he was posted in Bangalore in the 1930s, said a note written by Ayisha on the curation of the show.
“This attempt to show these photographs is to see how a niche subject like the hunting expedition can become a place from where we can reflect upon more than what the photographs reveal …the artists have tried to find a way to have a dialogue with this small personal archive…”, she wrote.
The show, apart from taking the visitor back in time to the colonial landscape of the 1930s by means of the hunting expedition and its accouterments, extended itself into an aesthetic critique of not only colonialism but also of cruelty to animals, notions of the ‘whip hand’ and the ‘new colonialism’ pervading modern, metropolitan Bangalore in terms of American enterprise and the oppressive presence of land sharks and land grabs.
The ‘punctuations’ seemed to be asking the question: “What hounds Bangalore today?” Sculptor Arnab Basu’s image of a dog pissing on the high-rise city scape was a hard-hitting annotation. Raghavendra Rao and Karkala Vasudeviah’s work highlighted the ‘whip hand’ that enforces power, whether in the past or the present.
Ayisha herself created a set of collages, combined with a video, that transposed the Hunt images, a sort of questioning of the ‘times’, then and now. So too Yashas Shetty and Shreyasi Kar’s ‘VR’ goggles, a video-playing gadget titled ‘The Unreality of Time’.
Some incredible illustrative work took the viewer deeper into the world of dogs. Allison Byrnes’ work singled out the only dog Simmons seemed to have given a name to — Paul — from a whole line of them. This was ‘the other one’. Pooja Kaul’s sketches of dogs in groups and in motion attempted to “reverse the logic of these photographs as memory-making tools of the success, military control and exploits of the colonial masters”. She has, in her sketches, ‘deleted’ Simmons, the other male officers and ‘the whiplashes that choreograph the dogs into action.”
Matt Lee and Smriti Mehra, in their work, sought to highlight some aspects of those working to save animals, especially dogs. Their photographs included a ‘hotel for dogs’ and beagles set free from scientific labs in Bangalore. Leslie Johnson’s installation had two ‘gateposts’ with chains and a bone with the signs “Beware of the Dog’ and “Don’t wait for the Dog”. A choice? Rakhi Peswani’s work ‘Happy Hunting’ made viewers pause and ponder!
In all, there was something for everyone, some of it historical, some of it simplistic, some of it satirical and some of it subtle. The show was produced by the Srishti Institute of Art, Design and Technology, where most of the artists teach or run projects.