Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Arpana: a new photo exhibition

Portraits of artists as people

Bhargavii Mani in conversation with Sushma Somasekharan
When you meet Bhargavii Mani, you are struck by her bubbly and vivacious personality, her larger than life ideas and her ability to execute them. She is the brain behind Edge, a company that wears many hats. She is involved in interior design, graphic design, photography, uses her space for Art at Edge, a platform for a rasika to meet and interact with artists who have excelled in their fields. Art at Edge also hosts artists still experimenting with their art form who wish to perform to an intimate audience. Edge has become synonymous with elegance, quality and creativity.
This December season, Bhargavii Mani brings a novel event to rasikas. Apart from going to the various sabhas for kutcheris, sipping on filter coffee and biting into hot masala vada, the Carnatic connoisseurs can also look forward to ‘Arpana’, an Arts Gallery featuring portraits of the leading musicians of today (see photo) and a series of discussions in which the audience can interact with their favourite artists.
Bhargavii recently spoke of her plans to Sruti.

How did your interest in the arts develop?
I would attribute much of it to my genes. My ancestors include Pallavi Doraisamy Iyer, a contemporary of Tyagaraja and an official musician and artist at the Tanjavur Palace, Sangita Kalanidhi Veena Sabesa Iyer and composer D.  Pattammal.
I grew up in a household where music was a part of everyday life. I breathed, ate and lived Carnatic music. During my teenage years I started discovering other music genres and other art forms. My passion for the arts led me to pursue an education and career in Interior Design for a while and I stumbled upon photography, thanks to a cousin.
My mother Subhasri Mani, played a crucial role in inculcating my love for the arts too. She is an All India Radio B-High graded artist, holds a Masters in Music and she has won several awards. A good musician in the making, she chose to give priority to her daughters and let music take a backseat in her life.

Obviously your lineage was an inspiration for the gallery project.
It was indeed. The inspiration came from seeing my great grandfather, Sabesa Iyer’s picture at home and at The Madras Music Academy. I saw the picture and tried relating to him. He wore a formal expression on his face, was dressed in the traditional attire of those days and it was a stereotypical formal photo. I tried to visualise him playing the veena, talking, smiling and being one of us, but I was unable to. 

I asked my family if we had any other images of his and was told that we did not. This led me to question why people had not taken portraits of artists enjoying their respective art forms. I wondered why there were not many aesthetic photos of the artists losing themselves in the art and performing while being oblivious to the presence of a camera.
I felt that I could use my talent in photography and design to contribute to the current and future generations; I decided to photograph the eminent classical artists of today. I wanted to capture them in their element, when the artists become the art. I wanted to show the power of a portrait to convey the power of dance and music.  
Who are the artists featured in the portraits?
We have had the honour of covering Vikku Vinayakram, T.V. Gopala­krishnan, Sudha Ragunathan, Chitra Visweswaran, Sudharani Raghupathy, the late Mandolin U. Shrinivas and many more. All the artists we are featuring are great musicians and dancers. I am absolutely humbled that they graciously gave me their time and trusted me to capture them doing what they do best.
Any interesting anecdotes from all the shoots?
I will be sharing all my experiences with each artist during the Gallery event. Every artist performed for me and my team – it was an experience that we will carry close to our hearts for many years to come.
Vikku Mama is my lucky mascot. He was the first artist we shot, followed by the much adored Mandolin Shrinivas anna. It was an absolute delight to capture my guru Chitravina Ravikiran in his element too. I hold Sudharani Raghupathy in a very special place in my heart. She was absolutely thrilled to be part of the shoot; she gave so much care and thought to the jewellery and traditional wear she chose. Her energy was infectious. Prof.C.V. Chandrasekhar mesmerised us with not just his dance but his singing too.
During the Gallery event, I hope to share all the anecdotes which I am sure will tug at the hearts of rasikas. They will walk away learning that the artists have managed to achieve success because they always remember that the art is bigger than the artist and that there is no end to the path of learning. Even my team of photographers, some of whom are non-musically inclined were overwhelmed by their humility. 
Please tell us more about the Gallery and the events.
The Gallery is open to all. The inauguration will be held on 22 December at 4 pm at Lalit Kala Akademi on Greames Road. We are extremely honoured to have N. Gopalaswami, the new chairman of Kalakshetra, as our Guest of Honour. We expect all the artists featured to be at the launch too.
From 23  to 28 December, we’ll present a talk by an artist every day. It will be an interactive session with rasika participation.

We are also holding a small tribute for Mandolin U.  Shrinivas.

With the permission of the artists, rasikas will be able to order prints of the portraits and have personally signed copies.

(Sushma Somasekharan is a young Carnatic vocalist)

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