GANDHI IN LONDON 1931// NOAKHALI 1946: EXPLORING THE SPACES INHABITED BY MAHATMA GANDHI
27 Jun 2011
An exhibition exploring the spaces Inhabited by Mahatma Gandhi Saif Osmani, Visual Artist & Spatial Designer
The starting point for this exhibition was Kingsley Hall in Bow, in the East End of London where Mahatma Gandhi chose to stay in during his visit to the 2nd Round Table conference in October 1931. Kingsley Hall was then a place for refuge for poor people, where orphans, the homeless and old people would receive a hot meal, somewhere to socialise and sleep for the night.
By researching the footprint of the Kingsley Hall building from the local archives I investigated the media coverage of Gandhi's visit of 1931 and discovered that the newspapers attempted to present a romanticised and disaffected view of the East End. Photographs were taken over a broad skyline, away from ground level and further away from the factories which lined the major roads and arteries of the locality.
I wanted to present these paintings in a communal setting, inside a place which resonates with a feeling of displacement and sense of a shared history such as in Margate, which I visited as child. By linking the chalk found on the beach front I am attempting to forge links with Gandhi’s Salt Satyagraha (non-violent Salt March) of 1930.
2011 is also 40 years since the creation of Bangladesh and it seemed fitting to include the rare footage of Gandhi’s visit to Noakhali (in current day Bangladesh) where his visit dispelled the riots and fighting between fractions, further demonstrating the complexity of these multiple and ‘refracted’ historical contexts.
The style of painting I have chosen borrows from far eastern practices, from Chinese, Japanese and Taiwanese rural paintings on cloth. I initially started with broad, loose brush strokes, layering the details and features of the buildings in an attempt to re- create a sense of the time and place, whilst playing with perspective. Each piece was further abstracted by imbuing meanings extracted from testimonies in Noakhali and London, such as in the piece Top of Gandhi's head and Beyond Landscapes. Through abstraction I am exploring Gandhi's influence over physical occurrences as well as tracking his thought processes and philosophy. The iconography and aesthetic of Gandhi's public image and persona was difficult to steer away from. I find that traditional canvas often prompts the viewer to search for a reality, as if looking through a portal into an imaginary world. By painting on cloth I am attempting to break away from this and allow the viewer to search for his or her own meaning.
The focus of this exhibition come from my own practice which often follows narratives in space, by recording the displacement of people and changes in spatial configurations, as means of understanding socio-political aspects of human behaviour.