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April 19, 2024

Unseen pictures of Iraq, an artist’s response to the pandemic in In Touch’s 5th art edition

Pooja Patel
In Touch, a collaborative, digital platform of 13 galleries from Mumbai, Delhi, Bengaluru and Dubai, which hosts online exhibitions, has announced its fifth edition. The website: has dedicated sections of each gallery’s exhibition on which viewers can see a variety of artworks and reach out to the participating galleries. The current edition will be on the website until March 16.
Here are the highlights of the showcase:-
Art gallery: Shrine Empire, New Delhi
Exhibition: From the Soil
Artist: Sangita Maity
Her works from the past several years are based on her extensive research in Keonjar, Odisha and Tripura on forced displacement of indigenous communities and their occupational conditions as a result of ongoing industrialisation and accompanying erasure of natural forests. She has been spending time at the rubber plantations in Tripura, engaging with communities whose subsistence depends on the industry, the region’s ecology, and the ways by which policies have affected the land and its native people. Her works are being displayed in this edition by Shrine Empire, New Delhi.
Object Studies from Memories, 2018
This series of works portrays objects collected from the memories of the mining labourers of different indigenous communities. Each object has a close cultural association with the tribes until they become mining labourers. Since the mining industry intruded on the land, many of the tribal communities living in Barbil (bordering Odisha and Jharkhand) area abandoned teir traditional living patterns. These objects, once an important part of their livelihoods, now no longer seem to be useful.
Forest without the Sky II, 2020

Forest without Sky II, 2020 is based on rubber cultivation in Tripura, a state once mostly covered with rainforest. The excessive rubber plantation has not just changed the forest ecology but has also transformed the visuals of the landscapes. Rubber plants are cultivated so densely that you literally cannot see the sky much, which eventually blocks the sunlight. This results in a completely transformed landscape, which was quite unusual even a couple of decades ago.
They don’t call themselves Farmer anymore, 2020

Most of the labourers employed in the rubber cultivation in Tripura were farmers in the hills. They used to do jum chaas (step cultivation) along with hunting and gathering to sustain their livelihood.
Since the government leased the same land to promote rubber cultivation, many of them lost their custodianship on the land they used to cultivate rice, pumpkins, cucumber, challis, sesame, etc. Of course, it wasn’t a homogeneous job as cultivating rubber plants and collecting the resins every morning. There were rituals celebrating the harvesting; like for every other season. Now these people have become more labourers than farmers.
Art gallery: Gallery Isabelle van den Eynde, Dubai
Exhibition: Iraqi Letters: Photographs 1950-1970
Artist: Latif Al Ani
Photographer Latif Al Ani’s practice from the late 1950s to the late 1970s documented the daily life of Iraqis. His work is considered a treasure trove of the ‘golden age’ of Iraq. He captured not only beauty, but also the uncanny—in the portraits of ‘his own people,’ historical monuments, street scenes, and daunting landscapes. Consequently, his practice exhibits a compelling tension between the nation’s modernist urge, an enduring archaeological legacy. The fact that the archive exists, is sort of a miracle. He stopped photographing in 1979, pitted between Saddam Hussein’s strong-arm rise to power and the cusp of the devastating Iran-Iraq War. Whatever of his work survived was lost during the 2003 US-led invasion. However, the Arab Image Foundation (independent association) managed to protect quite a lot of his works.
Afternoon nap, Baghdad, 1956
This image, taken in 1956, is an intimate moment captured by Latif Al Ani as he always carried around a Rolleiflex 6 x 6 cm and Agfa 35 mm film, photographing personal and spontaneous encounters outside of his official role as a photographer for the Iraq Petroleum Company and The Ministry of Culture.
Little girl in front of her home, Hit, Anbar, 1962

He clicked the photo of this child standing by the wall with graffiti that reads ‘It is good for the Republic’ during the 1958 revolution. It was clicked at Hit, a town that’s 20 km west of Baghdad.
Shepherd, Ctesiphon, Al Mada’in, 1962
This was captured in 1962 in the former town Taq Kasra (Ruins of Ctesiphon) 40 km west of Baghdad. It is the remains of a circa 3rd–6th-century Sasanian-era Persian monument, which is sometimes called the Arch of Ctesiphon. It is located near the modern town of Salman Pak, Iraq. It is the only visible remaining structure of the ancient city of Ctesiphon. The archway is considered a landmark in architecture’s history and is the largest single-span vault of unreinforced brickwork in the world.
Art gallery: GALLERYSKE, Bangalore/New Delhi
Exhibition: Sunil Padwal, Recent works
Artist: Sunil Padwal
Sunil Padwal is a Mumbai-based artist and received his BFA from the J.J. Institute of Applied Art, Mumbai. He constantly observes Mumbai, where he has lived all his life, the neighbourhood in and around his studio, and tells a story of a city that is old yet constantly changing. He takes elements from the remnants of the past to make something new, using old found frames that don’t just serve the function of framing, but become an integral part of the work with the history and documentation that is already inherent in these frames.
The current exhibition that’s on display, include his works that had been on display at several art galleries across the country.
One more story, 2020
“It all started with a photo I took on my phone of the iconic Indian ambassador. It was crumbling apart yet was partly covered in a torn tarpaulin sheet. The Parsi owner refused to part with his old vehicle. I started looking for more such stories through this Ambassador series. This is an extension of The Indian Ambassador series. Though this one is not an Ambassador nonetheless it uncovers many unknown stories attached to the vehicle,” says Padwal.
The recurring story of fish and crows II, 2019

“Fish and crows are featured in some of my emotional stories. These stories also involved my parents and are difficult to erase from my mind. My past governs the present and the way I see these recurring forms. It’s an interesting amalgamation; animals and humans are trapped in this concrete jungle as well as in my stories from the past,” adds Padwal.
Black, White & Grey, 2020

T’o live is to leave traces, at times I am gathering all my experiences, precious moments. The line plays an integral role in creating a new form, as complex and intricate as the varied thoughts. They found objects, their history, the found documents, the intricate drawings, the interplay creates one more layer of narrative, the viewer can form his or her narrative. Black, white and grey are just entry points,” says Padwal
Art gallery: Chemould Prescott Road
Exhibition: Elusive Recesses
Artist: Dhruvi Acharya
Dhruvi Acharya’s work with ink and watercolour on paper are relatable. When Dhruvi works with these, there isn’t a preconceived idea or plan of what the work will be about.
Seventh Elusive Recess, 2020
“When this series, Elusive Recesses started a few months ago, reflecting on the state of the world, on the state of her mind, it began with marks in ink and water, allowing the images to appear or disappear, allowing the ink, pigments and water to merge and flow,” says Gandhy.
Twelfth Elusive Recess, 2020
Acharya’s works were made while in isolation during the global coronavirus pandemic. She says that if the fear of the virus was not enough, almost on a daily basis people were confronted with news of political upheavals, unrest and protests in countries across the world, crimes against minorities and against women, and worldwide environmental disasters including wildfires, cyclones, heat waves, floods and melting polar ice.
Wisdom Of Crowds by Dhruvi Acharya
“These events have hardly allowed us to breathe before the next one occurs. And all this is compounded with sickness and even death among our dear families and friends. In these strange times, I have found myself mulling over these overwhelming global events. With our massive human population and our propensity for selfishness, greed and our inertia for change, I worry about the kind of world we have created and will leave behind for future generations,” says Acharya.
This body of work is about the difficulty in taking breaks from the constant chatter in the mind, the elusive recesses of the mind, the working of which are often mysterious.
Photo courtesy to all the artists and art galleries mentioned in the article.
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