In his latest works, that were part of the recently concluded solo exhibit Spectral Times at Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Mumbai City Museum (BDL), Berlin-based artist and graphic novelist responds to Mumbai and the historic museum’s collection with a trove of stories that revive the collective memories of both the city and the museum. Narrated in the form of a magazine interview with the intrepid reporter, Birjis Bari who works with The Spectral Times, the uncanny stories reveal the extraordinary lives of ordinary people. Sarnath works form both a visual and literary urban archive and at the same time, respond to the Museum as an archive and a repository of memories. Like most forms of story telling the Museum is a place of enchantment, where the unreal becomes real.
Sarnath Banerjee, from the series An Encounter with Thomas Browne and Other Commonplace Utopia, 2016-2017. Image Courtesy of Deutsche Bank, the artist and Project 88, Mumbai.
Through both sound and visuals Sarnath creates different registers of reference and meaning. Curated by Tasneem Zakaria Mehta and co-curated by Himanshu Kadam, the exhibit was presented as a unique account of a Mumbai that though fictional resonates with a slight hint of possibility. Installed amidst BDL’s collection, with specific items pulled from its archives to complement his work, Sarnath described the exhibit as a ghost story. ‘As I see it, ghosts are a revisiting of incomplete speech.
Sarnath Banerjee, Shehri Adamkhor 2, from the series Spectral Times, 2018. Image Courtesy of Mr P.L. Rao, the artist and Project 88, Mumbai.
No matter what actions you have justified with your intelligence — murder, caste-based politics, lynching — they come back to remind us of how things are. We need ghost stories for our contemporary times because that is the real commentary’, he said. Part of the museum’s decade-long series, Engaging Traditions, which invites contemporary artists to engage with the museum’s archives and history, Spectral Times is an absolute treat for all those fascinated by the macabre and the morbid. That being said, the exhibition isn’t just about spooky tales. It encourages one to stop, listen and question appearances. Creating urban legends that are at a slight tangent to reality it encourages viewers to reflect upon their lives and those of others with tongue firmly in his cheek.
The exhibition was opened from 23 February to 26 May, 2019 at Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Mumbai City Museum.