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Participative art that explores sound, celebrates scriptures, and records oral traditions!

There is a growing number of installation artists who make projects that are ‘completed’ by the intervention and interpretations of their audience. They extend immersive experiences that compel the participants to delve deeper into many personal and social themes. Abir Pothi reports.

Astha Butail: Exploring hymns across continents

Gurgaon-based Astha Butail’s participative projects are based on Indian scriptures and storytelling. As they are immersive in nature, they invite the audience into a world of experimentation. The central themes of her explorations are memory preservation and ancient traditions of recording history orally. Butail, who has extensively studied Sanskrit herself, has also conceptualized and executed participative projects on ancient scriptures.


Take for example, the show called In the Absence of Writing which is inspired by 10 hymns from the Rig Veda. For this project, commissioned by The Gujral Foundation, Butail presented connections between the Zoroastrian Avesta, the Jewish Torah and the Indian Vedic philosophy. Butail’s first brush with Sanskrit was while studying at the Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education as a child. In 2009, she delved deeper and started studying the Rig Veda at a Sri Aurobindo Ashram centre in Gurgaon.


Moving on, she began comparing the hymns from northern and southern parts of India and even took her explorations to Iran, India and Jerusalem. The research and the experiences resulted in this immersive exhibition. At the centre of her creations are the ideas of giving voice to the audience or enhancing their visual, auditory, and linguistic expressions.


A Story Within A Story’ was one another project where she invited people from all walks of life to write stories, poems, dialogues, lyrics or draw & illustrate on the theme ‘Black Sun.’ Participants were even encouraged to take over from what people had left unfinished and add their own interpretations to take narratives forward. What resulted was an eclectic ‘open book project’ with unique handcrafted books that contained personal narratives. The books were then strung together and displayed as a final installation.

Farah Mulla: Exploring intimate connections of sound and emotions

As a sound artist, Farah Mulla uses innovative mechanisms to understand and explore the intricacies of aural communication. From sound installations to field recordings, she has done it all and her scientific background aids her practice and lends an edge to the experimentations that he she undertakes. She dropped out of a Geology program to pursue an MFA in Fine Art. Moving on, she also went on to get a certification as a sound therapist from the Met Se Kang monastery, Dharamsala. Sound is the central element of her works that include installations, sculptures, and sound recordings.


The interpretation of sound is a unique and a personal experience and Mulla strives to put forth the diversity of this medium through each of her artwork. Her goal is to allow sounds to encompass the lives of her audience, even if briefly, and to equip them with unique experiences that help them gauge their personal reactions to the sound installations in a more informed, intimate manner.


This unique approach to blend art and make sound its predominant medium is evident in Mulla’s installation ‘The Invisible Generation.’ One sees illuminated newspapers of different dialects accompanied by the recordings of readings of the news in different languages. The work symbolizes the ‘noise’ that we experience in our daily lives through continuous inputs of information and news. It also reflects on our social conditioning and socio-linguistic gaps conflicts that impact meaningful communication.


Recently, Mulla collaborated with visual artist Gaurav Ogale to create an audio-visual installation; Majha that articulates a personal response by the artists to the themes represented in Sarmaya’s show ‘Shifting Selves – Between meaning, mythology & mirage’. This six-part piece explores the fraught question of ownership as it relates to art, nature, identity and home. Gaurav is the Head of Visual Content and Design at Sarmaya.