CROWN JEW­ELS

Hindustan Times (Gurgaon) - - Ht Think! - Vivek Menezes htweek­end@hin­dus­tan­times.com

Years ago, I was liv­ing on a house­boat moored on the Nile river­bank, in west­ern Cairo. Nearby was an enig­matic, shrouded struc­ture. In day­light, it ap­peared part-tent and par­tau­di­to­rium. But late at night it glowed neon, and shad­owy fig­ures si­dled down the wa­ter­front to dis­ap­pear within.

One moon­lit mid­night, I headed there and found a rough con­crete dance floor oc­cu­pied by work-soiled Cairene men, many in gal­labiyas. Sud­denly, a shout of recog­ni­tion. The se­cu­rity guard of our boat jumped out at me, still in his khaki uni­form. Beam­ing with plea­sure, he dragged us un­der the lights. Now the mu­sic started up, and ev­ery­one whirled. I found my­self giv­ing in to the dance.

That half-sub­merged mem­ory came flood­ing back this week, on a lunchtime visit with my sons to Bodega, the courtyard café at­tached to the Su­na­paranta arts cen­tre in Panaji. Climb­ing the curv­ing out­door stair­case, I heard the un­mis­tak­able strains of Egyp­tian ‘shaabi’ pop mu­sic. Hunger for­got­ten, we chased the sound.

On a large screen in a dark­ened room, there were flick­er­ing points of lu­mi­nous blue, re­vealed as the lures of fast-finning an­gler­fish, then crys­tallised to lights on a speaker. Mu­sic crescen­doed.

The cam­era pulled back to re­veal two men danc­ing, to­gether and yet apart. It was im­pos­si­ble to look away. Min­utes later, I was still breath­less with ex­cite­ment.

This was my first, un­for­get­table view­ing of Jewel (2010), a short, six-and-a-half-minute video art­work by Has­san Khan, the fast-emerg­ing global star from Egypt.

At this year’s Venice Bi­en­nale, he won the Sil­ver Lion for most promis­ing young artist (he was born in 1975).

Writ­ing in the Mid­dle East­ern art mag­a­zine Bi­doun, the critic Kae­len Wil­son-Goldie ex­ulted about Jewel’s place in the New Mu­seum’s 2012 Tri­en­nial that, “with its driv­ing sound­track, mes­mer­iz­ing chore­og­ra­phy and rid­dle re­fus­ing to be solved, [it] was by far the most mag­netic piece in the ex­hi­bi­tion”.

In Goa, Jewel is one-fourth of a stun­ning ex­hi­bi­tion of video art­works on dis­play for the first time in In­dia, on loan from the col­lec­tion of Kutch-based busi­ness­man Anurag Khanna and his wife Payal, both aged 41.

Each video in Long­ing — open till Oc­to­ber 30 and sen­si­tively cu­rated by Sid­dharth Dhan­vant Shanghvi — is a stand­out work by an ex­cep­tional artist.

Alpsee (1995) by Matthias Müller of Ger­many is a haunt­ingly mea­sured evo­ca­tion of the tur­bu­lent emo­tions that un­der­lie ‘nor­mal’ child­hood.

To­mor­row Every­thing Will Be Al­right (2010) by Le­banon’s Akram Zaatari, which is in the per­ma­nent col­lec­tion of the Mu­seum of Mod­ern Art, de­picts an ex­change of text mes­sages play­ing out on a clack­ing type­writer, each line bril­liantly paced to ra­chet up ten­sion.

In the Guggen­heim Mu­seum’s per­ma­nent col­lec­tion is Ale­jan­dro Ce­sarco’s Method­ol­ogy (2011), which por­trays an aching, dis­cur­sive con­ver­sa­tion fail­ing to com­mu­ni­cate even through a tor­rent of words.

Given the blink­ered lack of imag­i­na­tion of the In­dian art herd, with its non-stop fo­cus on brand-name medi­ocrity, it’s nigh un­be­liev­able that th­ese gems all be­long to one col­lec­tion, qui­etly amassed by a young In­dian far from the coun­try’s ma­jor cities.

Via email, Anurag Khanna de­scribed his re­mark­able jour­ney in au­to­di­dac­tic con­nois­seur­ship.

“I started to travel abroad just for art. Long walks within mu­se­ums in Europe just to ed­u­cate my eye, helped to broaden my mind and de­velop my vi­sion,” he says. “I thought it would be in­ter­est­ing to pull out good artists from our re­gion, and some works from the West, and let there be a di­a­logue be­tween the two.”

Like his col­lec­tion, the show in Goa is a labour of love.

“All four of th­ese artists are of such great in­ter­na­tional re­pute, I had to make them com­fort­able about the idea of show­ing in a space like this,” he says, “as most of th­ese works are screened in the finest mu­se­ums in the world and have a su­perb ex­hi­bi­tion his­tory.”

(Vivek Menezes is a writer and pho­tog­ra­pher, and co-founder and cu­ra­tor of the Goa Arts and Lit­er­a­ture fes­ti­val)

PHOTO COURTESY: GA­LERIE CHAN­TAL CROUSEL, PARIS

Anurag Khanna (above right) and his wife Payal have amassed a stun­ning col­lec­tion of video art works, among them Has­san Khan’s Jewel (see still above).

PHOTO COURTESY: SID­DHARTH DHAN­VANT SHANGHVI

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