Grant Period: over a period of six months
Soumya Sankar Bose is an independent photographer who started his education as an engineer, but then did a Post Graduate diploma in Photography from Pathshala South Asian Media Institute, Dhaka, Bangladesh, and was a participant at the Angkor Photo Workshop, 2016. His work has been exhibited in Delhi, Goa, Kolkata and Dhaka and he is the recipient of the TFA-Tasveer Emerging Photographer of the Year Award, 2015 and Magnum Foundation’s Photography and Social Justice Fellowship, 2017. His works have appeared in publications such as Better Photography, Kindle Magazine, Mint Lounge, The Caravan, Wired, and A’int-Bad Magazine as well as online portals such as Gallery Carte Blanche, F-Stop Magazine, Galli Magazine, Scroll.in, The Huffington Post, BBC Online, fltr and Medium.
Soumya received a grant from IFA in June 2015 to artistically represent the private lives of veteran Jatra artists and evoke their association with the characters they played over the years as well as understand their love for the form. Over the next one year he travelled to remote villages of West Bengal and photographed veteran artists as they performed their beloved characters in costume within their quotidian environments for his camera. Through the journey the nature of the photographs changed and continuous conversation with the artists noticeably affected his aesthetics. His focus shifted from the staged portraits to photographing archival photographs, used items, found letters and lived spaces of the artists. He recorded audio and videos of the artists in conversations as well. Finally his work culminated in a sensorial exhibition in Kolkata in May, 2016. The photographs pushed the boundaries of documentation and performance, raised questions about history and authenticity, and bore testimony to the changing face of Jatra. The exhibition itself challenged the notion of photography exhibitions and became a truly multimedia experience. The venue, Chitrabani, an old library and media studies centre in the city, provided a historical backdrop. Along with photographs, there were audio interviews of Jatra artists playing from an old radio and archival material collected from personal collections of Jatra artists on display. The antechamber of the reading room was turned into a makeup room where retired Jatra actors came and performed the makeup process every day. Visitors could talk to them and listen to their experiences. The photographs were laid on the table like books and the surrounding cupboards full of old books added to the olfactory nostalgia.
His interactions with the artists throughout the process were empathetic and non-hierarchical. Part of a family of Jatra artists, to him they were extended family, and he connected to the community. Right after the exhibition in Kolkata he started a conversation with IFA for support towards disseminating this work among Jatra artists across West Bengal. He felt the need to go back to the community he learnt so much from to share the work he had done in collaboration with them. This project supports him to do that.
Soumya is planning a shorter and portable version of his exhibition, with which he will travel to remote places where Jatra artists still live. He has identified five such locations where he will install the exhibition for one or two days and invite one Jatra actor to speak about his life and work. Other Jatra artists and people related to Jatra will be invited for these evening sessions and the desire is for it to be a space for an informal sharing of experiences. He is also preparing a set of his photographs that he wishes to give out for free during these exhibitions. He envisions a cyclic, continuation of the exhibition every time one of the recipients of the photographs puts them up on their walls.
This grant is made under the provision that IFA has for ‘dissemination grants’; which very few artists apply for it. As a format the idea is unique and well thought through. It is also a sensitive and empathetic way of working with collaborative participants of projects that engage vulnerable communities. This could lead to many learning experiences for IFA and other artists. Also, the places that Soumya will reach through this project IFA would never be able to reach. Given the uniqueness of his idea and scope of the project his budget is adequate. While the exhibitions are the outcome of this project, he will submit audio-visual documentation of the exhibitions and conversation as deliverables.