Elusive as elusive can be, Delhi photographer Sohrab Hura in his own words “is so comfortable in my own world that now I’m just happy there”. Someone who believes in the innocence of creating rather than pushing that creation out into the world for others to admire, Hura’s vivid, sometimes surreal photography, is a testament to the unique world—or “bubble” as he calls it—he has built for himself.
Recently this photographer, who is only the second Indian after Raghu Rai to be nominated to the famed global photography collective Magnum Photos, marked his foray into curating with the Ishara Art Foundation’s exhibition—Growing Like a Tree—in Dubai. Magnum was founded two years after World War II ended by Robert Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson, George Rodger and David ‘Chim’ Seymour.
Elaborating on his newfound curatorial experience, the photographer says, “It has been an extension of thoughts that have been developing and conversations that I’ve already been having with the artists over the last many years. Because of current travel restrictions, I depended on Laura Metzler from the Foundation to design the exhibition in a space that I never got to see in person till I arrived there for the installation.
Also, Sabih Ahmed from the Foundation helped me flesh out my thoughts. It was also not possible to bring the artists to Dubai, but they were extremely kind to have trusted me with their works. This was my first curatorial experience and that too in not so normal circumstances, so it’s a bit difficult to imagine what the experience might have been otherwise.”
From Bangladesh, Cambodia, Germany, India, and Myanmar, to Nepal, Pakistan, and Singapore, Hura was sure that he didn’t want the show to be boxed by geographical boundaries. Boasting porous edges that were not completely defined, he let the idea behind the show adapt to the vision each individual artist brought along, rather than letting a central theme define all artists.
“If the show was somewhere else and not in Dubai, perhaps it might have been a different permutation and combination of artists. The 14 people and collectives whose works are being shown as part of this exhibition are a small extraction of a much larger network of artists and collectives who the exhibition touches on,” says Hura, who was born in a small town called Chinsurah in West Bengal.
The exhibition celebrates interconnectedness and looks at regional histories of image-making through a visual excavation of place, memory and culture. Hura, who never thought of himself as a curator, believes choosing Dubai as a starting point was significant. “Dubai is a sort of a cauldron that is open for a whole range of people to pass through it.
There seems to be a temporariness to the state of existence that I imagine someone living here might experience. In many ways this exhibition is also a ‘passing through’ of sorts, not trying to fix itself into a representation of a geographical region such as India or South Asia but instead I hope that it helps to make those usually definitive borders more porous,” he explains. Further, the Ishara Art Foundation’s conduciveness to understand the various perspectives, gave him more room for experimentation with the exhibition.
Has the pandemic changed the way he looks at the world around him? “No. What I have been experiencing in the last one year is something familiar from a time many years ago when because of my mother’s illness I had spent most of my time within the walls of my house,” he says. In fact, he chronicled the time in his short film, Bittersweet.
Awarded the 2020 Principal Prize of the International Jury at the 66th International Short Film Festival Oberhausen Online, the work is a study of the relationship between Hura’s mother and him. Photographed and filmed over a period of 10 years, what began as a way to escape the family situation turned into a method of confronting his realities at home. Quiz him about the acclaim, and the recluse says with his trademark humility, “Attention takes away a part of the creative energy.”