Soumya Sankar Bose writes about his photograph, “A friend used to tell me about her dreams. For the last sixteen years, she has dreamt of sitting on a chair beside a window in the room in which her sister died. In this dream, she returns home from an unknown war, while a dead body lays in the bed. The identity of the dead character is never clear to her. Is it her lover? Her sister? Maybe her mother? Why is she wearing a warrior’s uniform? Is it because she has been fighting for acceptance? Or is it because her mother always told her that it’s a crime to love a girl? What is evident to her about her dream is the anxiety she faces in pursuing the love of her choice.” This text belongs to the catalogue essay of the exhibition, Full Moon On A Dark Night, which features Bose’s photographs at Experimenter gallery on Hindustan Road in Kolkata. The exhibition opens this Saturday on March 17th .
While the oneiric narration is fascinating and the text that describes it even more so, one is naturally bound to ask the question, do the images evoke this nuanced narrative? Can we get all this from just looking at what is presented before us without relying heavily on the accompanying text? The answer is not a clear yes or no, given that in some instances we are able to draw out the narrative from the imagery but in others, less so.
It is true that Bose’s photographs are heavily underwritten with these stories, but it remains to be seen if these translate visually. Some of the photographs are deeply evocative of death, loss, longing and melancholia. The key image that Bose’s narrative is weaved around, with the warrior in the chair and the woman wearing a red sari lying on the bed, runs the risk of becoming illustrative. While others rely on a certain performative aspect that seems to characterize much of the photographic work done on gender and sexuality—whether it is Sunil Gupta’s or Tejal Shah’s. One longs for a different, if not fresh approach to the subject of love that is taboo. What we often find is the pageantry of rainbow wigs, a cross-dresser or a couple engaged in intimate acts. All these are present in Bose’s body of work in this exhibition and one wishes that he strayed a bit more from the clichés.
There is other imagery that does however evoke a lush sensuousness a deep intrigue and a certain mystery unfolding: for instance, the deeply evocative image of a protagonist facing their back to the camera with a diaphanous mosquito net draped above. The figure is half sitting up, resting on his elbows the bony back and rigid posture is full of enigma and could be read several ways. The darkness that surrounds the net and the emerging figure leaves much to the imagination. The use of diffused sunlit spaces creates an ambience of intimacy in many of the images. The character, lying in the lap of another with what looks like a gas mask on, is also a very intriguing image. The body of work has its virtuous moments, which certainly makes it noteworthy.