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Neighbourhood Souvenirs Charmi Gada Shah


Vadehra Art Gallery in collaboration with Foundation for Indian Contemporary Art presents

Neighbourhood Souvenirs Charmi Gada Shah A solo exhibition by the recipient of the FICA Emerging Artist Award 2011


Mumbai – Memories – Material When confronted with the works of Charmi Gada Shah these three words appear repeatedly; at times blending into one another coherently, but more often than not boomeranging around each other in a conflicted state, in an attempt to tell untold stories about ‘non-places’. Non-places, as Charmi identifies, are spaces which have lost their definition, use or meaning, through their demolition, disuse or simply the act of having been forgotten. They cannot quite be identified as vacuums or voids, but rather as traces or even ghosts of a constructed universe of memories and associations. What is left is a shell of architecture captured in its journey towards losing its materiality, a process of disfigurement of sorts. What emerges as a binding theme in this exhibition, and much of Charmi’s work, is her attempts to document these non-places, many in the process of disintegration, while exploring the aesthetic behind these modern urban ruins.

Charmi, a Mumbaikar through and through, has inhabited the city since her birth, seen it change at a stunning pace, pulled down

and remade innumerable times while still retaining its core nature. Coming from the close-knit suburb of Ghatkopar, populated with some of the oldest residents of the modern city, Shah’s association with the changing architectural landscape is one of personal and nuanced observation of the space she calls home. Her architectural renderings are of known buildings from her neighbourhood, but with histories which are not well defined or recorded. The title refers to not only the actual locality but also engages with the neighbourhood as a microcosm of the city. Like much of Mumbai, the area has reclaimed and developed into an important market and commercial centre, and has moved beyond its early identity as a largely Gujarati residential district. Charmi’s buildings are not the ubiquitous bungalows or chawls of the middle classes, but the independent cottages that populate much of these richer suburbs, with generous wooden detailing, large verandas and stained-glass ventilators, of an eclectic colonial-period style. With changing demographics of the city these large cottages, often with their own gardens or lawns, are fast disappearing paving the way for new high-rises that suits the contemporary lifestyle of its residents. The haphazard razing of many of these cottages by the city’s planning authorities has been a constant point of contestation and protest, with residents and heritage conservation experts citing


gross violation of rules by the regulatory authority. While the heritagedevelopment debate remains a mainstay in discussions on Mumbai’s urbanisation and modernisation, Shah’s engagement delves into other aspects of these disappearing spaces. Her investigation is more under-the-radar and personal; it is about spaces which are of no great significance to the historic progression of the city, about homes of regular families who have moved on to a different life. It is not a grandiose attempt to trace a history or even investigate the details of why its life has come to an end; but a curious peek at the nooks and corners of these non-spaces (or what’s left of it) in order to imagine the stories that the walls hold within. In short, these works are souvenirs to the artist’s of her own past and her memories of the city she grew up in.

Charmi’s preoccupation with traces of the past and residues left behind by changing spaces, finds itself materially manifested when she actually scouts for debris from these sites and re-uses it in various ways in her own works. Old fascias are fashioned into a pole, while ceramic tiles and wooden debris become miniature tiles and doors. Her method is meticulous, starting with scouting for these sites, vast amounts of photo documentation and collection of material debris. Then these materials are themselves put through various stages of transformation to be made into parts of the final works. This use, or reuse, of debris brings into discussion the idea of the souvenir. Qualifying something a souvenir would mean that the object in discussion is one that is associated with a particular place, memory, or even person, through invisible threads of meaning or significance (i.e. invisible to everyone but its owner). The usage of the word in everyday parlance brings to mind the kitschy, affordable reproductions of known monuments often bought during travels

and gifted away. However the original French word which means remembrance or memory, carries with it the essence of the act of remembering, which is more in tune with Charmi’s usage here. Charmi’s souvenirs are deeply personal, non transferable, and are of memories of places and its people which are neither significant nor famous. The House on Joshi Lane is just that, simply a house with no name of its own, indicating nothing about its past inhabitants. Its demolition is a sight so typical in the city that a few may have given it a second look. This may seem tragic, but to Charmi it is this space with no references that gives her the freedom to explore it in a way a private space will never allow an outsider’s gaze. She does not evoke the tragedy of a building falling apart, not is her intention to look at it through the rosy tint of nostalgia. This is a study of a space which shares a fractured relationship with the present, and this is what is explored in Charmi’s study. The fractured metaphor seems to be rendered almost literally in A House Opposite Kailash Mansion which offers an intimate view of the broken, wrinkled, facade of a double storied cottage. It brings to mind a straightforward portrait that an artist might make of a model, but a portrait that expresses in its surface the personality and character of the sitter. Charmi explores the intimacy of the viewer’s experience of space in other ways in the works Abandoned Kitchen and Interior of an Abandoned Room. In the first work, only half the room is visible, it seems as though the kitchen’s stained shelves and smoky walls have been turned inside out for the viewer’s sake. It’s easily accessible, open and direct. The second work however is not so welcoming. This work is a stark grey box from the outside, and forces the viewer to bend and peek in through the small doorways or the broken ceiling, never quite giving a full view of the space. This is a cocoon, but yet not quite private. This is how most architecture is perceived in the


city, through narrow gaps in the walls, entries and exits, without any perception of the whole. Perception of space and how it holds within it the concept of time is explored further in a work like Kathawala House, which puts the process in the foreground. This work is presented in four-frames, and captures the stages of a building being razed. The presence of the structure diminishes at every stage until it’s nothing but a flattened plot with rubble strewn around. This work speaks most explicitly about her idea of ‘non-places’, where the materiality of the building diminishes slowly and the residue that is left behind at every stage of demolition is the only marker of a past. In one of the older works in the show, Re-appropriated Spaces which was developed in 2010, one finds a similar interest in finding associations with time. Set up as an installation with found ceramic tiles from the real site, photographs, and a recreated door, this work captures an abandoned building awaiting its demolition. As the building patiently awaits its end, a tree is seen creeping in and taking over its interior walls and planting its roots deep into the skin of the building. Although fragmented in presentation, this work speaks eloquently about the constant changes at play in this act of disintegration.

made out of salvaged wooden fascias that are so characteristic of the architecture of a certain era, class and place that Charmi’s practice engages with. The Pole symbolically denotes an act of ownership of land, of having conquered or acquired property; but it is also an axis mundi, marking the centre of one’s own world of knowledge and relationships. Without depicting in actual form it defines the human idea behind acquiring land and converting it into property, by means of investing meaning in these spaces and through rituals that mark it as belonging to someone. To Charmi each of these works is a visual signifier of change, of the processes of transformation in communities and urban groups, and its affect on the ‘space’ that is defined as one’s neighbourhood. The works may have begun as artistic studies of spaces, but what they have finally become is an ode to her own past, the city and a collective memory about place-histories. Bhooma Padmanabhan

While all these works have shared a certain aesthetic of looking at the actual structures themselves, Charmi’s last two works that tie together this show has been fashioned in a more abstract manner. The first one, Still Life of a Landscape consists of hundreds of miniature ceramic bricks arranged along the walls of the gallery. The ubiquitous brick defines the cityscape more precisely than any actual representation, and is a silent commentary on the cityscape which is in a constant state of transformation. The second work, The Pole stands like an axis around which this show has been imagined,


A House on Joshi Lane Salvaged wood, concrete block, plaster, paint 25 x 21 x 23 in 2013


Testimony Watercolour on paper 41.75� x 65.5� 2012



A House Opposite Kailash Mansion Salvaged wood, concrete block, plaster, paint 13.5 x 11.5 x 23 in 2013


Details from Untitled



Abandoned Kitchen Salvaged wood, concrete block, plaster, paint 24 x 18 x 16 in 2013




Interior of an Abandoned Room Digital print on concrete block, wood, cement and plaster 53 x 19.8 x 24 in 2013




Kathawala House Wood, MDF, cement, plaster etc. 30 x 28 x 65 in 2013




Re-appropriated spaces Salvaged tiles and wood, 5 digital prints on archival paper, and other material Variable 2010


Still life of a Landscape Glazed ceramic tiles Variable 2010


Pole Salvaged wood fascia 120 x 12 x 12 in 2013





2006 – 2007 2003 – 2004 1998 – 2002 1997 – 1998

Faculty of Art and Design at Garodia International School, Mumbai Post Graduate in Fine Art, Chelsea College of Art, London Bachelors in Fine Art (Drawing and Painting), Raheja School of Art, Mumbai Foundation Course in Art, Model Art Institute, Mumbai


2011 2009 2007 – 2009 2002 2002 2000 1998

FICA Emerging Artist Award Promising Artist Award by Art India and VAG, India Habitat Centre, Delhi National Scholarship for Young Artists, Department of Culture, Government of India N.S. Bendre Foundation Award, Monsoon Exhibition, Jehangir Art Gallery, Mumbai Best Painting Award, final year annual college exhibition, Raheja School of Art, Mumbai Commended, Annual College Exhibition, Raheja School of Art, Mumbai Best portfolio and four other awards, Model School of Art, Mumbai


2011 2010

Generation in Transition- New art from India, Zacheta National Gallery of Art, Warsaw curated by Magda Kardasz Prague Biennale 5 - India Pavilion curated by Kanchi Mehta The X-must Show, The Loft, Mumbai BMB Picks, Gallery BMB, Mumbai Art Gwangju, Korea, represented by Gallery BMB, Mumbai Her Work Is Never Done, Gallery BMB, Mumbai – curated by Bose Krishnamachari

2009 2008 2004 2002 2001 2000

Art Expo, Mumbai, Gallery BMB, Mumbai Relative Visa, Bodhi Art Gallery, Mumbai – curated by Bose Krishnamachari Wall Drawings, site-specific project, Cochin The Staircase Project, site-specific installation at Kashi Art Residency studio, Cochin Ghostship on the Southbank, short film documentary, Hayward Gallery, London and National Film Theatre, London Post Graduate Exhibition, Chelsea College of Art, London Monsoon Exhibition, Jehangir Art gallery, Mumbai Camlin Foundation Exhibition, Jehangir Art Gallery, Mumbai Bombay Art Society Exhibition, Jehangir Art Gallery, Mumbai Pradarshak Art Gallery, Mumbai


2011 2011 2009 2008 2007 2004 2003

Urban (Re)Imagination - The city as a site for magical possibilities, Mumbai Properties of the Autonomous Archive, seminar in Mumbai RPG Academy’s Annual Art Camp, Mumbai, India Kashi Art Residency, Kerala, India Kalamkari painting, Kalashetra, Chennai Studio resident, Lalit Kala Academy, Chennai Short Film Workshop, Hayward Gallery London Workshops on art for young students from all over England, at Young @ Art, University of Arts, London

Charmi Gada Shah lives and works in Mumbai.


Š VADEHRA ART GALLERY D-53 Defence Colony, New Delhi 110024 Monday to Saturday | 11am - 7pm T +91 11 46103550/46103551 | E | W Text: Bhooma Padmanabhan Design: Suhani Arora Sen Photographs of Installations: Babu Eshwar Prasad

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E catalogue charmi  
E catalogue charmi  

E-catalogue of Charmi Gada Shah's solo exhibition 'Neighbourhood Souvenirs' held at Vadehra Art Gallery in August-September 2013