“Growing Like a Tree” is a photography exhibition curated by South Asian photographer, Sohrab Hura. In an intimate and a collective exhibition by photographers from all over the world, this exhibition is a treasury of experiences from photographers demonstrating their growth through trials, their experiences on belonging somewhere and sharing that sense of belonging with others through uncanny connections and a shared space of vulnerability. We spoke to Sohrab Hura on what he meant to convey through his exhibition.
1. How did you begin your journey as an artist and a photographer?
For me, I never thought I would become a photographer. My Mum was sick, and I had just come back from my school holidays. There was the burden of expectations from the whole family to do well and so on. I was a good student but with my Mum falling ill for me, somehow my studies got affected and at that time it seemed like the end of the world, because getting into a good university was the most important thing in the world. It was as simple as that.
For me, photography began as something which was therapeutic. My father had given me a camera. He sent me off with a photographer. I think I realized that in some ways I could make a connection with someone who I didn’t know and for that one brief moment it made me feel like I existed. There was this constant need and desire to be able to feel that feeling of existing in that one’s space where something that you have done goes beyond you. That’s how photography and art began.
It actually feels a bit weird for me to contextualize in terms of where (I started) but to be honest it was just as simple as being able to start from a place that actually most of us are in our lives. It was that one trigger and I recognized it and that became a sort of a branch out into a different direction.
There was this constant need and desire to be able to feel that feeling of existing in that one’s space where something that you have done goes beyond you. That’s how photography and art began.Sohrab Hura
It sounds like a gift from God.
To be honest, most people have started from a very similar place, and I am just able to express it more freely, but everyone comes from that shared space of vulnerability. In the show, I didn’t want to write a curated statement, so instead I wrote an excerpt from an old book which actually says exactly what I’ve said right now just because it sets a tone and puts my journey from a first-person perspective. But I think that first person perspective can be taken on from any of the works, so in the end I feel very lucky that I’m able to express.
2. I’ve noticed that the exhibition is about people’s stories and how everyone has a different experience to share. It’s about growing through trials and how unexpectedly and despite grief and despite difficulties, having resilience and compassion.
Can you tell me more about the exhibition and the special photographers which have been included.
When I started my journey, I realized that most of my closest friends within photography – and sometimes making work can be a very isolating journey – so there is this constant need to feel this some sort of kinship. So there is always this need for some sort of kinship, I think for me I found that in many friends. It was only later on in retrospect that I found that it didn’t belong to any one sort of box. This was something I was already aware of. In retrospect I realize that there was this feeling of collectiveness, sharing and solidarity that had been happening quite organically. What I realized was that I had wanted the show to not put itself in a box as a starting point which I feel that someone who has been part of shows, sometimes, you know, you start from a box and you remain in that box.
I find myself kind of…like a lot of my friends that have been in India, they somehow have that place where they feel more rooted. I don’t have that place really. I mean I did have my maternal Grandmother’s small town slash village outside Calcutta where I was born, but that seems to be you know, a connection and memory only because after she passed away nobody really went there. So, I don’t know, somehow I don’t really have a place to call home beyond the last 20 years, 30 years, because there has been a series of movements.
For me what was continuously building up was what was a transgression of boundaries, you know the blurring out of those very physical concrete walls and um…what ended up happening was as the show made a progress, I mean, ‘Growing Like a Tree’ I have always described my process as being like a tree because of the branching out of it.
‘Growing like a tree’ was more about mind growth and that was the starting point of it. The more I step back at it I realize it was more about the larger forest and not about the one tree and so the show ended up becoming a sort of unpacking at the end of it.’Sohrab Hura
That’s beautiful, natural. Something of a natural process. There is a feeling of being connected to the universe and divinely guided. Could you tell me a bit more about Aishwarya?
Aishwariya’s work in the Khasi hilltrack in Bangladesh. She is looking at environmental degradation. She is looking at the child’s search for this mythical creature which will eventually bring about a balance. She’s using local folklore, she’s using local vocabularies to talk about the environment. Environmental degradation is not just about the environment it also includes many other things, different cultures that exist with it, it’s a different sort of a balance and equilibrium, looking at it as a myth allows the topic to open up.
Reetu and Wasif, both are part of the show, both are married and both have been together from the time they could be together. They both are looking back at the city. He’s looking back at his memories from his childhood, reimagining what old Dhaka was, and Reetu is very much in the present looking at what Dhaka is today. She is referencing a poet who also talks about music wafting in through the window of the neighbours.
And Wasif also talks about the music, so somehow this wafting in of music from windows across the house next door, it also has its own set of shared connections. In a way Wasif is talking about the longing of that connection, the nostalgia of the connection, whereas Reetu’s work is very spiritual confronting the discord of the connection in the moment. Which is why we have 65 harmoniums playing out of sync – which is what she recognizes as the new rhythm of the moment.
3. Very interesting, there’s a whole depth that comes across as personal. What in your opinion is the main theme running through this exhibition? Is there a focus on identity?
No actually, I don’t think there is a main theme. The whole idea is that this is a theme-less show, because there are many overlaps. I think the better way to describe it is through eco locations. The reason why identity has a strong place in the show is because in this current moment, the moment that we are living in right now, I think more and more there is a focus on identity, but I think the idea is to use the current moment and to maybe open it up in a different way. I would not want to even say that identity is the theme or that there is a theme at all it’s that one sort of bringing together at this point.
You have other people in the show who are cross connecting to someone else. I think for the show what was the important was to have a starting point of urgencies. Identity happens to be one of them. There are many other urgencies over there. But at the same time, those urgencies don’t exist on their own.
If I was to ask you, what is the most important thing to you at this very moment. You might give me one definite answer or you might not be able to answer. But no matter what you say the thing is you are only able to give that answer right now because I’ve asked you this sudden question, and the truth is the moment you walk out the door actually what’s more important to you might suddenly shift. And all those things co-exist. So it’s more about a balance of something more complex than one or the other.
I think the main problem is what is happening atleast in our region is that everything is about ‘one or the other’ we are constantly trying to fix things into one thing or the other.
4. Is there an element of compassion and growth in your photography?
No you know honestly, I don’t think I’m able to do these things consciously because im very worried that it will become performative.
What’s important to me is that who I am as an artist and who I am as a person I’m always trying to bridge that gap. I feel like theres a tendency in me to sometimes place myself outside of me when I think of myself as an artist. For me, who I am as a person, whats affecting me, I don’t have to put on a different skin. In that sense being an artist is quite insignificant. It’s just a practical thing to make photographs. Whats important to me is to anchor it in the real world, I don’t want to be highly subjective I want to locate myself.
5. How would you describe your photography style? What is your approach to your art practice in film and photography? For this show why do you decide to incorporate writing and mapping into the work?
Over the years when I started I was very conscious that I was a photographer. As my understanding of the medium expanded I realized I am a photographer because I just happened to be a photographer I mean its spmething that I learnt I mean I wish I could write more. In a way I think that writing fills up spaces that I think photographs can’t. It allows you to go beyond what you just see on the surface far more easily.
Same with film, Film allows you to bring continuity which maybe photographs don’t. But photographs allow you for pauses which maybe sometimes these other mediums don’t. For me its about gestures today. I think its about if there is a pause, the pause is also there to maybe accentuate something I’ve said before, or maybe allow for anticipation for what I might say later so which is why I think mixing all of these mediums up is more about creating an assortment of gestures, almost as if I am composing music and creating notes.
A stream of consciousness?
It is, sometimes a stream of consciousness is organic, in a way I’m trying to also maybe – I’m not trying to bring them in consciously its more of a struggle, with photography I am not able to go, its not a limitation its not a traction away from photography its just that photography can take me to a point.
In the end what’s important is for me to have fun because if I’ve chosen to do something like this, if I don’t have fun its not worth it. So for me its been a privilege to be doing what I’m doing. I think fun is the biggest part of the priviledge.
6. Which of the works were closest to you and why?
I can’t think like that. Each work is its own gesture. And each gesture is needed for its own reason. It’s not about which gesture is more important or close to you, its more about each gesture exists for itself.
There might be a different sense of oscillation. They are all doing their own thing. All the different works touch you in a different way.
7. Where do you draw your inspirations from?
It can be from everything, it can be from the smallest of things. Like Bruce Lee’s analogy of water, the shape of the vessel it is taking up, so its also about fluidity. Most artists in the show are here for the first time, but that doesn’t mean that their works were not special before. The more I think one accumulates the more I feel I lose touch with something more vulnerable. When you are more sure of doing something there is less chance of taking a risk.
8. What message do you hope to deliver to aspiring photographers in South Asia and the world?
I don’t wish to deliver anything to them. I think they have to figure out their own mistakes and journeys. I want to be the last person telling them how they should be doing something but one thing I’ve realized is that as time has gone along I’ve felt smaller and smaller simply because I feel like my playground has become much bigger and bigger, and everything that I thought it to be, I think they have to make their own mistakes is the only thing I can say.
For more information on the exhibition, please see: https://www.ishara.org/exhibition/upcoming-exhibition/