“Is it the Konkani who sell pepper pappad? Or theÂ PortugueseÂ referee who whistleÂ during the football match? AreÂ you the yoghurt vendor Telugu Chetti? Or the Tulu who sells masala dosa? mhm. It’s the Gujarati Bohra who wears an embroideredÂ cap, isn’tÂ it? Are you theÂ Tamil Vannan, the washer? Or the Marathi who make scented oils?Â Are you the MarvadiÂ who perform dandiya dance? Sara kept asking by siting each ethnicÂ groups in Kochi to Nehemia Motha”. Writes Boni Thomas in his short story Sara- Sara. ( Dog Space, stories. DC Books, 2017).
Like Sara in the short story, one can site more than 40 diverse communities in the melting pot of culture; Mattancherry. This ethnocultural diversity comes to life in Islamic Heritage Centre Art Gallery, Fort Kochi through the photographs of Biju Ibrahim. Named ‘Transcendence/Kochi’, the self-taught art photographer Biju Ibrahim’s photo exhibition reflects the lives of 38 communities settled in Mattancherry. These communities who live in the total area of five kilometres are of diverse religious, linguistic and ethnocultural identities.
Mattancherry, the western part of Kochi, was once a bustling centre of trade. Invasions from across the sea were frequent and the invaders left unforgettable marks on the landscape, culture, art and social history of the place. Mattancherry has welcomed every migrant community that came to her shore with warmth and provided them with abundant opportunities to thrive.Â Numerous communities like that of the Jews, Konkani, Gujarati, Jains and Marathi made the place their home. To this day, Mattancherry has people of different tongues and ethnic identities. Churches, Agraharams, Mosques and a Synagogue co-exist in the area, along with the buildings of the colonial era, pointing to a vibrant past and a harmonious present.
“I have been working on the subject local history for some yearsÂ now. My photo exhibition is an explorationÂ of the impulses that keep diverse communities riveted to the place. Said Mr.Ibrahim to TWJ. The name ‘Transcendence’ is chosenÂ because, the series puts light on the communities thriving together, at the same time keeping their distinguishedÂ cultures. Its the act of going beyond what we see. The project has been somehow transcending to me as well. it has touched my spiritual self.
The communities include Marwari brahmins, Saraswatha Abrahmins, Kachi Meman, Tamil Chettiyar, Syrian Catholics, Malabari Muslims, Ezhava, Agarwals, Tamil Brahmins, Dakhini Muslims, Tulu Brahmins, Kannadigas, Chakliyars, Thangals, Bohra Muslims, Malabar Jews, foreign Jews, Anglo-Indians and Kashmiris. There are 210 pictures on display. Each community is separately portrayed. The photographs capture these communities in their everyday setting, going on with their lives and cultures.
Though Mr.ibrahimÂ photos both in colour and black and white, the exhibition includes only black and white photos. as there’s a chance of colour photos distracting the viewer’s focus onto the background of the text and ambience, the photographer deliberately chose black and white as a medium to help viewers focus on the people.Â This collection was part of theÂ Serendipity Arts Festival 2017, young subcontinent project which was curated by Riyas Comu.
Mr.Ibrahim speaks highly of the experience he had in Mattancherry and with the different communities. They welcome him to their homes and supported his endeavours. Mattancherry has a certain charm and attraction to it, that the artist finds it his home as well.
Biju Ibrahim has worked as assistant director to various Malayalam movies, before fully immersing in art photography. Originally from Kondotty, Malappuram;Â he was commissioned by Uru Art Harbour, a centre for art and culture in Kochi, as part of an artist-in-residence programme.
â€œMattancherry still maintains that historical welcoming spirit of conviviality and trust,â€ saidÂ Mr.Ibrahim to scroll. â€œHowever, inside their houses, by and large, every community takes pride in their identities and feels somewhat superior to others, and at the same time, when they are outside their houses, their social life is inevitably intermingled with the people of other communities. Coexistence comes to them so naturally that they donâ€™t have a choice. It is such a small place.”
The exhibition opened on April 8 in Islamic heritage Centre and IHC Art Gallery. Transcendence Kochi is the inaugural exhibition on the gallery. on opening day, Mr.Ibrahim had invited those who he photographed and the happiness they shared while viewing the photographs were incredible, says the artist. He had also arranged them dinner afterwards.
Some of the photos featured in the exhibition are given below.
Mr.Ibrahim has captured the animals in Mattancherry as well.
The exhibition is open from 9 am to 7 pm. Friday is holiday. It’s open till July 8.