The kaleidoscope is a fascinating visual toy, with its name derived from Ancient Greek meaning “observer of beautiful forms.” It magnificently alters the scene before you, as bits and pieces of life are reflected off tiny mirrors to create beautiful, mandala-like images that shift and change, depending on where you point it.
Tathi Premchand is an observer of beautiful forms and daily life and his kaleidoscope/mandala-like images are visually striking at first glance. Then, as you move in to look more closely, you begin to see the bits and pieces of life from the artist’s native India that give this work its power and depth.“You can see this same kind of visual imagery in Buddhist and Hindu temples in the form of murals and divinity paintings,” says the artist, which is why his work also seems to have an almost ethereal quality.
Most of Premchand’s life experiences are influenced by the routine life of the fast-paced commercial capital of Mumbai, which provides the inspiration for his creative work. The people-filled trains of Mumbai are the subject the artist’s “Clip Hanger Body” series. Riding the city’s trains, clicking images at random, Premchand found a particular theme that captured his imagination: he noticed how people seemed to calmly “hang” from the clips, or handles, as the train traveled from station to station. Tathi saw these travelers as almost immune to the noise, the smells and the uncomfortable jostling as the train takes on more passengers. It’s as if upon entering the train, passengers are lulled into what Premchand imagines as their mutant selves – into “Clip Hanger Bodies” – as they peacefully make their way throughout the city of Mumbai.
The “Indian Dhobi Ghat” series takes place in Mumbai’s famous open-air “laundromat”, where washers, locally known as Dhobis, wash the clothes from the city’s hotels and hospitals in open-air concrete wash pens, fitted with flogging stones. Dhobi Ghat is also a tourist attraction but Premchand’s images take you deeper inside the symbolism. “The laborers there are common men having a negligent value on the universal map,” says the artist, “yet they are instrumental in making this place appealing and attractive, right from getting in unkempt and messy clothes to the draining and rinsing of water from the laundered clothes. It’s a celebration of these laundrymen’s efforts and their dedication towards their job.”
Premchand insists that although his images are based on a Mumbai theme, they are not particularly related to Indian culture. “The Dhobi Ghat series does have a Mumbai context but I think it also has a universal theme,” says the artist. “One can project a neat, clean and impressive personality by wearing clothes cleaned at a laundry, but there is no laundry in the world that would cleanse one’s soul and negativities of personality. So in a way it is related to cultures all over the world.”
What has been the response of fellow Indians to this particular series? “People in India admire this series for its simplicity and yet profound symbolism,” says Premchand. “Their admiration of this series adds value to a place like the ‘public laundry’ and the service of these unknown workers. It is like preserving the Dhobi Ghat is on the same level as more elite locations such as seasides, ancient cave relics, museums and other places of attraction in Mumbai.”
What about the reaction to this series by people who live outside of India and who are not aware of its cultural significance? “One of my exhibitions called, ‘Under the Train, Over the River’ was held in Italy,” says Prenchand. “People alien to Mumbai culture were awestruck by the series as it was a novel concept to present something so totally incomprehensible with such grace, and to discover a deeper symbolism and power that expanded their viewpoint beyond its actual physical form.”
Tathi Premchand presents Mumbai as an ever-changing city and despite cultural, economical and political influences, it has the fortitude to bear the changes and yet establish itself firmly as a city of importance. His imagery is beautiful and mesmerizing but at the same time carries a much deeper message for those who take the time to look more closely.
Artist Credits for the images included in this post:
Tathi Premchand, India
Digital artwork: UV inkjet print on aluminium
Clip Hanger Body 2
Clip Hanger Body 3
The Indian Dhobi Ghat 1
The Indian Dhobi Ghat 29
Clip Hanger Body 1
Tathi Premchand’s artwork can be viewed at: Tathi Premchand
The 365 Days Project
In 2012, Serena Kovalosky committed to writing an article a day for 365 days as an exploration into the lives of artists and the value of creative thinking in our society.