Exhibition announcement: ‘Breaking Boundaries’ – A retrospective on the life of Astad Deboo: a journey through his time, work and vision.
Dates: 10 – 17 December, 2022, 11 am – 7 pm
Venue: IF BE, Calicut Road, Ballard Estate, Mumbai
From the Curator’s Desk:
The exhibition on the life, vision and work of Astad Deboo has been conceptualised like going on a journey with him – trekking and hitchhiking, heartbroken during his struggles, applauding his successes, in rhythm with his dance moves.
The curatorial storyline attempts to reveal the multifaceted personality of Astad Deboo: dancer, visionary, humanitarian, philanthropist, Guru, friend, and father figure and inspiraton to many. The entire exhibition has been conceived as an experiential space that attempts to reconcile to the absence of Astad while celebrating his presence, where the visitor leaves with eyes moist and a tug in the heart.
It is an honour for me to have been given the opportunity to curate the exhibition on one of my childhood heroes, Astad Deboo. I looked up to him with wonder while he shone like a star, which his name represents. I will always remember, as someone who loved to dance, there was this dancer looking directly at me with a steady piercing gaze from a magazine cover which mesmerised me for years.
It was only decades later that I saw Astad’s performance of ‘Kali’ with larger-than-life puppets walking through the audience, through dimmed lights and everything bathed in black and red! It was an astounding experience, that will remain with me forever. This is exactly the impact of Astad Deboo!!!
For me, and possibly many like me, Astad will remain a phenomenon, not just a dancer.
Location: Astad posing in front of the ‘Cloud Gate’ by Anish Kapoor, Chicago
Photograph courtesy: Ritam Bannerjee
In July 2020, I was approached by a designer of a leading communication design firm regarding curation of a travelling exhibition on a famous Indian contemporary dancer who had recently passed away, she hadn’t mentioned the dancer’s name, but it took me a few seconds to ask her if it was Astad Deboo. I could gauge the surprise in her voice when I took his name and she asked how I guessed and I answered that it could only be him, there was only one Astad. Then she disclosed that Astad had long wished for an exhibition documenting his work in the genre of contemporary dance in India so that larger audiences could be educated and would be invigorated to learn and study dance. After a few online meetings, the project was finalised by his family and the designers, and I was appointed as the curator for the exhibition on Astad. This was not even a dream-come-true, this was way beyond that.
It was in December 10, 2021, while on a trip to Manipur where Astad’s family had been invited to attend the ceremony dedicated to honour the the dancer on his first death anniversary, that the reality of his absence hit hard. Astad had quietly passed away in the peak of the lockdown after a brief illness and he left behind a terrible vacuum that no one could fathom. I tagged along with Astad’s sisters and witnessed how everyone copiously wept through the entire ceremony of three hours where Guru Seityaban, who first met with Astad in the 1980s, led his troupe who dedicated the day to Astad.
It was what Devika, Narendra’s wife, said while hugging me after the most loving dance and dinner send off to us that put everything Astad ever did in the correct perspective. She said, “Astad was more than a father to all of us ( “us” meaning not just the young male dancers but their whole families), he laughed and cried with us, he fought for our respect, we could build houses because of the collaborations with him. I used to tell him that you have done more for Manipuri dance than any government could ever do, he was there for all our struggles and even marriages, how are we supposed to live without him?”
Truly, how are we supposed to live without Astad?
This question became central to my quest for the curatorial story for the exhibition and reading and listening to each interview, each article, each tribute, each obituary, I discovered so many perspectives to his magnetic personality.
It has taken hours, days, weeks, months of back breaking research, creation of an oral history archive after talking to stalwarts like Farrokh Chhotia, Dadi Pudumjee, Archana Shah, Aditi Mangaldas, and younger stars like Ashdeen Lilaowala, Neelesh Kale, Ritam Bannerjee, and the groups of young people who earlier formed The Salaam Balak Trust, especially Shamshul, and the Manipuri dancers, of whom I relied most on Narendra’s discussions – to construct who the human being behind the great dancer was and what he symbolised for each person he came into contact with his entire life.
The exhibition’s concept changed a bit with every new information until the final concept emerged in which the visitor is envisaged as entering the exhibition – conceived as a prism – with the knowledge about Astad being a celebrated contemporary Indian dancer and leaving it, with eyes moist and a tug in the heart, knowing the multifaceted person and feeling inspired from the story of his life.
I am extremely lucky that Astad’s family of elder sister Kamal and younger sister Gulshan, his nephew Xerxes Antia and his wife Neha, have been so supportive, encouraging and motivating throughout the nearly one and a half years of association. They have not left a single stone unturned into creating the magic in the exhibition. Gulshan is someone I can never thank enough, she’s just an epitome of pure love for me, and her giggles and laughter do make it slightly easier to accept Astad’s absence. Because of them, I sometimes felt that I just needed to turn and Astad would be sitting and laughing with us.
That’s another important impetus to the exhibition – Astad was a perfectionist. Several junctures while drowning in the research and curation, I have asked the questions, “Would Astad have liked this? Should I write this? Would he have approved of this part of his story being shared with the world? How would he have wanted the audience to understand his passion for dance?”
Spoiler Alert: The designers, Eureka Moments, led by Shanoo Bhatia and Gary Grewal, and their team of young dynamos have created an interactive immersive experience. Information has been conveyed through multiple dissemination media like graphic panels, audios and videos, interviews, several interactive installations inspired from Astad’s experimental work and so much more… These have to be personally navigated to comprehend Astad’s contribution to Indian contemporary dance.
Special gratitude to Sucharita Apte, archivist, and Aakanksha Tated, Research Assistant.
So, what are you waiting for? Book your dates for the exhibition and visit it. There will be music and dance performances by Shamshul and team, by Narendra and team and others… we will update the event information on the social media handles of: @astaddeboo_dance foundation and @VarnikaDesigns – there will be more blog posts here on Astad 😊
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