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Thread Whispers, Chapter 1 Of Rock and Apricot and Mountaintop

18th May - 30th June 2016

Shivani Gupta and Corinne Adams


About the Exhibition

An arrow piercing a rock to mark the first settlement, a fairly glen hidden from the human eye, a village chief whose strength is so unsurpassable he can swing a snow leopard over his head, a woman whose work at the loom portends the end of the world, … these are but some of the stories one hears in Ladakh. A region rich in oral literature, the landscape reveals tales of flood myths, spirits that reside in rocks, gods that take human form, witches that fly around at night on broomsticks fashioned from the house’s main pillar, beautiful women that entice you only to discover that they are demons in disguise with their entrails visible from the back, a dwarf that brings one prosperity if you capture his hat and walking stick. Huddled around the stove on long, cold winter evenings the household is regaled with stories, sometimes related by elders at other times by professional story-tellers who narrate one episode an evening going up to weeks.

Thread Whispers is part of that on-going engagement with stories in Ladakh. The project began in 2012 and spans three geographically diverse regions: Ladakh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. The stories of the first chapter were recorded and photographed in the villages of Dha and Hanu in western Ladakh. Inhabited by the Brogpas, a Shina speaking people, their own origins are entwined with numerous myths with some claiming to be descendants of soldiers from Alexander the Great’s army as they retreated from India in the 2nd century BC and some men drifted towards these parts. Others recite the story of three brothers – Dulo, Melo and Galo – who came over the mountains and in an archery competition, determined how the land would be divided amongst themselves. Still others say they came from Gilgit, once part of the kingdom of Ladakh, but now in Pakistan. With a language that has no written script and thus no record, it is difficult to ascertain facts and so it all comes back to stories.

Going beyond the spoken word, Thread Whispers explores theatrical performances of the stories recited by the proponents themselves. Evoking their imagination each character plays out the story against the scenery of the landscape, wearing their traditional dress or using found objects from plastic waste to natural materials. Zawa is a woman whose husband has turned to ash because of a curse, a witch who devours the flesh of unsuspecting men and animals, a man’s search for elusive love.

Working with the people of Dha and Hanu, Shivani and Corinne have converged the practices of story-telling, photography, performance, sound and video to present Thread Whispers. A multi-disciplinary project it draws from many fields from anthropology to visual arts, poetry and translation. Eventually it contemplates how communities investigate their history, the part factual memory plays in this and the part of imaginative reconstruction. Together they inspire a search for a fantastical realism amongst the ordinary.

Monisha Ahmed
17 May 2016, Leh

About the Artist

Shivani Gupta is a professional photographer and classical Mohiniattam dancer from Goa/Mumbai, and Corinne E Adams is a writer, teacher, and musician from Texas/Japan.

The exhibition is supported by the Heritage Hotel : Art spaces and Chameleon Aid Projects.

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