Sohrab Hura, The Lost Head & The Bird, 2016–19, video projection, sound, color, 10 minutes 13 seconds.

Sohrab Hura, The Lost Head & The Bird, 2016–19, video projection, sound, color, 10 minutes 13 seconds.

Sohrab Hura

Images bombarded the retina in quick succession in Sohrab Hura’s furiously fast-paced single-channel video The Lost Head & The Bird, 2016–19. A live performance by Hannes d’Hoine and Sjoerd Bruil, curated and produced by Wendy Marijnissen/Bending the Frame, provided the musical soundtrack and amplified the bewildering mix. Hura orchestrated the frenetic dance of visuals by splicing together found video footage of Bollywood stars and films, guns, beatings, misogyny, mob violence, and right-wing propaganda with his own still photographs, mixing reality and fiction. This lethal cocktail brought home forcefully the way in which the factual and the factitious blur in a post-truth world, as doctored videos go viral and fake news is peddled as real on social media, often with terrifying consequences.

The work’s title could be traced to two striking photographs that Hura took as he traveled along India’s east coast: One depicts a nude figure on crumpled bedsheets, shot from behind, in a manner that makes it appear headless; the other portrays a greenish-yellow parrot, perched on an outstretched forefinger against a backdrop of brilliant-yellow cloth. Hura originally conceived the film as a book project with a short story rendered in shades of magic realism. But, as the artist often does, he returned to his source imagery multiple times, experimenting with the same photographs in different formats, as if to test their malleability. Besides appearing in the film, the two photographs formed part of the installation The Coast, 2019, which consisted of a series of images that oscillated between tenderness and violence and veered between the surreal and the hyperreal. The show included images of a goldfish bowl with an enlarged eye peering eerily through it; a tantalizing close-up of red-lipstick-smeared lips; a man threatening to bean another with a stone; a couple dancing at home, delight illuminating the face of the woman; and a frontal shot of the head and torso of a boy, bleached out so as to effectively render him anonymous. The Coast could be read as a metaphor for not just the sociopolitical landscape but also the psychological state of the communities inhabiting the region. For Hura himself the “coast was always about the edge, the periphery, the margins, a sort of a tipping point.” 

Staging a reappearance in the exhibition was the now-familiar figure of the photographer’s mother, who in 1999 was diagnosed with an acute case of paranoid schizophrenia. Hura had poignantly portrayed the fraught relationship between mother and son in self-publications such as Life is Elsewhere, 2015, and Look It’s Getting Sunny Outside!!!, 2018. Here she could be spotted in the single-channel video Bittersweet, 2019, and in the suite of archival pigment prints that made up A Proposition for Departure, 2017, the latter a result of Hura’s explorations of the relationships between visuals and sound. 

Also on display were two bodies of work shot in a more documentary vein: the video Pati, 2010/2020, and a suite of photographs, Land of a Thousand Struggles, 2005–2006. The eloquent black-and-white photographs, accompanied by handwritten notes, record a fifty-day bus journey across rural North India undertaken with members of the Right to Food movement, laying bare the abject poverty and hardship suffered by farmers in the countryside. The current wave of farmers’ protests sweeping over northern India testifies to a reality that has remained largely unchanged, even a decade after these images were shot.