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The first thing I like to meet in a new city is a statue

Artist Blog by Akshay Mahajan

The first thing I seek, when in a new city or old is a statue. Usually a forgotten pedestal for pigeons or winter seagulls, I try to find a whole body in the head. A sculptor once told me sculptures are made from the bottom up, with slabs of clay; the chin for them often went haywire. On the making of faces, he postulates “The chin becomes the legs, stepping out, moving forward.”

During one of our meetings, I caught him staring at my head and became conscious of the need to wear a hat. He then produced his sculpting calipers; elegant tools crafted in ancient wood, forming a V-shaped configuration. With legs connected by a rusty pivot, the callipers were gently placed on my head, the pointed tips pressing softly into my temple for precise measurement. Like a magic trick he made a pencil appear from the back of his ear, and his eyes found joy in noting down numbers in inches.

His attention soon shifted to my camera. He muttered the word "xerox," likely referring to the generic used in India to denote the act of photocopying. He led me to a corner of his studio, which like everything else in the room was enveloped in a fine layer of white stone dust; finger raised he declared, "pointing machine." This device, an intricate system of adjustable metal arms and pointed rods, "my xerox," is designed to capture and replicate the subtle contours of any masterpiece. Observing the machine, believed to be a relic from the times of ancient Egyptians, I glanced back at my camera. The timeless human impulse to replicate, represent, and capture the essence of our surroundings - from the allegorical shadows of Plato’s cave to the present day - resonates deeply within us all.

This sculptural interaction in my journeys mirrors the essence of my ongoing project, "To die is to be turned to gold". This work tells the story of the once-colonial city of Bombay (now Mumbai), seen through the eyes of a young sculptor, much like the sculptors I meet. It delves into the city's layers, much as a sculptor excavates forms from raw material. The invisible individuals upon whose backs the city was built become like clay beneath sculptors’ tools, revealing stories not just of ambition and legacy, but also exploitation and transformation.

The sculptor's search for forms and faces in the crowd, borrowing elements from one to create another, parallels my photographic exploration of Bombay's streets and structures. Just as the sculptor sees potential in a slab of clay, I see the city's future in its past, a sculptural representation of failed futures amidst forsaken relics of architectural grandeur. Through this visual and thematic melding, the city's colonial ghosts are exorcised, revealing a new narrative sculpted from the old, an artistic alchemy turning histories into gold.

Akshay Mahajan is part of Guest Room: »David Campany & Taous Dahmani«.