By Udit Chaudhuri
The installation that duplicates a boutique has sound overlay with bytes from vendors soliciting clothes, conversations between customers and vendors (bargaining, calling back, even insulting) and ambient sounds of traffic and local fm radios.
While it has been our endeavour at India Art n Design to bring you the many flavours of creativity celebrating the Indian ethos, this one is a challenge: to reach you the experience of a very unique installation, something that bridges visual art with a performance. A performance with a strong message. Its impact needs to be felt at the site itself and our writing can hardly bring you the sizzle, never the sausage.
The installation 'Hand-picked Rejects’ by Sharmila Samant first showed at an international exhibition at Berlin in 2003 and has since done over a dozen encores at various museums and major art events stretching across the Atlantic. It depicts a swanky boutique anywhere in the West displaying a selection of garments from a famous brand, replete with mirrors, a changing room, carry bags et al. While this is the upper layer, the story unfolds to reveal the substrata. That tells a hard-hitting story.
A 1989 sculpture graduate from JJ School of Art Mumbai, Sharmila knows the Asian ancillary sector and its so-called success story too well. While it produces competitive products at the right quality, the ancillary units are euphemistic sweat-shops with few exceptions to prove the rule. Norms of environmental responsibility, process quality, labour and safety laws are waived or ignored. So a closer look at the installation reveals that the garments though authenticated by the brand owner, are rejects and thus to be sold at a fraction of an already cut-throat price. The wall text relates to child labour, exploitation of sub-vendors and squalor that marks the environment of most of these production units, now scattered all over
The encores have slight variations on the visual theme. Depicting fashion products require Sharmila to re-invent with a very contemporary choice of garments, a different brand and décor of the boutique, even if the premise remains the same. But the hard truth below the gloss must re-surface each time: of undercut prices, exploited labour, poor safety and disregard for human values in the race for the almighty Dollar!