Transcription: Introducing Ahmedabad Walls

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ONLINE JOURNAL

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Transcription: Introducing Ahmedabad Walls

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Robert Stephens

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Exhibitions 23 October 2018

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Thank you all for coming this evening to the opening of Ahmedabad Walls here at the Kasturbhai Lalbhai Museum.

This talk will be divided into essentially three sections:

First, an introduction to the person of Patrick Geddes, followed by a brief description of the multiple layers that comprise the exhibition.  Lastly, I will close with three things that Patrick Geddes and I have in common. To begin with Patrick Geddes, he was a Scottish polymath based out of Edinburgh, Scotland.  He began his career in the sciences, predominantly biology and botany, but this initial focus was interrupted during a research trip to Mexico in which he suffered from weeks of blindness. This turned out to be a transformative illness which resulted in Geddes’ field of vision expanding to include many other fields such as economics, sociology, and eventually town-planning.  It was Geddes’ work in the field of town-planning which led to his being invited to India at the age of 60.

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Jayshree Lalbhai, trustee of Kasturbhai Lalbhai Museum and Shraddha Jadhav representing Artisans’ with me at the opening of Ahmedabad Walls

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Photograph by Tina Nandi

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During his time in India Geddes met Rabindranath Tagore, who wrote a very poetic description of him, which I would like to read in its entirety:

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“What so strongly attracted me in Patrick Geddes when I came to know him in India was, not his scientific achievements, but, on the contrary, the rare fact of the fulness of his personality rising far above his science.

Whatever subjects he has studied and mastered have become vitally one with his humanity. He has the precision of the scientist and the vision of the prophet; and at the same time, the power of the artist to make his ideas visible through the language of symbols. His love of man has given him the insight to see the truth of Man, and his imagination to realize in the world the infinite mystery of life and not merely its mechanical aspect.”

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Tagore wrote this as part of a Foreword in “The Interpreter Geddes” – the only biography written about the polymath during his lifetime.  This book is on tactileexhibit, along with 30 other publications by Geddes from 1878 – 1931, the most comprehensive collection of Geddes’ work in India.

My one request is that you “Please Touch,” feel free to pick up a book and read in the Gallery.

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Now, I will briefly describe the layers of the Ahmedabad Walls Exhibition.

First, a Visual History comprised of six illustrations, beginning with a Mughal Miniature from 1573 – the earliest visual representation of the City Walls.  The last map is from a 1980 publication by the Archaeological Survey of India which, ironically, indicates the walls in totality – an imaginary restoration. The next layer is a Literary History featuring twenty-five first-hand accounts describing the City Walls, beginning in 1517 with Portuguese Diplomat Duarte Barbosa. Together, the Visual and Literary Histories are like bookends, framing the core of the exhibition: Patrick Geddes’ (1915) Note on Ahmedabad – his detailed response to the question put to him: Should the City Walls be demolished or retained? The fourth and final layer, juxtaposed against Geddes’ report, are Contemporary Aerial Photographs which follow his footsteps around the City Walls, portion by portion, gate by gate, albeit 100 years later.

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I will close with three things that Patrick Geddes and I have in common. First, we both spent at least ten years in Bombay. Geddes from 1914 to 1924, and myself from 2007 – to date. Geddes felt that he was doing the best work of his life in India, and I can easily say the same for myself as I have done my only work in India.

Second, we are both Creative Individuals of limited means.  Geddes spent much of his life in debt, and relied on the support of friends and patrons to realize many of his projects.  Ahmedabad Walls is similar. Jayshree and Sanjay Lalbhai, and the team at the Kasturbhai Lalbhai Museum have provided support, space, and most importantly, lots of time. A.T.E. Enterprises, led by Anuj Bhagwati, has been a most faithful patron since my first show in 2014. Mr. Prahlad Patel of PSP Projects provided support and in addition, PSP built the gallery that hosts the exhibition – so please do enjoy the building as well. Architecture Foundation, a Mumbai-based NGO initiated by RMA Architects, provided administrative, infrastructure, and design support. Rahul Mehrotra, my colleague at RMA Architects, has unknowingly been a communications consultant, constantly pushing us to greater clarity in whatever we are presenting, whether it is a building or an exhibition. Finally, ARTISANS’, my representative Gallery, and especially Radhi Parekh (Founder of ARTISANS’) – six months ago I approached her and said: “I have an idea, a venue, commercial sales are not allowed, and I need some support to get started….and she said “OK! I’m in!”  Without Radhi this exhibition would not have been possible.

The third and final commonality  – both Geddes and I had the priviledge of an exceptional Wife. As bachelors we were both prone to reckless overwork, and our wives saved us from a self-inflicted chaos.  One scholar noted that every letter Geddes wrote to his wife was a love letter – and while I cannot say the same, this exhibition is dedicated to my wife – Tina Nandi.

In addition to being my life partner, Tina is also my creative partner – her work is on display as a Stop-Motion film capturing the current state of the City Walls through 18 fixed points. The exhibition closes with twelve aerial photographs that capture the growth of Ahmedabad beyond her Sultanate-era fortifications.

Thank you once again for coming this evening.  Please enjoy Ahmedabad Walls, and most importantly, Please Touch.

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Stop-Motion film capturing the current state of the City Walls through 18 fixed points by Tina Nandi on display at the gallery.

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Ahmedabad Walls Kasturbhai Lalbhai Museum, Ahmedabad in association with ARTISANS’

On through 20 November 2018 (except Wednesdays and Public Holidays)

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Urbs Indis is an urban aerial photography studio and archival library founded by Mumbai based architect and artist Robert D Stephens (RMA Architects). Since 2007 he has been documenting urban India from 10,000 feet above sea level, in black and white as well as colour photography.

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