Making art accessible and a platform for conversation with the FOCUS Photography Festival in Mumbai

May 18, 2017

Renowned artists from around the world contributed to Mumbai’s prestigious biannual photography festival, supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies.

Written with content and artist excerpts provided by Elise Foster Vander Elst, Director of FOCUS

Photography and memory have always played a role in documenting history and the world around us. Since its inception, the camera has been a time machine capturing the past – recording it, allowing us to experience history in the present and influencing how we act in the future.

While photography transcribes the ‘what, where and when’ of events ­– it also visualizes the ‘why and in what way’ with underpinning narratives and meaning, shaping fluid and dynamic stories.

The FOCUS Photography Festival is a biannual, city-wide celebration in Mumbai that uses photography exhibitions as a springboard for conversations – encouraging a diverse spectrum of visitors to gather and contemplate the power of photography in our everyday lives.

This festival is unique, as it is not a commercial art fair and therefore not designed to sell artwork. It is a free 2-week event, open to all, displaying photography in a variety of venues including museums, galleries, schools and public spaces, allowing communities in Mumbai from different socio-economic backgrounds to enjoy, engage with and learn about art.

Bloomberg Philanthropies has been supporting FOCUS since the festival launched in 2013, which attracted over 30,000 visitors its first year. Our continued support has enabled thousands of people in India and across the world access works of local, nationally and globally acclaimed photographers.

A core aim of the festival is to reach audiences who might not normally attend art exhibitions. Thus, making FOCUS a natural partner for Bloomberg Philanthropies – both organizations share the same values and commitments to strengthen arts and culture around the world through community programs and partnerships.

For example, Bloomberg employees and clients in Mumbai engaged with the FOCUS festival by attending talks hosted at the Bloomberg office and our employees volunteered with their education programs, such as children art workshops.

We invite you to experience how photography can challenge our ideas around memory and its meaning through some of the photographs displayed at the 2017 FOCUS Festival:

Ashita Majumdar Ganatra: Before Now

‘Between you and me’ from the series ‘Before Now’ by Ashita Majumdar Ganatra, 2015 – 2016

Before Now by Ashita Majumdar Ganatra is an attempt to rewrite the story of another era. It’s an amalgamation of dreams and stories woven together with characters from the past.

Many stories vanish with the people who lived them. What remains are shadows of those moments. Some memories become etched in our minds forever and sometimes, out of the blue, years later, you remember special moments that bring a smile to your face.

Each portrait in the Before Now series is originally a black and white photograph from Ganatra’s grandmother’s photo albums (1945-75).

A discovery of an old hand-painted photograph piqued Ganatra’s interest to reconstruct the life and stories of the people in those photos. Soon, the artist found herself adding color, changing landscapes and adding mysterious elements in the photographs to create an enchanting imagery of that memory.

Abhishek Anupam: Banality

‘Untitled’ from the series ‘Banality’ by Abhishek Anupam, 2015

On the banks of the River Medway in the southern part of the United Kingdom, Abhishek Anupam spent a year there in Rochester; a time that defined both his photographic process and identity. Provoked by feelings of not belonging, feeling lost, confused and uncertain – Anupam created Banality as a body of work that represents the connection photography makes between time, memory and emotion.

The images in the Banality series show how imagination transcends the foreground into a distant place, disappearing into featureless shadows. Reduced depth lets the nature of the scene become unclear, creating tension in the image – of not knowing exactly what is and what is not there.

Banality asks the viewer to look beyond the obvious.

Anastasia Bogomolova: Landscape

‘Untitled’ from the series ‘Landscape’ by Anastasia Bogomolova, 2016

In 2014, Anastasia Bogomolova and her husband moved into a house divided into two living quarters – one for them – and the other for her mother-in-law, who moved in with her lifetime’s worth of personal items.

Her mother-in-law’s items ended up in the room Bogomolova had reserved as her artist studio. There were sports cups, samovars, books, taxidermied crocodiles, garden sculptures, samurai swords and heaps of clothes everywhere.

Bogomolova recalls, “The archive attacked me as it spread around the house, in the corners, on the windowsill, in the closet and stairs. I resisted. I hid it. I moved things. I secretly threw things out.”

Eventually, she cleared out a small space to serve as her studio. It was only when she began accepting these things – by becoming a part of them; she understood what things are and what they can be. Landscape is a series about this merging process, drawing the story of two families into one, turning individual archives into a collective landscape.

Every edition, the festival provides numerous new opportunities for the exhibiting photographers – The shows at FOCUS have served as a resource for international curators to plan future exhibitions abroad of Indian photography, providing photographers with increased international visibility.

Younger photographers on view at the festival have since obtained gallery representation, and in past festivals, exhibiting artists have gone on to win international prizes and awards. In addition, artists have used images they presented at the festival in grant applications, which has helped open doors to many new experiences.

We are proud to be part of this story in supporting emerging global artists and engaging communities in deep cultural discussions.

In line with these priorities, Bloomberg Philanthropies is currently supporting a series of projects and initiatives at the 57th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia Italy on display May 13- November 26, 2017. For more information on how we’re helping the Biennale broaden access to art and artists, and our support for diverse and talented emerging artists, see our press announcement.

Digital images are all © the Artist, courtesy FOCUS Photography Festival, 2017.

As part of Bloomberg Philanthropies — which includes Mike Bloomberg’s company, foundation and personal giving –  we are helping arts and cultural organizations learn vital strategies to better manage their operations and access new funding sources. Our Arts program utilizes innovative partnerships and bold approaches to place arts at the center of economic growth and empower artists and cultural organizations.