NONE OF MY BUSINESS Exhibition. My review. by Sarah Li

It is difficult to write about your own event - the screening of my film SHANGHAI DRY and the exhibition of 18 of my photographs - critically, for I cannot see the work in any other way than how I made it. In which case, I am going to write about the amazing week that led up to the exhibition and then the exhibition itself. I will leave the reviews to everyone who came along (to whom I am incredibly grateful). 

Setting the film up for the exhibition was fairly straight forward - for it had been worked on and the final cut was ready two months ago - all that was required was going in to check the projector and sound. With all the work on the film complete, this gave me time to dedicate to the photography pieces. Each photograph in the exhibition was to be manipulated by having mirrors placed within each image. The idea of what we see in others is a reflection of ourselves and how beauty exists in cracks, our flaws, was the intent of the mirrors. We are all of dust and we do not choose our bodies, so I wanted people to see themselves as part of another body.

he exhibition opened on Wednesday so there was pressure to get the artwork to the gallery by Friday. Having landed from the UK on Tuesday (with one hour sleep that day was a total write off), I had two days to scalpel the photographs, collect the cut-to-size mirrors and mounting board and get to work. With the invaluable assistance of Farooq, many late nights and early mornings and two disasters with spray mount, I managed to deliver the work on time. 

Sitting with the wonderful team at Goethe-Zentrum, we then had to work out a way to hang the photographs. As they are 2mm thick it was not an option to mount them within a frame as per usual with previous photography exhibitions. But the idea of using a frame really appealed to me to sit the portraits individually a more confined space gave them more presence - so I came up with the idea of a naked frame (essentially, hanging the frame with no backing). Mr. Prakash, who is the supervisor behind all of the installations at Goethe, looked a little baffled. This had not been done before and there was no way it was going to be possible. That was his initial opinion, but with six of us in the office and a phone call to a picture framing professional, I knew there was a way. 

Venky setting up the frames on Monday.

Venky setting up the frames on Monday.

Monday night. All under control and on schedule?!

Monday night. All under control and on schedule?!

The next day, Saturday, we got to work. All frames were hung, and on Monday when returned to continue the work of placing all the photos in their frames and hanging the sari's to create the auditorium. We went home. On Tuesday morning, it was blindingly apparent, however, that the frames were not straight, not usually a problem, but in case of the naked frame idea there it was not so easy to fix it as each millimetre mattered. So we painstakingly undid all the work that had been done the previous day. By six o'clock, four of us - meticulous with each millimetre - had rehung the frames and positioned the clips on the hanging wire. Amita, the Institute's director, popped her head in, I was afraid to talk to her as the place looked a mess and it seemed no progress had been made. She remained calm, but understandably concerned. 

The bigger the challenge the bigger the reward! Prakash with the finished installation on Wednesday morning.

The bigger the challenge the bigger the reward! Prakash with the finished installation on Wednesday morning.

The next day Mr.Prakash and I we were in even earlier and got to work once again. By the end of the day, now Tuesday, it was still not complete and the exhibition opened at 6.30pm the next day. However, there was little to do and by that time we were all confident in each other that we knew we would get it done, which on Wednesday by midday we had done. I would have time to go home, walk my dogs, shower change and get back in a good time for the opening. Not even the usual headache of Hyderabad's traffic would disrupt the plan. From this point onwards everything went as smoothly as the delicious smoothies served in the vegan cafe opposite. 

Uncle Yuking & I at the exhibition opening night.

Uncle Yuking & I at the exhibition opening night.

There were over seventy people at the opening. Surrounded by fifteen brightly coloured saris fluttering in the AC, and with photographs of the people of the twin cities surrounding the makeshift auditorium, this was exactly how I wanted Yuking and the friends and family of the shop, and in fact everyone ever to watch the film! After the inauguration, which saw Yuking, along with my aunts and cousin, Arvind Chengi (a renowned photographer from Hyderabad), Mrs Lui and her son (representing the Chinese Association of Hyderabad) and Farooq, who has been an unending support, float candles in a beautiful ceremony, the film rolled. There were laughs at points when I had not expected and a sort of sense of merriment after the film had finished - which is the feeling I get every time I visit Shanghai Dry Cleaners. The night continued and sadly, due to interviews with journalists, I did not see anyone off.  So, in honesty, I could not hear the reaction I wanted to hear. But then it was not about me. I have heard complimentary things since, and there was a positive reaction in the press about the opening (although, at that time, not all of the journalists writing about the event saw the film - apparently that is not uncommon in India). 

Mrs. Lui, wife of the Chinese Association President, and their son, float the first candle.

Mrs. Lui, wife of the Chinese Association President, and their son, float the first candle.

Auntie's Yulan & Yuchen floating candles.

Auntie's Yulan & Yuchen floating candles.

Natasha and her children float a candle.

Natasha and her children float a candle.

Arvind Chenji floating a candle.

Arvind Chenji floating a candle.

Farooq lights a candle, without his help, I could not have put this exhibition together.

Farooq lights a candle, without his help, I could not have put this exhibition together.

A quick pic during the screening of SHANGHAI DRY.

A quick pic during the screening of SHANGHAI DRY.

The event was officially open until Sunday. People came and went and I am so happy they got to see my photos and film - so thank you to all those who dropped in, I hope you enjoyed it and managed to take something away from what you saw. 

Mr. Andrew Fleming, the British Deputy High Commissioner, during his visit.

Mr. Andrew Fleming, the British Deputy High Commissioner, during his visit.

Goethe-Zentrum had received news that the newly appointed British Deputy High Commissioner wanted to see this exhibition so they kept the exhibition open for another day. Which was too kind of them. Mr Andrew Fleming, is a keen photographer himself, it is tremendously encouraging for my Consulate to be headed up by someone so enthusiastic about arts and culture. And also women empowerment - he noticed that many of the traditional male roles, were taken up by women in my photographs and decided to have our photographs taken by these. 

As the lights were turned off and I began to disassemble the exhibition, gently removing photographs from their frames, unpinning poetry from saris which themselves were unpicked and folded away, my mind also seemed to pack itself up. I noticed my brain slowing down in time with the walls becoming white again, and the floor becoming full again of tape and wires. After taking a couple of days off, where I honestly did not know what to do with myself, I am now moving forward, trusting the process and staying open to what lies ahead. 

The mirrored images mounted in my photographs continue to remind me, and I hope others too, to see themselves in others and see that we are all connected, all made of the same subatomic particles, that we are a part of one another and we are all made up as the same stuff as stardust. With the hope that that will make us stronger, kinder and more at peace with ourselves and each other in a world that is being run by corrupt politicians who seems to be destroying any sense of human unity and understanding. In a world that is being threatened by nuclear war, where building walls as opposed to opening our hearts is somehow being seen as the 'right' thing to do.

In the meantime, I await news on festival selections for SHANGHAI DRY and will continue to find ways in which people can see it as it should be, on a big screen preferably with multi-coloured saris floating around the auditorium!

Seeing myself in others.

Seeing myself in others.

SHANGHAI DRY Exhibition by Sarah Li

My first blog post! Something I have been meaning to write for a long time, but this seems an apt way to begin. Next week marks the launch of my exhibition NONE OF MY BUSINESS. It is a collection of 18 photographs to accompany the documentary SHANGHAI DRY. 

The exhibition, which is to take place in Goethe-Zentrum in Hyderabad, has been a long time in the making. Initially, I will admit it did not start off as an exhibition - my background is in filmmaking and it was at the end of 2015 I shot the footage for the documentary that would later become 'Shanghai Dry'. I then, amidst travelling to Nepal to work on other projects, travelling back to the UK, Ireland, Belgium, Spain and back to India again, edited and colour graded the film. The sound edit was done back in the UK by a great sound editor and friend of mine, Lee Grainge. So, after 18 months, the film was ready. Whilst it is now doing the rounds on the film festival circuit, there has been huge anticipation from the stars of the film (and also from myself) to screen it here in Hyderabad. I decided then to accompany the film with a photo exhibition. 

Using the camera I shot the film on, my Panasonic Lumix GH4, and my old Canon 5D mk1, I got to work. I had already accrued a large number of photographs from around India, but as any curator/director/producer/storyteller will know, you need a theme. The theme came to me to make it about businesses in Hyderabad, to see the variety of ways people make a living in this mosaic of a transforming city. When I speak of the city of Hyderabad, I also include it's twin city of Secunderabad (also, where Shanghai Dry Cleaners is located). It seemed to me, being from the West that people often have a misconception of India, but after spending only a little time here, I quickly came to realise that it is not all poverty and bullock carts, palaces and the Ganges, there is a rising middle class here. Technology companies with large offices in many cities, including Hyderabad, have created jobs for many, increasing the spending power and opportunities of millions of Indians. I wanted to support the documentary film - which shows the quirks and charms of a sixty year old family business - with a photo exhibition showing traditional forms of work alongside more modern, capitalist ventures that are beginning to engulf the city. 

The event opens next week, so whilst I cut, stick and paste photographs to canvases and check sound levels on projectors, I will leave you with the flier that Goethe-Zentrum Hyderabad have designed for the exhibition. If you are in Hyderabad and able to make it next Wednesday, then great - please get in contact and let me know! If not, then come to Hyderabad - flights aren't too expensive and the monsoon is almost over.  

Will send updates soon.

Love, peace. Sarah x

Goethe Zenturm Flier.jpg