Navin Thomas

Extending Arts Practice

Grant Period: Over one year

Navin Thomas is a Bangalore-based sculptor and sound artist, working predominantly with mixed media and found materials. Navin’s earlier practice has been of a rather esoteric nature; as part of a recent residency in Belgium, he created a sculptural installation of four musical urinals using classical Hindustani music and recorded frog mating sounds. “As part of my practice and as an extension of my work, I spend lengthy periods of time observing scrap markets and recycling yards.  In a city where there are no real museums or well-researched cultural or curatorial practices, the best way for me to observe cultural change is to examine what a city discards and later regurgitates into some newer form or idea,” he says. During one of his strolls in scrap markets, he came across a group of recyclers who were attempting to recover silver from discarded photo negatives thrown away older studios. Navin managed to salvage 2,00,000 negatives by paying for the value of silver they would yield. The idea for his new project ‘Bangalore Photo City: Lost and Found’ emerged from this. The content of the negatives varies from pop bands in the sixties to open air wrestling matches in the seventies.


Navin has been given a grant under EAP for this project, which takes his practice into a completely new zone of reconstructing the history of Bangalore. He will work on a book-making project through this grant. Navin will be collaborating with a Bangalore-based graphic designer, Chandrashekar Kornepathi, for creating the photographic book. Navin says, “A lot of the visual books made on Bangalore privilege chronology or engage the never-ending debate about the authenticity of old Bangalore. For those of us who grew up in this city, we know that it wasn’t really those bygone spaces that made this place a city, but it was mostly its denizens and anonymous regulars that made up the true spirit of this “reluctant” city.  Our book takes a different approach, whereby we will work mostly with human situations, gatherings, ceremonies and celebrations (depending also on what is retrievable from the negatives). We’re looking at the 1960s-80s, lost images of a post-colonial, post-independence fledgling city, yet to discover its future as a Silicon Valley. The negatives yield rich insights into the popular culture of the time and the material for the book comes from over a decade long self-appointed task of salvaging film stock in the form of silver gelatine, and glass plate negatives to 8mm and 16mm non-commercial independent amateur films. So the book also surfaces as an archaeological artefact of lost and found culture, because I will be including a lot of other film material that I have been able to rescue and restore.”


The project has multiple dimensions, which include digitising the negatives, hosting them on a suitable website, selecting the images and curating them into a book outlining a ‘lost and found’ history of Bangalore, and finally curating a public exhibition which will include some video work made from found footage, engaging with the city. In the first instance, IFA will support the initial phase of the project, which is to digitise the negatives, facilitate hosting them online, and the work towards the book design. Navin is keen to explore a sculptural dimension to the book, using special paper that leaves thumb imprints, giving the reader an experience of handling photographs or negatives. He will be looking for support from IFA to help establish contact with suitable publishers at a later stage, and is looking at a print run of roughly a 1000 copies. In the next stage of the project, Navin will send a fresh proposal outlining the curatorial idea for the public exhibition, and he is keen to bring on board a core group of historians, artists, urbanists and curators, for the project at that stage.