Experimenter presents A Discreet Exit through Darkness, an exhibition by photographer Soumya Sankar Bose at Experimenter Colaba, marking his first solo in Mumbai.
The exhibition brings together Bose’s debut work in moving image, in the format of a 360° VR film, delving into the disappearance of Bose’s mother from 1969 – 71. A series of haunting photographs in the exhibition are anchored to the immersive film on Bose’s mother, who went missing after being sent to the local sweetmeat shop. The nine-year- old did not return for over three years and owing to prosopagnosia (inability to recognise people’s faces), she was unable to recall any details of the period. She remembers her childhood through two phases of her past — her life before her disappearance and after she returned. The time in between forms a complete void. It is this void that Bose attempts to rebuild by re-imagining situations through conversation and visual recreation from family history, especially exploring the collective memory of the family. Bose’s grandfather played a pivotal role in leading the search for his daughter but his passing in 1971, before his daughter returned, broke any existing narrative link to the disappearance.
Through the film and the photographs on view, Bose seeks to delve deep into the darkest recesses of his family’s history and examine the various enmeshed narratives by recounting a telling episode. The work also offers an insight into how imagination, folklore and superstition supplant the lack of a coherent narrative when memory fails to navigate the scarred terrains of an obscure past. It evocatively brings alive a time, torn asunder by the impending personal and political upheaval around the Bangladesh Liberation War and reflects on how collective memory becomes instrumental in substantiating a tale mired with irreparable losses and brutal chronicles.
The film, A Discreet Exit through Darkness, in the exhibition, is the first virtual reality (VR), non-animated feature-length film to be ever made and explores a technology that soon promises to be a segue into the imminent metaverse. The technology inherently is such that the entire visual image, at any given time, cannot be seen by a single individual, since by looking at one part of the visual field necessitates the other part to be unseen, leaving the audience’s imagination to piece together the missing links of the narrative, much like the true incident itself, the incidents of which remain not entirely clear.
Plunged underwater to emerge in a darkened crumbing domestic interior adorned by overgrown shrubs, Bose’s work A Discreet Exit Through Darkness (2022), experienced through a VR headset, is immediately arresting. Hovering over a floor strewn with rubble, caught in between the walls of a desolate room with just a peak of amber light from somewhere outside, a narration begins. The voice, Bose’s reimagined grandfather, describes his family’s new home in Midnapore, a city in West Bengal, India. The room shifts. In an equally bleak setting, a toy car with twinkling lights snakes across a chequered floor. The narrator’s voice softens the eerie setting, until it becomes apparent that Chhanda, his nine-year-old daughter, has disappeared while running an errand to buy sweetmeat offerings for the family shrine. From here on, the protagonist unravels as he begins a protracted search to find her.
Gradually, the home becomes as possessed as the father. A shadow with a pronounced bird’s head and exaggerated beak stalks dark corners. It is an omnipresence as the hunt progresses, but the father’s life stalls. It eventually ends. The home is gone and in a forest, an old television monitor flickers through photos of a family’s life rituals; birth, illness, death. Based on a true incident, Bose explains that it remains an unspoken episode, “I’ve never asked,” he explains. “I use fiction for this work because I don’t want to torture her with the memories. I’m not a journalist.”
The photographs, that are an integral part of the exhibition, are typical of Bose’s long term view and continued engagements in retrieving stories from smaller communities, the unacknowledged and unattended. This approach runs through all his projects across his practice, finding overlaps in negotiating time, recollecting the archive and in many case restaging situations. The images portray a nether land, set against a backdrop where light and darkness shadow-play in a way that truth and imagination do in this body of work. Since the core of the project is made through interviews and recalled from memory of family members and acquaintances, who revisit this 50 years after the actual incident, a hazy picture emerges which becomes the scaffolding for the film and the photographs. As a result, the images are staged with actors and made in landscapes that may have resembled the time and the moment but is not journalistic in nature as Bose states. Although Bose pursues the truth, following through the narrative as it unfolds from the memory of people, it very much straddles the space in between truth and fiction.
The film is supported by The MurthyNAYAK Foundation (MNF). The photographs have been made possible through support from Magnum Foundation. All photographs have been taken by Nikon D850. Actors: Arunangsho Chatterjee | Aishika & Rittika Sau | Shuvajit Mandal | Rituparna Das | Pintu Das. Locations: Midnapore District and Chandannagar. Special thanks to: Chhanda Bose, Banani Sinha, Dilip Bose and Bela Rani Chakraborty.
 Excerpt from Dr Cleo Roberts-Komireddi’s essay on A Discreet Exit Through Darkness titled ‘Capturing marginal/-ised memories’ for Delfina Foundation, published on October 02, 2022.