The poet Kahil Gilbran is quoted as saying: "Marriage is the golden ring in a chain whose beginning is a glance and whose ending is Eternity." The sanctity of marriage and its eternal bond is celebrated in many shapes and forms. For some cultures, marriage is a private and small affair to be cherished only by immediate family, in other cultures it is the biggest party of the year. In Indian cultures, weddings are a combination of the two - close family traditions coupled with a large spectacle, both aspects filled with beauty and pageantry.
In the new exhibit, "Anointed and Adorned: Indian Weddings in Houston," is currently on display at the Alliance Gallery, as a part of the Houston Arts Alliance's Folklife and Traditional Arts Program, one of only a handful of such programs in the country. "Anointed and Adorned," is a part of the Remembered, Regained: Immigrant Arts of Houston series that the Folklife Program has curated this entire year. This show will close out the series.
"Anointed and Adorned" is a mixed media exhibition with a heavy focus on photography. The exhibit follows three Houston couples as they prepare and celebrate their eternal union in traditional Indian custom.
The photographs were taken by Sohil Maknojia, who snaps Indian weddings across the country and they are nothing short of stunning. The subject itself is replete with vibrant colors and Maknojia captures them with the eye of an expert.
Wedding photos, in general, have a powerful intimacy to them; the viewer is being allowed inside a family's special day. Since Indian weddings are such an elaborate affair, the "back stage pass" is that much more compelling.
The photos move through the various stages of the Indian ceremony. There is the Baraat, where the groom is initiated into the bride's family and community through an extravagant procession. When outsiders think about Indian weddings, this fanfare is often what comes to mind, a groom riding on the back of an elephant while riotous party-goers run alongside him.
The Baraat images are juxtaposed with the photos of the Shringar, which is the bride's ceremony. The Shringar is when the bride is dressed and decorated with unique garb; the attire itself varies within Indian communities. This takes place several days before the wedding ceremony and it is here that the bride is painted with henna readying herself for womanhood. In these images, Maknojia has captured the calm before the storm, in a sense. Many of the images are of hennaed body parts and this up close and personal display is touching and delicate; it is so different from the celebration the groom goes through.
There is also a series of photos of the wedding ceremony itself, which is also made up of specific parts and traditions. In the images of the Kanyadaan, water flows from the hands of the mother of the bride to her husband and then to her daughter and her groom. It is yet another beautiful moment of closeness captured in time.
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In addition to the photography, there are several traditional wedding items enhancing the space, as well as an audio accompaniment to the exhibit. The three couples featured throughout were interviewed about the experience and these audio files were compiled and edited by researcher Rati Ramada Girish.
The exhibit was curated by the Director of Houston Folklife and Traditional Arts Program, Pat Jasper, and the Program Associate, Angel Quesada. I was lucky enough to be shown around by Quesada, who took me through the various ceremonial steps. Quesada says that he learned a tremendous amount during the process and did not know previously how much detail went into these weddings.
Nor did I. If you are not a part of the culture it is difficult to imagine a wedding being even more elaborate than how Americans treat them to be, but the Indian wedding is something to behold and the images on display for this exhibition give an insight that we are not all exposed to. It's a treat and a treasure of that eternal bond.
"Anointed and Adorned: Indian Weddings in Houston" on display now through July 12. Wednesday through Friday 3:30-5:30 p.m. Opening reception, June 6, 5:30 - 7:30 p.m. Alliance Gallery. For more information visit: houstonartsalliance.com