The origins of Elysium or the Elysian Fields lie in Greek mythology, referring initially to a paradise where heroes—favoured by the gods with immortality—dwelled. Over time Elysium was to become a land of perfect happiness at the end of the Earth, and still later, a place for the blessed and righteous dead. Sandeep Dhopate uses his photographs to question our inability to appreciate the former in our dubious pursuit of the latter. In his artist statement, he writes:
“All religions promote some kind of promised land of eternal happiness after death. The idea must have been to be encourage compassion and respect for everything around so as to be deserving of this great reward. But somewhere along the line, we seemed to have lost the plot and started engaging in violent forceful behaviour to gain entry into that Elysium. What made us believe in a myth so staunchly that we ignore the paradise we already are on and resort to destroying everything around us. The elysian fields do exist and we are already there.”
With this body of work, Dhopate laments the disappearance of authentic culture and natural landscape, and uses ideas of a lost past and a haunting future to make viewers question present realities. His visual narrative depicts the journeying of man through these realities and the treacheries of life, and although located in India and peopled by men, place and gender are merely coincidental to his universal message. Particularly in this context, Dhopate’s painted and dehumanised figures become symbolically significant as stand-ins for us all, somewhat ironically reinstating the importance of our humanity as our essential identity, in opposition to a fixation with religious identities as our primary identities.
Talking of this in an interview with Focas Scotland, Dhopate noted: “We used to have a collective identity like all other creatures and our individuality was built on how we managed to fend for ourselves and our loved ones. Duties were divided based on how we were created, and we adapted to the forces of nature like any other creature. Religion seems to have made us lose our way, to a point that we can kill to uphold a mythical belief of some sort of a promised heaven after death. The gods shall invite us there if we please them. And to please them we shall not hesitate to destroy all that we’ve got. Our planet which is the real promised land, the real elysian field, is being destroyed bit by bit in hope to selfishly gain something no one has seen or been to.”
Challenging this reality, Dhopate’s Elysium imagines a future that crucially departs from what we know the world to be today. In doing so, it alerts us to certain tendencies in the present, which, if allowed to continue unchecked and carried to a logical extreme, would result in a world that we would not only find repulsive, but also beyond repair. His visual style, use of colours and staged portraiture build a surreal world in which the lines between fact and fiction, utopia and dystopia are blurred.
By exalting the quotidian to something artful, and fostering an elevated sense of being alive and in the world, Dhopate calls us…
“…to the Elysian plain…where life is easiest for men. No snow is there, nor heavy storm, nor ever rain, but ever does Ocean send up blasts of the shrill-blowing West Wind that they may give cooling to men. — Homer, Odyssey”
Sandeep is a photographer based in Mumbai, India. His work displays a blend of distinctive artistic vision nurtured with vivid personal experiences and a technical finesse mastered through several years of application. A recipient of several awards, he has regularly displayed his works at exhibitions and photo festivals both in India and internationally. Apart from his personal ﬁne art work, Dhopate is currently involved in other endeavours: he heads a venture dedicated to the upliftment of Indian Handicraft businesses, is the Creative Head at Lensational – a UK based NGO working towards women empowerment through photography, and teaches the craft of story telling to individuals whose stories are often ignored by main stream media.