Aristotle, a giant of western philosophy says, ‘the aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inner significance’. Centuries on, Aristotle’s ideas about art continue to underline the tilt of western philosophy and aesthetic. The Indian conscience, however, shaped as it is in the shadow of colour and beauty, has had a troubled relationship with the inner quarrying that western philosophy is driven be. There is simply no substitute for the west’s individualism, however, unique and liberating it may feel to a held-down Indian. Further, this contradiction in a modern era, where we consume as much of the west as we live in the east, presents a unique dilemma: Is reality what you feel, or was it what you stopped feeling? Shifting Realities, a group exhibition of artists, at the Triveni Kala Sangam, mimes, and at times even proposes different versions of reality. Your identity might be at stake here.
Pakistan-born Rubaba Haider’s deft work that looks at relationships through the metaphor of threads is an invariably static exploration of a state. A slit in a mesh of fabric, that reveals much about the social bonds of our age also indicate to a long history. Haider is inspired by embroidery and other threadwork, and through her simple, unassuming wasli paper creations she perhaps espouses the story of millions of women, for whom, embroidery must have been life for centuries; life that the fabric eventually came to represent, before industrialisation changed everything. This might be a confession of history.
One of the more curious, perhaps even populist works on display is Abhishek Narayan Verma’s satirical deconstruction of everyday social situations. Verma, as if working backwards from the age of the meme, squeezes society onto a card. He looks at them closely, yet only draws them with minimal depth, thereby retaining his distance and objectivity. “These settings reflect the mental states, becomes an investigative process through a selection of “what if’s”, building the arrangements in reaction to my own image-making. It’s like a strategy to which ideas and thoughts are constantly being added and subtracted to find the right amount of affect. There is satirisation of situations, of characters, of myself, while making use of popular idioms, myths and stories,” Verma says about his process. Verma’s work belongs to the ultra-social age of the internet, a Woody Allen-ish turn on canvass, if you like. It is as critical as it is shareworthy.
While Haider and Verma both address reality, there is a fair bit of fantasy on show as well. Loknath Pradhan’s myth-meets-modernity large-scale canvasses would be more to the taste of those who prefer the flourish of the hand and surface-level interaction. Pradhan borrows from populist fictions like dragons, dystopian cities and mythical texts. Like Pradhan, Malleshi H V follows a psychedelic, abstract approach to finding a view of hell. His work is largely attuned to shape-shifting and bringing out the fictional role of geometry and colour. Both artists about other worlds in different ways.
Shifting realities can at times ascend to the truly bizarre. Sumana Som’s Absolutely she is alive is a bafflingly busy piece — that took seven months to complete — and raises so many interesting questions. Is she talking about creationism, and the evolution? Man becoming hunter and then a soldier. There are definitely more than a couple of layers to this fascinating work. Through Egyptian gods and a giant octopus strangling a man, the multi-media creation (also includes stitching on cloth) is perhaps the most exasperatingly intriguing creation on show. And then there is Tanmay Santra’s minimal comment on the idea of home.
Santra rarely uses the flourish of a stroke, or the freedom of colour that watercolour offers. “Since my childhood I lived in numerous houses. Bitter-sweet memories of my previous homes and an intense feeling of not having a settled (!) home has been haunted me very often. I often wonder seeing a lot of spectacular phenomena while looking at landscapes. Aspects like — transformation, possession, ownership, suppression, inheritance of property etc. come in my mind when I gaze upon. Therefore, looking at landscapes (urban and rural) no more remains a matter of mere joy. In a very subtle way I attempt to touch upon those story lines in my own way,” Santra says.
Santra’s work like some others on display can be seen as oblique, maybe even obtrusive to its own conceptual force. On the difficulty of reading such art Santra says that one of his key intentions always is to invite multiple readings. “I understand the aspect of limitation in reading my artwork; or even any artwork in this world. But I often realise that subtle things or voices cannot be uttered loudly. It may lose certain qualities then, I assume,” he says. His distant view of home, of landscape, industry and everything concrete, is perhaps contextually, the most subtle work on display.
There is a dream-against-fantasy-against-reality league playing out in Shifting Realities. As you move from one artist to another they shift places in the table. From social deprivation, to viewing hell as abstract and looking at home through the idea of a dying, diluted landscape, there is much to ponder, and even more to persevere with. That said, there is to an extent a lack of original language, a philosophical mess in some. A few pieces seem content with dazzling the eye. In all, though, Shifting Realities, is a wonderful, surreal, at times exhilarating little journey through tunnels that cut between ideas of reality and fantasy.
On view till 10 August, Shridharani Art Gallery, Triveni Kala Sangam
Updated Date: Aug 06, 2017 12:30 PM