About self, social and recall
GAYATRI SINHA suggests a look at "Self x Social", a display of mixed media works by young artists at The School of Arts and Aesthetics in Delhi even as she breezes through Dhruva Mistry's works with an imaginative flight.
One of Ashim Purkayastha's works on display.
THE BUZZ in The School of Arts and Aesthetics in Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University with the opening of the mixed media works in Self x Social was palpably different from the usual pitch of the art gallery. It is for the first time that a student-curator collaboration has resulted in an exhibition and accompanying text, creating a precedent that may well mark a different degree of preparedness in the Indian critic-curator context. The exhibition itself appears to be concerned with the areas of the liminaland self-representation, creating small clusters of social document that although familiar from earlier exhibitions, allows for a grouping and emphasis on the areas of shared concern.
Geeta Kapur, who conceived Self x Social with the subtitle - Self Stranger Parent Resource Worker And The Team of Ten Students - present a model for an institutional framework for curatorial work in India - an area that is not taught and remains in the grey area of autodidact. What such collaborative work can achieve beyond the cadre of emerging young curators is very promising and would reflect visibly on the development of theory and criticality.
The work on view - primarily photography - appears to be concerned with issues of the margins or the interstices between the dominant mainstreams of Indian social classes and categories. In fact, the whole area of the interstitial and forms of representation in India, a sociologist's nightmare, becomes a happy hunting ground for the artist and commentator because of the numerous overlays of identity and the contradictions they set up.
Ravi Agarwal's documents of labour demonstrate the rootlessness of workers in Delhi and Surat against the background of the instable capitalist forces that absorb and then reject the migrant worker. Sheba Chhachhi's photographs of women ascetics is another document of the marginalised, of women who exist outside patriarchal norms but carry on their bodies all the ambivalence of their domestic and sexual roles. Other examples of the liminal includes Gig Scaria's A Day with Sohail and Marian, on children as professional rag-pickers, a work which drives home with its relentless quality, of lives lived outside areas of social definition.
The interface, or the setting up of a dialogic space on structures of power is seen in Sonia Khurana's video head-hand and in Ashim Purkayastha's series on photographs, New Gumming Wet Well and Press, and the stamps on Gandhi, Man Without specs. Sonia's work throws up numerous questions - some unresolved on the political implications of the passive and prone male black head. The female hand varies in its degree of sensual or aggressive caress of the head and suggests some inversions of power structures. However, one's interest in the work would lie not in the male-female binary but in the relations between the colonised, inheritors of a shared history of fragmentation, and the inherited prejudices of White domination. In representing the interstitial space between black and brown, Sonia's work links up interestingly with Ashim Purkayastha in the figure of Gandhi, the direct interlocutor of this troubled and still not fully articulated relationship. The painted Gandhi, painted upside down in the series of revenue stamps, or as the Man Without Specs raises questions about land rights within the economy of the nation-state.
Shantanu Lodh, Atul Bhalla and Pushpamala N. use the body as site for articulation, with vastly different intent. Pushpamalalays out all the tropes of feminine representation - goddess, heroine, tribal, marginal figure - but does not assume an overt political position on what is finally a complex array of images. Atul Bhalla, who brings to the fore the politics of water with particular reference to Delhi, the polluted Yamuna and the global water giants that control natural resources, is poetic and economical in his use of materials. Bill Viola has devoted a large body of his video work to the act of drowning.Shantanu Lodh, who depicts the father-son relationship, and by extension, other power structures, challenges viewer expectation and pushes for the debate on power into the realm of the conceptual. An important component of the exhibition is the catalogue with the student essays, which marks a welcome new presence in Indian art criticism. Catch it if you can.
Dhruva Mistry's exhibition Table Pieces 2003-2004 comprises small welded bronze pieces that bend and mould into pieces of whimsy and imaginative flight. Using the table/rectangle as a base form for all the small objects, Dhruva plays with the world of recall, association and fictive forms. The body of work, in fact by rupturing the idea of expectation or closure, is aspirational; size is not a deterrent for the evocation of distant voyages, mythic creatures, the careful tooling of objects, speed and direction. The small works play with issues of balance, placement and resemblance to create associations beyond themselves. This exhibition is not without surprises, not only with reference to the large phallic piece in fibreglass, but also in the context of Dhruva's oeuvre, which changes continually, and seems to draw on different periods of art history for inspiration.
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Chennai and Tamil Nadu