Of urbanising landscape and more
A confluence of paintings and pictures, some perplexing, some amusing, some distressing, swept through Delhi galleries this past week.
ON VIEW: Jogen Chowdhury's work Flying Apsara and (right) Anju Dodiya's The Churning.
Endless Terrain, curated by Yashodhara Dalmia, was showed at the Rabindra Bhavan galleries in New Delhi this past week. The galleries breathed with large generously spaced works that allowed for a free movement of the eye in expansive interpretations around the word terrain. Riyaz Komu's Communist Party symbols presented like an installation of wall sculptures, Jitish Kallat's ironic interplay of the self in an unstable visual field and Nataraj Sharma's synoptic view of the urbanising landscape are all different elements in the metaphor of landscape as processes of history and culture.
Sudarshan Shetty stands apart from his peers for his ability to work from within pop and surrealist elements that are whimsical and teeter on the edge of spectacle. Shetty's recent sculptures move with a motorised regularity; and depend for their communicativeness on construction skills. Sudarshan's installations are in the nature of provocations; he manipulates movement and associations of adroitly put together disparate objects, much like an ongoing conversation with Marcel Duchamp. Essentially, these are low-tech works. In one work, an advancing and retreating mechanical unit opens and closes a pair of jaws to simulate a yawn. Again `blood' spouts out of a pipe into a trough that mimics a sewer or even a humungous vein. DuChamp or Sarkies (who got red fluid to pulsate through open pipes at the same speed as the human pulse) are invoked but Sudarshan has a rugged individualism that is his own. In the process, he compels contemplation on the ideas of continuity and the life force, with its corollaries of happy affirmation and deadly boredom.
Of petrified gesture
Anju Dodiya's paintings appear to move closer and closer to the realm of the petrified gesture. The act, the head of the artist looking out of a moving car and the fleeting action of the leaping rabbit are a petrified translation into a painting that suggests rhythm, sensuality and fear. In the other concurrent exhibition, Angkor the Silent Centuries (at Bodhi Art Gallery), Dodiya uses the motif of the elementary sartorial gesture of the knot and the classic sculptural inspiration of Angkor Wat to create this piquant image of Vishnu's Knot. Dodiya's compulsive need to foreground herself as a medium of experience presents a language of interiority that derives its adrenaline rush from tense self-confrontation.
Anju also paints The Churning, an evocation from the Puranas about the acts of purifying the earth with Amrit. She reworks the symbols to present the churning pole grinding into the back of an ordinary, semi-prone man. The great poison Kalkuta and the great good that can be emitted can only be speculated at. Such recourse to myth mitigates the frequently harsh historical contexts that any artist may seek to address.
Atul Dodiya, who locates Angkor among the modern history of Cambodia, is much more uncompromising in his gaze. His work The School in Angkor for instance, deflects the subject of Buddhist reliquaries and the religious fervour that surrounds their preservation to revoke the image of the skull - the most enduring document to the mass graves and killing fields of Phnom Penh. Atul has attenuated his style to contain an abstracted symbolism that represents the accretions of Hindu and Buddhist culture and modern Cambodia as markers of a violent history. The most obvious interpretation is of Angkor as a site of cultural petrifaction of visible Gupta period influences, overlain with Khmer art influences. From this rich panoply of images the artists have responded in ways that are touristy, ironic and contemplative.
Jogen Chowdhury's Flying Apsara and series of griffin like heads appear like easy, unmediated responses. Amit Ambalal at least in parts, dumps the exoticisation of Angkor Wat to produce a Bangkok Massage Parlour. The Pala Sen attenuations on style - the long nails, slanting eyes, and elaborate headgears that distinguish post 9th Century Buddhist art - become here emblems of lotus wielding massage parlour girls, as the touristy degradation of a cultural tradition. Gulam Sheikh continues his interest in mapping cultural routes with digital prints that invoke the numerous cultural accretions of Cambodia.
The third gender
Kaaya, Beyond Gender, a photographic project with the members of the trans-gendered community has been organised by Parthiv Shah at the Siddharth Hall, Max Mueller Bhavan. Armed with a camera, each of the participants - Neha, Bobby and the quixotically named Vidhan Sabha, for instance, photographs herselfin a chosen environment. This kind of intervention is documentary and performative; the subject presents herself in the way that she likes but in the process also `reveals' a lot about her taste in objects of pleasure, her economic background, her lover, and their mohalla and so on. Small descriptive notes reveal that the happiness quotient is very high on acts associated with femaleness - wearing bangles, cooking, housekeeping, even exposing a breast for the camera. The great leveller with the trans-gendered as it is for more and more urbanising societies, lies in death, in which Hindus and Muslims claim their own. In a moving statement, one of the participants puts in a disclaimer, against the popular belief that eunuchs are sent for burial with a garland of old shoes around their necks.
The project and its concern for gender on the margins moves between personal and sociology that determines each life. The frequent refrain, however, that makes most of the participants sound like domesticated little women, arouses several questions. The trans-gendered identify themselves as women. But the wife left in the village or the unsatisfied longing to have a child challenge the nature/culture paradigm usually assigned to women. The biographical notes in the project speak of the self as eunuch (hijra), or as feminine, which bear significantly different implications from the term trans-gendered.
Send this article to Friends by
Chennai and Tamil Nadu