A tribute and a swipe at ... .
Bose Krishnamachari, quiet and thoughtful, does not look like the grey eminence that he has set out to be. UMA MAHADEVAN-DASGUPTA on his latest exhibition, `De-Curating Indian Contemporary Artists', held recently at Mumbai's Sakshi Gallery.
IT is raining in the garden outside Samovar, the café at the Jehangir Art Gallery in Kala Ghoda, Mumbai's art district. The grass is strewn with red flower petals and green leaves, and the fragrance of wet soil fills the air. Inside, the wall-mounted fans are whirring noisily above the hum of conversation.
Waiters with familiar faces walk their practised walk between the tables, putting down a kala khatta here, a mango panna there, a boti roti roll somewhere else.
Bose Krishnamachari is having a conversation with a friend when I arrive. We order mango pannas, the Samovar specials in the early weeks of the rains. The mangoes will soon disappear, and so will the panna.
But for now, they are here, and we can talk.
Bose, quiet, thoughtful, half-smiling and 40 years old, does not look like the grey eminence that he has set out to be. In his latest exhibition, "De-Curating Indian Contemporary Artists", held recently at Mumbai's Sakshi Gallery, Bose has had a whole extra wall put up in the middle of the gallery space, for the 94 sketches and oils on canvas of Indian artists that he has de-curated, so to speak, in this show.
Why would a painter spend several years travelling around the country, taking photographs of other painters, and then making sketches based on them? Because he calls himself the "neighbour, voyeur, watchman of the contemporary art scene".
The 1963-born Bose, born in Mangattukara in Kerala, studied at Kaladi's Shree Shankaracharya College and learnt carpentry and design at his father's family trade before he won a Lalit Kala award "I was doing surrealistic work even before I knew what surrealism was" and then took off to go to Bombay with the single aim of becoming a painter. Based on a J.J. (School of Arts) prospectus sent by a friend, he came to Bombay in 1986, armed with only Malayalam, and promptly failed the first time he tried to get admission at the J.J. School of Arts. "I was told later that I had come first in the entrance test, but I was dropped at the interview." In his five years at the venerable J.J., Bose emerged with the highest scores in the Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) course, and won an award to teach there for a year. And then, he tells me, chuckling, he "got chucked out", for speaking out against what he felt were outdated policies at the institution. "I basically said that academicians who aren't even aware of contemporary art can't encourage young artists." In "DeCurating", he does something similar, except that it is a larger arena. Pencil portraits mounted on boxboard, in silver and gold leaf, with graphite frames, are hung on the wall, affixed with hinges.
... and the result of being an observer of the contemporary art scene.
They can be turned like the pages of a book. Anjolie Ela Menon, Akbar Padamsee, Jogen Chowdhury, are all here, and so is Krishnamachari Bose. There are also oil portraits of India's leading abstractionists. This is not only a tribute but a selection, and there are some who have been carefully left out of this wall space; the title, too, takes a swipe at Indian curators for whom Bose doesn't have too much love lost. "Indian curating is all promotion", he shrugs, "Not much curating.
"The painters in this exhibition may not be my favourite people I might pick up perhaps 10 or 15 of them but their historical contribution to Indian art has to be acknowledged. History tends to forget some people even if their contribution has been significant." He has included not 10 or 20, but 94: and so even spacious Sakshi needed that extra wall in the middle.
A book, too, has been brought out along with the exhibition. He says that De-Curating is "a hand-made tribute to the memory of that `whole-time worker', the artist... an act of re-signing the curator's notion of his/her-story! A very personal act of finding history, sincerely looking for the missing self." The book contains some fascinating comments by the artists on the nature of the creative process.
B.V. Suresh speaks in a series of dots and caret marks, while Gulammohammed Sheikh says, "It is almost invariably a new struggle with every work, a toil, waiting for a fleeting moment of exaltation." And here is Riyas Komu: "I just want to remember where I have kept my CHEMICAL COLOURS." Tyeb Mehta talks of a visit to the slaughterhouse years ago: "I saw this mighty animal (bull) tied up, flung to the floor, and rendered impotent ... For me the trussed bull is a compulsive image." What's this about, I ask Bose: what did he ask them? "I sent everyone a question: How is your personal and collective memory and history manifested in your work?" These were the replies. Of the 93, some 50-odd replied. The others spoke, as always, through their paintings.
One last question: why, finally, this enterprise? Bose looks thoughtful. "Everything, even if impermanent, is connected to memory. The end of memory is the death of the self. Memory is short in today's world, and yet I value human memory, however fallible, over computer memory. This is an effort to preserve."
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