Thursday, September 25, 2008

Beauty of Blasphemy

Abhay Maskara sticks out amongst the Mumabi gallerists. This unassuming former Microsoft Executive came to the art scene with a thud almost a year back with his gallery called ‘Gallery Maskara’ in one of the warehouses located at the 3rd Pasta Lane, Colaba. From the very beginning itself he had made it point that he was not to make money out of art. He has a mission and that reads: ‘Gallery Maskara has a clear and compelling mission to taking a global and multidisciplinary approach to art that responds to the cultural fabric of our time thus fueling critical dialogue, collaboration and public engagement. More simply put it is to exhibit and promote art of the present.’ Other gallerists may differ or even the artists who are not in Abhay’s list of consideration might raise objection for they too create, present and promote the ‘art of the present’. Objections not withstanding, Abhay has made his space in the field of Indian contemporary art with his daring and consciously blasphemous presentations.

This time Abhay himself has come out as a curator. His show with Felipe Cama, Fernanda Chieco, Mansoor Ali, Narendra Yadav and T.Venkanna is called ‘Loosen the Tie First’. This tongue in cheek title reflects the spirit of the works featured in the show. Before I enter into a discussion on the works, I should say the ambience of the gallery. The high ceiling of the gallery dwarfs the viewer considerably. Suddenly, you look a diminutive figure whether you are an Atul Dodiya or a Subodh Gupta or a Jitish Kallat. You may be ‘somebody’ in the field of Indian contemporary art. But in Abhay’s gallery you are just a viewer as you are thrown into a space which you feel, does not have a beginning or end. You see only the dwarfed selves of your fellow beings, gazing at the works that grow vertically and horizontally within the space. If you don’t talk about the scale of the gallery for the nth time, I swear you are not in your senses or you are an absolute cynic, both you become after a few rounds of drinks.

‘Loosen the Tie First’ warns you with certain consequences, going by the international professional standards, for there are some explicitly sexual/erotic imageries in it. Felipa Cama is from Brazil and his works are sexually explicit. He collects images from the spam mails that crowd your inboxes offering you a date with Britney Spears, casting doubts on your performance level in bed, asking you to enlarge your organ size etc. Cama culls out these desire inducing images and makes lenticular prints out of it. From one side they look like formation of digits in computer programming and from another angle they look smudged porn pics. The illusion of the virtual space is coalesced with illusion of porn and desire in the virtual space. It is a critique of desire and desire machines. I am reminded of the videos titled ‘Silence’ and ‘New Indian Porn’ by Chintan Upadhyay.

Another Brazilian artist Fernanda Chieco presents a series of drawings, where she makes the images of nude men and women in acrobatic postures. Their bodily pores become the fields of bacterial growth. These apparently alluring images in fact present us with bizarre situations in which the notion of a perfect body is violated and re-articulated. The baseness of body and the possibilities of transcending it through acrobatic posturing become ironical. These works too encapsulate a critique on contemporary desires related to human body. T.Venkanna, an artist based in Baroda too takes ‘porno’ as a point of departure. His canvases become the fields of sexual ambiguity, obsessive nature of sex and the ambivalent approach that all we have towards explicit sexuality in public domain. His canvases are secret thereby faded images of our own self projections; the dungeons of our inner imaginations.

Narendra Yadav uses scientific but simple installations to explain how cognitive imagination and actual objects that spur off such imaginations function within a given context of engagement. The externalization of the organs, mainly brain and heart (reason and feeling) in their objectiveness helps the viewer to develop their own personal associations. These organs which are in a constant movement create ruptures in the act of cognition. One has to ask a few questions to oneself or to the people around to understand how these organs move in a particular field of ‘presentation’. The scientific simulation of movements looks partly humorous and partly serious.

Mansoor Ali perhaps intends to generate a critique on the political avarice of our contemporary times. He uses chair as a predominant imagery. The used and abandoned chairs are brought inside the gallery space to create a tumbling tower. One is forced into a doubt whether these chairs are tumbling down or constructively going up. One high chair, which is rendered dysfunctional creating multiple hand rests resemble the architecture of Indian parliament. The other chair is a mutant one with one upholstered part and the other with wooden seat and backrest. The mutation is conscious and is intended to evoke particular responses from the viewer and in this Mansoor is successful. But that is the major drawback of these works too for the viewer cannot go beyond the intentionality of the artist as they are too evident.

Though modest in scale ‘Loosen the Tie First’ looks ambitious and deliberately sacrilegious. Though the works individually generates a field of discourse, together they do not forward a composite argument. May be that is not the idea of the curator. Anyway, the Mumbai art scene seems to have taken the efforts of Abhay quite seriously and in the coming shows too, I hope, Abhay would be able to stick to his mission and vision.

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