Saturday, August 29, 2009

Performative Tears

Why did you cry last time? While standing before the mirror in your private bathroom, innocent and unpretentious, perhaps, everyday you ask this question to your mirrored self. Answers are abundant like the thousands streams of the shower jet, pricking, piercing and tickling. And many, you see them draining down through the steel mesh with a guttural sound. You may not want to answer this question in public. But here is an artist asking you to perform your moment of truth anonymously. In the virtual space of her website, artist Suchitra Gahlot asks you to say why you cried last. But here is the rider, you have to tell the reason in ‘one’ word.

‘One Thousand Tears’, an installation piece by Suchitra Gahlot, currently shown in Shrine Empire Gallery, New Delhi, has already been on in the virtual space for almost a year. Each time, some anonymous visitor types down the reason his/her tears, Suchitra carefully types the same word down using a vintage type writer and pastes the word on a 10 ml glass bottle half filled with a fluid resembling tears. Thousand such bottles are kept in a row on a three inches wide glass plinth. On the one end of the plinth, there is a vintage type writer, still holding a sheet of paper about to be ‘typed’.

Some strange attraction takes you by force as you start reading the ‘one word reasons’ ranging from simple ‘love’ ‘hate’, ‘friendship’ etc to more socio-psychological issues like ‘divorce’, ‘sex’ and ‘pms’. The apparent clinical cold detachment of the installation melts down as the viewing progresses only to reveal the inner layers of human psychology. Attached to the vials the tears and the one word labels tell us how ironic our existence is. Once we finish reading the 1000th bottle, suddenly we realize the voyeur in us. The disinterested aesthetic enjoyment is transformed here into a passionate voyeuristic pleasure. The mundane becomes obsessive and psychological. The private become performative and theatrical. This installation becomes a spectacle of voyeurism; a defining aspect of our times, where the personal pathos is airbrushed to glossy advertisements.

Suchitra, who has worked in the field of advertisement as a visualizer and copy writer, knows the power of words and visuals well; and that explains why her works are so minimal with catch lines as titles. ‘Humming is Definitely Happier than Singing’ has all the elements of a minimal theatrical performance. It is about a dialogue; could be between two characters, two incidents, two notions or anything. We see two chairs and a closer look reveals that the weaving is done with the tape from an audio cassette. The chairs thus become chairs of frozen dialogues. Despite the suggestive title, this assemblage hints at the archiving of words. You need a magnetic intervention for making them heard again. There is a sort of irreverent humor in Suchitra, which translates history into frozen chairs of analogue tapes.

The same irreverent humor takes an aesthetic form in ‘One Thousand Tears Use and Throw Book’. Four customized tissue paper boxes constitute the work. The box resembles a vintage type writer. You may take out a tissue paper, which has a ‘word’ typed on it, use and throw it into the dust bin. Nothing holds permanently, Suchitra seems to say. The sympathetic performance seen in the ‘bottle installation’ is reversed here into unconscious aggression of sorts. The same words that caught your voyeuristic attention are trashed and thrown into a dust bin. The viewer becomes a performer of two social roles within gallery space.

‘Some Days I Wake up Thinking Is There Really a God’ is another floor installation created by Suchitra. As I mentioned before, the title shows her affinity for copy writing; for creating catch phrases. This work has hundred inverted ice cream cones made of resin and painted over with acrylic colors. The artist suggests the irony of daily lives. Ice cream cones represent the preciousness of petty things in individual lives and they are thwarted at every other moment, which makes the artist wonder what the title says. For me, this work does not work well in the same place where the other three minimal installations are placed.

Suchitra is a finding of this art season. She was presented in the recently concluded India Art Summit, by Shrine Empire Gallery. Suchitra’s visual takes on daily lives are refreshing with their minimal but strong visual presence. Her works embody the moments of spectacular voyeurism. Suchitra Gahlot can go a long way provided she makes further negotiations between the catch phrases and adequate visuals and objects.

Rating 6/10

Friday, August 14, 2009

Between Mirchi and Gucci

(from Tapori Arts Review Series)

Madhu V calls his Delhi debut solo, ‘Vernacular/Suspended’ (at Palette Art Gallery). The title explains Madhu’s stance on art, aesthetics, life and its philosophy. The emphasis is on the ‘vernacular’, the side-stepped, the off-centered and the de-invested. And above all they are suspended, in a sort of suspended animation. Vernacular in suspended animation, I would like to qualify them so. As the images in these works are vernacular, the viewer, who has already pushed his own vernacular behind the polished linguistic facades, needs a bit of initiation into the realm of images that Madhu creates.

Most of the images, which are seen hanging from the roofs, come from the collective memory of a Malayali. In Madhu’s suite we see this collective memory getting cleaned up, sanitized and museum-ized for a dispassionate perusal. These hanging utensils, implements and objects had once played a very active role in the daily lives an average Malayali. These were the visual codes that marked the qualities and quantities of an agrarian economy and interestingly all these visual codes had their verbal equivalents, which together made the social exchanges possible.

Economic changes primarily and fundamentally affect the quality of social exchanges. The visual-verbal linkages are ruptured in this process. While the visual codes remain in a symbolic realm of exchange, as a part of cultural authentication, its verbal correlatives go into oblivion. When a verbal code is shifted from an active field to a very passive field, it gains a value of taboo around it. Hence, we can say that there is always a ghostly linguistic pattern behind every active linguistic pattern. Images, similarly consigned to the archival symbolism, too become a ‘negative trace’ of the visual language.

This linguistic trace, which is of course ghostly, that Madhu brings back to his pictorial imagination, generates a lexicon of visuals, a sort of volume of/for ghosts, which do not intend to haunt. Madhu deliberately removes ‘time’ away from the images. The artist conjures up a visual world of vernacular objects, which is as systematically classified and categorized as in an actual lexicon. The word, the code, the phonetic intonations, meaning, interpretation, and the synonym and the antonym are obliquely presented in the actual ‘hanging’ images.

When brought back to ‘use’, vernacular can create surprises. Sudden introduction of the vernacular into the ‘national/normal’ stream of ‘language’ results into rebellion, laughter and analysis. Vernacular creates a different benchmark and it re-sets the parameters of the social exchange. It consecrates and desecrates at the same time. It shows an alternative and also emphasizes the impossibility of going back. It shows the glimpses of a Utopia that had never been and never will be. It confuses the listener/viewer. Vernacular, with its raw power disorients the mainstream.

There is a sense of desolation and silence in Madhu’s works. It is the only indicator that makes the viewer to think about Madhu’s existential concerns. Otherwise, as Satyanand Mohan, the catalogue writer points out, it is about the celebration of labor as pleasure in an agrarian economy. The pleasure-pain principles of labor are taken out of these objects and images. The artist, as I mentioned before, presents them as archival museum objects, cleaned and preserved.

The power of vernacular is palpable in Madhu’s works. But where does the artist go from here? The archive that Madhu searches in seems to be so vast. But then just painting each and every finding from it would not serve any purpose, I feel. It will be the multiplication of the same. In this show, Madhu has flaunted his creative muscles with an obligatory object installation with red chillies and wooden cot. Scale seems to be one of the limitations in Madhu’s present suite. They seem monotonous in their repetitive scale. Madhu needs to make a big leap and the painterly sophistication Madhu shows in this show will not help him to articulate all what he wants to express.

Rating: 6/10

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Connaught Place WhyNot Place- Why Not?

Seventy days, twenty five artists, five sessions and a lot of art works- if someone asks me to define ‘Connaught Place WhyNot Place’ project initiated by Religare Arts.i Gallery, I would say so. Perhaps, I would add- it is summer magic. And I pinch myself to know that it is not just a mid-summer night’s dream. No, it is real. On 8th August 2009, Arts.i celebrated the successful culmination of the first season (of the summer residency program) with a show by the resident artists.

‘Connaught Place WhyNot Place’, which is going to be a future brand amongst the summer residency programs in India, originated from the fact that the summers are a ‘lean period’ for art in Delhi. Severe climatic conditions send the artists either away from the city or force them to take recluse in their own cocoons. Booming art market had made some dents in this long held notion about Delhi summers. But this time, with the recession blues around, Arts.i thought of making the summer colorful, meaningful and ‘cool’. They short-listed twenty five artists and provided them with studio spaces for doing conventional as well as experimental works.

Located at the historical site of Connaught Place, Arts.i cannot have chosen a better theme than Connaught Place for its residency program. The tag, WhyNot Place points towards the possibilities this city centre can offer to the artists. Connaught Place gets a new meaning and also it appears as a new challenge when this tag of ‘Why Not’ gets added to it. The artists in residency were supposed to take up this challenge and deal with it. This project then is a sort of art workshop and reality show rolled up into one, with Nicholas Hoffland, the big but benevolent brother as curator and mentor.

Now when you talk about a reality show, you tend to take sides- you like some participants and you don’t like some others. In the case of an art reality show, I too am prone to this human weakness. I cannot like all the twenty five artists and their works alike. I have to make my choices.

‘Connaught Place WhyNot Place’ is successful in bringing a few genuine talents to the limelight. I name them- Megha Joshi, Gagan Singh, Shafi Quraishy, Raj Kumar Mohnaty, Mukesh Sharma and Daina Mohapatra.

Megha Joshi, an alumnus of Fine Arts Faculty, Baroda and not a migrant in Delhi re-invents Connaught Place in her installation titled ‘Rooted in Memory’. She collects a lot of milk bottles from one of the famous dairies in CP and creates a sculpture that almost looks like a stream jutting out from a wall which is framed for the purpose. The fragility of memories, even the fragile relationships one can have in a place like Delhi and the brittleness of history are well indicated through this work. Connaught Place, a place that refuses to become ‘Rajiv Chowk’ has nothing but a modern history as its mainstay. It is an evolving space and Megha has envisioned this place as a haunted area. Using latex surgical gloves, she creates a narrative on the quotidian life that evolves around CP. The satirical streak in her works ensures repeated looking.

A migrant’s fear never subsides however he gets naturalized in his new environs. Gagan Singh and Mukesh Sharma in this way express the secret anxieties of a migrant in their works. They also revel in the secret pleasures that the city offers. Religious and social history comes under the microscopic analysis of Gagan Singh as he creates a series of narratives using ink drawings as his medium. These narratives are quirky critiques on a city- perhaps not about Connaught Place alone. The linearity of drawings, the simplicity of thematic selection and the complexity of conceptualizing the theme are starkly noticeable in Gagan’s works.

There is a surreal mixture of textural, textual and image layers in Mukesh Sharma’s work. The apparent abstract feel of the pictorial surface fades away and the figurative narratives come out one by one as the onlooker keeps looking at the work. It is all about Connaught Place and its latest history. The pathways, the metro, people going around with their daily chores etc are discernable. What makes this work important is Mukesh’s skillful weaving of two contemporary factors- the woman is not safe in this city. A social minority lives under the threat of violence. I am very curious to the redefining of Picasso in Mukesh’s work without showing any trace of cubism. A condensed Guernica? Has CP become another war field; war zone of cultures?

Shafi Quraishy has been dealing with the issues of science, technology and technology induced war/terror/torture methods. According to Shafi, human being is the ultimate machine which can withstand any kind of pressure or terror on him. He becomes the ultimate machine because he has a philosophical mind to understand that human being is the biggest enemy of any other human being. In Connught Place WhyNot Place, Shafi creates a huge painting of a knee, seen from a close perspective, with the bone structure and ligaments visible. Behind it, there is the vast expanse of a city plan, resembling CP, seen from an aerial perspective. Nuclear permutations and combinations are seen in the atmosphere. In this tensed musculature detail one can feel the perennial struggle of David against the gigantic Goliath. Shafi imagines the city as a city of Davids and also of Goliaths.

Daina Mohapatra looks at her own self and creates her own multiple images, tonsured and tortured to calmness. These multiples act out several daily dramas, as if in a pantomime. ‘In the Eye of the Storm’, Daina, paints her self portrait with an open mouth that carries an ocean in it. On the right panel, one witnesses another self of the artist making her reflected self to listen the songs of the sea from a conch shell. The background is Connaught Place as indicated by a map with arrows going helter-skelter. Or are they indicating a way out, a way out of the traps of a city as emblematized by Connaught Place?

Raj Kumar Mohanty’s untitled sculptural installation attracts the viewer as it has a mattress created out of cotton balls and a piece of granite for pillow. On the other end of the mattress, a small monitor plays out the image of a dying cockroach on the same bed. It is an interesting take on Connaught Place, in which an artist wants to see CP/city as a mattress where the beings die the death of a cockroach. Migration is still an interesting artistic theme for Raj Mohanty.

Connaught Place WhyNot Place has several installations. The display looks quite contemporary. I can recall the works of Rajarshi Smart, Avishek Sen Satadru Sovani, Pratibha Sing and so on. At the same time there are some experimental works which are done for the sake of experiments.

(For more pictorial reference and for a better view of the works please visit

Friday, August 7, 2009

Do We Really Need Husain in India Art Summit?

Do we really need M.F.Husain’s participation/representation in India Art Summit?

Last year too, almost during the same time, voices of discontent were heard as India Art Summit did not ‘include’ Husain’s works ‘fearing attack from certain groups.’

We all know what are these group and why Husain is in exile?

This time too, the conscience keepers of Indian secularism are out on prowl. News items on Husain’s exclusion from India Art Summit have already started doing rounds. If I can trust one of my artist friends, it is reported that Dadiba Pundole of Pundole Art Gallery, Mumbai has withdrawn from India Art Summit for the Husain reason.

Let us be realistic. India Art Summit is organized by a private agency, Hanmer MS &L. They must be spending a lot of money in organizing it and the galleries that are participating in the Summit also must be shelling out a lot. They are all looking for business.

We all want business to happen.

Point out one gallery or one agency in India that wants its wares to be destroyed or vandalized by a group of hooligans only because some ‘disputable’ wares are on display. Nobody wants it.

Does Husain need India Art Summit’s endorsement? When you hear the conscience keepers of secularism baring their breasts on behalf of Husain, you get this kind of feeling: may be these people need India Art Summit to endorse Husain’s worth.

Inclusion or exclusion of Husain’s work in the Summit is strictly a private issue of the galleries who are a part of the summit and the organizers of it. The participation of galleries proves that they are ready to go by the decision of the organizers in excluding Husain.

Do you remember Chandramohan of Baroda? He was everywhere in news in May 2007. He was also a victim of a certain group interest. Why our conscience keepers of secularism do not raise a voice for him?

Is Chandramohan a part of India Art Summit?

Husain is a great modern artist. We respect him.

You must be knowing that when his works were presented at the Indian Highway show at Serpentine Gallery, London, this year, critics did not take them with our mindset. They ripped the works apart saying that he is not a contemporary artist to be showcased along with many other youngsters.

Husain is going to be 94 on 17th September 2009. SAHMAT is already on the move to do a show to celebrate his birthday. It is going to happen in Jamia Millia Islamia.

Do we call it ghetto-ization of an artist?

I want these people to go and ask Mrs.Sonia Gandhi and Dr.Manmohan Singh, why Mr.M.F.Husain is still living in exile.

Or let us wait and see, how many of them would reject a Padma Shree or a Padma Bhushan from the Government of India only to show their solidarity with M.F.Husain, who was denied Bharata Ratna.

Last year nobody rejected. Let us wait and watch what happens this year.

Why all those intellectuals decide to speak in the seminars of India Art Summit (Right From Gita Kapur to Ranjit Hoskote)? Why don’t they reject the Summit’s offer?

That means they all endorse India Art Summit. And I take it as a good sign.

For these breast beaters Husain is just a badge, like the ones the young punks in Delhi University and JNU wear to show their affiliation with the poor.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

…therefore I am

(Meenakshi Patil’s show opens today (5th August 2009) at the Point of View Gallery, Mumbai. Following is the catalogue write up I wrote for the show)

What do you do when the mud of social injustice is flung at you on a daily basis right there in the public realm as well as in the domestic sphere? You see people laughing at the sight of your mud smeared face. You feel like ‘reacting’ and on a second thought you decide to smile at them; a benevolent smile that would blunt all those sharp scorns eventually. Smile/laughter is a philosophical possibility and it is used the way people use tag lines in their email ids and profiles in networking sites. Laughter accepts humiliation with humility and at the same time it becomes a weapon in itself to box down the humiliation.

Meenakshi Patil’s paintings are not the reactions but the ‘responses’ to the social injustice and imbalance seen proliferated in the gender relationships in our society. The artist at the outset itself refutes the possibility of her being included in the category of ‘feminists’. These paintings, predominantly dealing with feminine issues, in a way deviate from the academic feminism and find their place in the streets, or to put it in other words, in the ‘locations of femininity’. The realism that drives the thematic of these paintings into the viewers’ memory as ‘local’, ‘familiar’ and ‘identifiable’, is a conscious stylistic choice of the artist as it could open up an affable discursive field without entering into the jaded academic discourse on feminism.

However, the positioning of subjectivity within the laughing and laughable narratives, should be seen as an attempt by Meenakshi for guarding against the possibility of trivialization. I would compare these paintings as a purposeful ‘Lavani’ performance rendered in two dimensional forms. Meenakshi being a scholar in Marathi culture and literature must be aware of the potentiality of Lavani dance as a form of social titillation through suggestive sexual potentiality (of the woman who is performing and the subject in performance) as well as a critical tool to lampoon the social ills. Lavani dance is a hierarchical and gendered performance. However, interestingly, it arouses and erases the embedded hierarchies simultaneously, paving the way for seeing the performance as a critique than as mere titillation.

In a sense, the laughter heard and seen in a Lavani performance is re-presented and simulated tangentially in Meenakshi’s paintings. The feeling of loudness (of colors) and lewdness (of posture) underlined by the flashing laughter is imparted consistently by these paintings. The local and the familiar are repeated in an exaggerated performance (of painting) rendering these works more performative than painterly. Meenakshi tickles the evident to the contorted thereby creating a space for the viewer to enter either to follow the contortion (which would lead from the visible to the intended) or to trace the original (only to evoke the familiarity of consumption).

Meenakshi takes off from and lands back in the field of consumption and desire, where the ‘woman’ is hailed as heroine, consumable object, sexual icon, ultimate sacrificial lamb, selfless provider and so on. Though we partake in this ideologically loaded discourse without feeling guilt, any one poking at an alternative possibility becomes a location to deviate and laugh. Meenakshi facilitates such laughter through a device, which I would call ‘urgent parallelism’. She takes images from the familiar surroundings, make parallels out of them in order to satirize subtly the ways in which we identify things as ‘good/bad’ or ‘black/white’ or ‘permissible/non-permissible’ etc. Meenakshi makes an internal narrative linkage between the quotidian (as in Newspaper advertisements) and the divine (as in the advertisements of holy fathers and holy mothers), and between the popular (as in casting couch) to the ritualistic (as in Karva Chaut). One cannot escape the internal mirth that the artist feels when she critically reduces the dominant male ego into a curved phallic bitter gourd (poking at the possible arrival of diabetes during the middle age- read it into Mid Day newspaper image).

Meenakshi Patil has always been a topper in literary studies and she is an accomplished poet (I deliberately avoid using the word ‘poetess’) in Marathi language. This must be one of the reasons that she alludes to punning of words and the ideas evoked by words and phrases. By incorporating a set of verbal graffiti in her works, she achieves a certain amount of narrative flair, which would enhance the satirical effects, which at times her autobiographical self itself willingly yields to. While celebrating a woman’s internal world of thinking using laughter as a tool, Meenakshi consciously forwards a critique on the women celebrities like Oprah Winfrey and our own Jayalalithaa who are obsessive shoe collectors (does it sound like bone collectors?). They never know that their collections surreptitiously express their fear of turning into footwear themselves within a world of male ideology. Meenakshi’s gesture in this context is quite Andy Warhol-like. You never make out whether Warhol says ‘yes’ or ‘no’ with his mumblings. It could be anything. And Meenakshi uses this enigmatic positioning throughout her works.


New Delhi

July 2009

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Shadow of a Doubt

It was mid noon. With Moravia’s ‘Voyeur’ in hand, he sunk into the couch, switched on the DVD player to watch Hitchcock’s ‘Rear Window’.

Munch’s ‘Scream’ looked at him from the wall, from right next to the portrait of Che.

Cigarette stubs, a used condom, half opened books, unwashed clothes- that was the floor like. Anachronism unlimited- he was that.

He wanted his right leg to be in PoP cast.

Then he performed his black and white death in that couch.

Police version was different. They said, they found him in the bath. And the movie ‘Psycho’ was still on when they broke open the door.