Sunday, August 22, 2010

Day Three- We are at War, as Aggressors and Victims- Manjunath Kamath


(Day Three begins for Manjunath Kamath)


Violence has many means to manifest. Levinas once said, you can spill blood even by making someone blush.

Remember the orgy of violence in Delacroix and Goya? Haven’t you witnessed the cry of a dying horse in Guernica? War war, rumors of a war.

On the third day of Manjunath Kamath’s ‘Conscious-Sub-Conscious’ project, the moment I step into the gallery, from nowhere Bob Marley’s famous song, ‘Rumors of War’ rings in my ears.

‘Until the philosophy/Which holds one race superior and another inferior/ Is finally discredited and abandoned/ Until the basic human rights is equally guaranteed to all/Without regard to race/ There is war/…..War in the East/War in the West/ War up North/ War down South/War war/Rumors of a War.’

Today, Manjunath’s sub-conscious seems to have really taken over his conscious self. For the last two days he has been comparing his second drawing of masked figures on the first left wall of Espace Gallery with the other drawings done in the lower ground floor. “Look at the second drawing,” Manjunath muses, “they, for me, now look very controlled and conscious. It is demanding some intervention. I don’t know what it is going to be.”

A television crew is already here in the gallery. Manjunath starts with the ‘Electric Plant’. The foliages of his childhood days have now assumed the character of an eerie thicket, beckoning the viewer with its alluring power. And you sense Manjunath getting possessed with something; a spirit residing in the unconscious. Manjunath let himself perform before the camera. The plant grows in different directions and it sprouts with more bulbs and plastic bottles for fruits and flowers.



(Foliages from Childhood takes an eerie turn here)

Manjunath repeatedly asks me and his trusted boys about the ‘electric bulb’ imagery; why is it coming a lot in these drawings? Why this plastic?

Then Manjunath proceeds to give some finishing touches to the ‘Dead Tree’. The television crew captures his performative act. But Manjunath is not conscious of their presence. He somehow wants to rest the dead tree. So he creates an illusionary hole at the tip of the tree pushes the twigs into it and pulls it out through another fanciful hole on the other side of the wall.

(A bit more action with the Dead Tree)

Stuck between holes, pulled and pushed between forces, a dead tree finally goes to rest. A museum object, a history, an idea, and ideology- pulled between holes of negotiation? The dead man’s ultimate effort to survive in memories? An artist’s homage to drawing? Reader/viewer you are the final judge?

(On the third day we have the dead tree like this- almost taking the shape of an installation)

But is there any finality to sub-conscious? We are not staunch Freudians, are we? So Himanshu Bhagat of HT Mint steps forward and chats up with the artist. He engages Manjunath in conversation that mostly revolves around the final images.

(Himanshu Bhagat of HT Mint with Manjunath Kamath)

Drawing is like life; like a city before and after rain. Like a garden before and after the beloved’s departure. It is like a river with and without diyas. It is like a child’s countenance. I had seen the ‘Man from Heavens’ with two different pair of foot wear. Today Manjunath adds a pillow under the right foot and an inflated balloon/ball under his right foot. A tense moment of explosion is created.

(Today Man from the Heavens have pillows and balloons for his foot rest- Compare it with yesterday's image)

‘God of Small Things’ had no pillows under his knee. So Manjunath gives him a pillow too plus a few more divine ‘rats’. The images of pillow are an integral part of Manjunath’s works, whether it is a painting, a sculpture or a video. He paints a very beautiful red cushion even for a banana. Pillows could be a buffer zone between two warring factions. Perhaps for Manjunath, we live through such pillow zones; seriously and farcically.

(God of Small Things with more Rats today)

There is no finality. I am sure by 26th August, these images are going to look different with certain additions and certain deletions. So I see Manjunath turning yesterday’s pillar with boxes and books into a solid table. The pillar transforms before your eyes.


(This is an actual pillar which has become a table for books and boxes)

(Pillar from the landing of the lower ground floor)

Let me go back to the theme of violence. From a jutting wall in the lower ground floor, Manjunath had already done some decorative scribbling on the first day itself. But today it grows, a cloudy form is created and at times they look like twisted pipes and from inside the jumble hands come out pointing at different direction or even asking for help. What it could be? Is the artist playing with the form and the decorative beauty of it? Or is he trying to exorcise the contained violence within him? Isn’t he depicting the plight of man caught between a divine and mundane world? The drawing has renaissance qualities; but we are not living amongst Medicis.

(The Cloud of Hands)

Manjunath flies above the steps and reaches his second drawing of the masked men. You see him adding images one after another. An erstwhile drawing of jovial mood turns into one filled with darker emotions.

(From the first day it has moved a lot)

Look at the face of the artist. Do you think that he is joking around with these images?


Look at these details. You have seen such mindless violence only in the graphic art of George Groz or Otto Dix.


Manjunath, like a possessed man rushes down and approaches a fresh wall. Faces appear with fingers poking into each hole of other’s body. Act of ultimate aggression. No reverence for the other. This is the world we live in. Manjunath knows it for sure and when he draws images don’t stop in half way. It is like street fight. They all come and pounce on the hapless.

(Creating a new image of Violence)

Now Manjunath is sitting at the floor. He makes two figures facing each other. They are masked. The mutual titillation through a violent means (of gagging and masking) is palpable. At the same time a possibility of auto-eroticism cannot be ruled out.

(The Talk)

You naturally ask, why these people are hooded? Let me answer the question. Hooded men used to come to attack the segregated men and women, with their weapons and burning cross. Then men were hooded and still hooded in several dungeons created by imperialistic forces. So it is a headgear of the victor and the victim. Hood in Manjunath’s drawings, for me at least, is a symbol of violence, inflicted upon us and inflicted by us.

Another hooded clown does a David Blane act. He is on a high pedestal which is at once his footwear too. The decorated and elongated feet of the tables also have stiletto points at their ends. Manjunath calls him ‘The Magician’. The magician sends his powers and at bulb hanging from the ceiling and it moves as if touched by a rushing wind. Is this magician trying to dispel the evil ties that bind the ‘hooded’ men dumped in ‘camps’ where lonely bulbs light up the human miseries? I feel Manjunath’s sub-conscious is making a re-visit to the history of terror and art history of terror images.

(Making of 'The Magician')

By evening people start coming in. M.Ramachandran visits Manjunath again with his friends. Anubhav Nath, curator and director of Ojas Art Gallery, New Delhi comes followed by art historian, Mrinal Kulkarni. Priya Pall of W+K Exp spends a few hours in the gallery watching Manjunath working.

(M.Ramachandran of LKA with friends)

(Anubhav Nath and Mrinal Kulkarni)

(JohnyML, Priya Pall and Manjunath Kamath)

Art connoisseur and author Rupika Chawla, Rajeev Lochan, the director of National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA), New Delhi, artists Ravider Reddy and Veer Munshi come to greet Manjunath Kamath.

(L to R- Rupika Chawla, Renu Modi, Ravinder Reddy)

(Manjunath Kamath, Ravinder Reddy and Rajeev Lochan)

(Art collector Shivprakash Shetty, Ravinder Reddy, Manjunath and Veer Munshi)

It was a glorious day with glorious clouds over Delhi’s sky. Tomorrow is another day.