Pradeep Mishra’s ‘LovetoLive’ at Palette Art Gallery, New Delhi is an artistic attempt to profile the muted, hunted, decimated and humiliated lot of animals, who in the process become the surrogate figures for the human beings subjected to the same conditions. Considering that we have a number of contemporary artists who have captured the dilemma of the migrant, defeated and dispossessed human beings by creating their stark portraits, we should allow ourselves to read Pradeep Mishra’s works as the portraits of animals rather than them being surrogates for human beings.
Perhaps, Pradeep Mishra is one of those young gallery oriented artists, who consistently work on the notion of an ideal society where the animals are not subjected to inexplicable cruelties. The notion expands its scope from just being a kind of blind love for the animals to a more philosophical plane of considering the ‘life’ or the ‘life essence’ in each living organism as the manifestation of the one and the same source, which needs to be treated with dignity and compassion. This compassionate world view, which almost questions the idea of charity in order to see the establishment of a world where the conditions for charity no longer exist (I get carried away by Zizek at this point), though too idealistic to be realistic, is somehow justified not only as a personal aesthetic style but also as an ideological insistence for equal rights and justice.
I remember visiting Pradeep Mishra at his Borivili studio in Mumbai almost five years back. I saw him carefully feeding a few fishes in his aquarium and also saw a couple of fishes kept in isolation in a different glass tank. The scales of these isolated fish were coming off and Pradeep was applying some medicines on them. The decay on their bodies was caused by some bacterial infection, Pradeep told me.
When I see a series of drawings (oil on paper) that shows various animals/creatures (including fish) in splattered red as if they were going through a phase of decomposition, I remember the isolated fishes in Pradeep studio. This aspect decay that he brings out in his drawings somehow operates as a subtle critique of/on an unequal society. His deliberation in fixing a large drawing of a fluttering bird (oil on paper) directly on the frame, without hiding the fact that the fixing is coarsely done, shows a sort of contained anger of the artist.
A set of small portraits of various animals and birds, put together as a painterly installation, is more appealing for the intimacy with which the artist handles the very aspect of portraiture. Pierre Bourdieu in one of his essays on the sociology of photography speaks of how the intimacy between bodies within the frame of a group photograph shows the level of dignity and love between the posing subjects as well as their relationship with the person who holds the camera. Here in Pradeep’s assemblage of animal portraits, though separated by individual frames, the portrayed subjects underline their bonding between each other, which otherwise goes unnoticed in ‘normal’ conditions and inversely Pradeep shows his relationship with these animals as if they were the members of an ‘imagined’ family.
Pradeep’s sympathy and empathy with the animals, which now have taken the shape of his artistic/personal philosophy, start sometime during mid 2000s. I remember him talking (during the same studio visit) about the animals in that locality, which were tied in their stables during a terrible flood (that affected Mumbai in 2005). All the animals died in this captivity. Pradeep was shocked by the callousness of the farmers who did not let the animals to rush to safety. His early paintings portraying buffaloes and cows came out as a reaction to this incident.
Today, when Pradeep paints Elephants, giraffe, migratory birds, ostrich, monkey, tiger, Zebra and donkey (all sold, except for the donkey one- the website of the gallery indicates), somehow I am not convinced the way I was convinced by his early portraiture of domestic animals. The eyes of these animals painted with a lot of precision would haunt you for long. However, these portraits seem to be a result of Pradeep’s failed search for other effective ‘images’. You may think I am contradicting myself as I like the assemblage of animal portraiture and tend to dislike the big portraits of the abovementioned animals. But my contradiction comes from this fact that large portraits of animals become a ‘subject’ to/of human desire rather than deflecting it with their defiant postures as we have seen in his other works.
Pradeep has always been interested to add some special elements to his shows. In Guild, Mumbai he had strewn Rose petals all over the gallery floor and left them to decay or dry during the show. In Khoj, Delhi, he had kept the plants to grow. Here in Palette, Pradeep creates a nursery of plants before the portraits of giraffe and elephant. Perhaps, there is no direct connection between the images and this plant arrangement (I don’t want to call it an installation as it is too simplified an attempt to be called so). With no clue, textual, visual or verbal to supplement the meaning of this arrangement, I am left with no tool other than my experience and learning, which make me say that Pradeep could have avoided this mandatory plant arrangement.
(A question to mull over: Do typological alterations always communicate artistic intentions?)