Sunday, September 4, 2011
Bhavna Kakar’s Love is a Four Letter Word
‘Chai keliye jaise toast hota hai’ (The way toast is needed with a cup of tea) is the new anthem of Airtel, one of the mobile phone service providers in India. Somehow, when I see the show, ‘Love is a 4 Letter Word’ at the Latitude 28 Gallery of Bhavna Kakar, this line comes repeatedly in my mind. Why? I ask myself several times. Finally, yesterday evening while I was driving my car and listening to the same anthem in my FM Radio, I got my answer. There should be ‘some’ reason to have ‘something’; that something could be anything.
As a title, Love is a 4 Letter Word is catchy. It has been inspired by a Joan Baez song, one of the write up says. From movies to novels to serials to dialogues, this phrase has been there everywhere ever since man realized that ‘love’ is also a four letter word like many other four letter words. The phrase is intense, at the same time tacky. It is emotional and serious, at once it is sentimental and ironic. I don’t know whether Bhavna while organizing this show thought of all these multiple possibilities of this popular phrase. However, the wall text by Avni Doshi gives a very sincere effort to define love. Love is this that.....what not. But then after three lines it goes blah blah blah. If any doubt please go to Latitude 28 Gallery, enter, turn your head to your right and it is just there.
Bhavna has always been interested in tongue-in-cheek titles. We should not forget how she, for two seasons continuously asked us, ‘Does Size (really) Matter? (parenthesis mine). So that pre-occupation with ‘size’ is over, now there is no problem to move on to the ‘four letter words’ like love. After D.K.Bose lyrics from ‘Delhi Belly’, now if some Lado Sarai Gallery comes up with other famous ‘four letter words’ starting with ‘F’, don’t feel surprised. I am talking about words like ‘Firm’, ‘Form’, ‘Farm’ (Strength, Shape, Environment and so on. I know you all think the other way round. We are dirty minds).
My revelation through Airtel anthem was simple: During recession (is it an illusion?) to sell works, without losing the name, fame, dignity of the gallery, there should be a (curatorial) theme that justifies a show with a collection of works by a set of artists who have already a niche market. There in Palette Art Gallery, the show ‘Red’ was one such effort (Will come to that in another review). So Chai keliye jaise toast hota hai’, waise, sales keliye ek theme hota hai. There is nothing much to think about the title as it is not argued well by the gallery or the wall text writer (no curator’s name is mentioned or did I miss it?)
Now to the artists and their works. There are four dear artists in this show. Fifth one I don’t know personally. Manjunath Kamath, Bose Krishnamachari, Chintan Upadhyay and Chitrovanu Majumdar. Sana Arjumand from Pakistan is the fifth one. And their good works together make a ‘dud’ show. As an art critic who is a close friend of the participating artists it is very difficult to say something like this. But let me clear the air: Good works, but together they don’t make much. Each work is marooned in their own island like lonely travellers waiting for a saviour ship to appear there in the horizon.
Braille paper and script has always been an inspiration to Bose Krishnamachari. During 1990s he did a lot of portraits of artists and philosophers on the Braille paper. Also during his abstract period in mid-90s, he had experimented with the Braille papers. But with his NO solo in Dubai (2010), Bose became a full-fledged lover of Braille systems by converting them into certain wall sculptures (relief sculptures). In this show, he comes up with the word ‘Love’ written in Braille script. It is sensuous and invites touch, though none is allowed to do so. ‘Going blind’ is a theme, I believe, that has been pricking his conscience for a long time since his ‘NO’ show. We can expect more Braille works from Bose in the near future. The present work in this show is quite successful within the given context of theme and engagement.
Chitrovanu Majumdar surprises with his sculptural installations and reassures the viewers with his paintings done in his hallmark style. In the paintings that depict the most passionate moments between a male and female, with so much of aesthetic discernment the artist removes the ‘points’ of encounter through the hazy blacks and reds. He inscribes the surfaces of the paintings with letters (as if they were culled from love letters) at once giving the pictorial plane a pattern orientation and design as well as an abstract quality. Chitrovanu’s sculptural installations with two metal blocks stuffed with artificial rose flowers, vertically fitted on a wheeled platform, interestingly remind me of the male-female principles, hard and soft cores, reversed and inversed quite consciously and made ‘kinetic’. In Latitude 28, I thought it needed a different display space. Perhaps, right in the middle of the upper gallery with darkness surrounding it with only two spot lights from up illuminating it.
But in the upstairs we have Chintan Upadhyay’s new avtar; two huge paintings and one series of digitally manipulated photographs. Love has been a problem for Chintan for a long time. So there is no problem if he paints like a wounded soul. So in the paintings we have two huge bouquets with blood dripping from here and there, also now the smart alec babies playing the role of cunning cupids. It is like that, when people fall in love cupids wound them. The bloodshed is ironic; real/suffered and the unreal/aspired. The paintings are framed in decorated frames with golden sheen. They are aptly melodramatic in their imitation of the baroque. The digital photographs of house burning have a direct resemblance with the performance that Murali Cheeroth had done in Sandarbh 2010. Murali also had used a ‘home’ image and burned it down in a slow process. Anyway Chintan Upadhyay is unlimited. And the Dabaang sculpture of the smart alec baby head with punkish attribution is interesting. One is sure that Chintan is going through a period of ‘f**k off’ attitude. But I wonder why he did not present anything from his series ‘Love’ where he asked thousands of people to write the word ‘Love’ in their respective languages.
Manjunath Kamath never fails to live up to the themes in his own quirky ways. He is a maverick who could play between the large and small scales and formats. The large paper work, which is curiously titled, ‘Tree Lover after Benod Behari Mukherjee’ has a man wearing a deer’s antlers and growing branches out of that. Those who are familiar with BB Mukherjee’s ‘Tree Lover’ would really be amused to see how the philosophical mood of BBM is inversed to create the dumbness of beings that mindlessly destroy their own surroundings. Manjunath does not connect love to the ‘love affair’. In his series of small works sizing up to a few inches (Does Size Matter?) Manjunath spontaneously creates a series of images that could connect with the so called ‘love’ between a man and woman. Hence, the shoulder strap of bra becomes as important as a young man enthusiastically wearing an Anna Cap (Gandhi cap is old fashioned) that has an inscription, Mein Kaun Hun? (Who am I?). The digital work of Manjunath looks a bit less inspired though it has all twists and turns and puns of a quintessential Manjunath.