Thursday, July 10, 2014

Sepulchres of Icicles: Sajeev Visweswaran at 1 Shanti Road, Bangaluru

(Sajeev Visweswaran)

Sajeev Visweswaran’s drawings look like fine incisions made on the surface of a paper; they resemble the precise etching lines made on a zinc plate with an acute stylus. Though Sajeev was trained as a painter during his graduate years, his calling was to become a graphic artist for with the kind of dexterity in capturing images using lines, which defy all kinds of volume possible through shading. Sajeev’s drawings are not lyrical and their warm precision does not even resemble the studied clarity of the architectural drawings. They, for me at least, look like flattened images, peeled off layer after layer from his repository of memories. This must be one reason why Sajeev, after his post graduation in graphic arts from the Fine Arts Faculty, Baroda, spent a few years as a teacher the same department and became one of the most sought after teachers by the young students. Deliberately reluctant in using colours, Sajeev’s works look like minutely detailed paintings from where colours and volume have staged a walk out, leaving the lines to stand naked, stark and like razor’s edge.

When his solo display opens today at Bengaluru’s 1Shanti Road, Sajeev must be anxious about the audience's response for the space is already famous for experimental art including gallery based installations and performance art. From the images I gather that the ambience as well as the demand of the space have influenced Sajeev to do some kind of experiments with his drawings, if not about colours and volume but about their sizes and appearances. There are straight drawings in the hallmark style of Sajeev Visweswaran but at the same time there are certain assemblages where his miniature size drawings are kept in tiny containers that are generally used by the watch repairers for keeping the micro machine parts of the wrist watches. In today’s use and throw world, perhaps watch repairers are anachronisms like tailors in city; they almost look like sailors in their crew uniforms stranded in the middle of a desert. But when Sajeev brings those outdated vitrines to an exhibition space, it cannot be for anything but to remind the viewer of those good old days where people could see the finer details of things, when they could stand and stare with absolute concentration, exactly the way a watch repairer looks at micro world of machines through a magnifying glass.

Only up to that extent we could say that Sajeev’s works are lyrical or poetic. But however precise he is in his drawings, and however he eschews consciously the romanticism of colours, so long as he uses memories as his raw materials, he cannot do away with lyricism completely. In a sense, for Sajeev, these drawings come to life as a part of his self purgation or catharsis. Strangely caught up in the web of love for his wrinkled grandmother, the early drawings of Sajeev were a recurring tribute to the old age of that grand old lady. Sajeev saw his creative world moving around an axis in the form of his grandmother. He repeatedly drew the portrait of that lady, sitting, sleeping, thinking, speaking, day dreaming, speaking to cats, dogs and birds, and so on. This strange of obsession with an old woman, a grandchild’s perennial need to be in the vicinity of a story telling grandmother, had set the tone of his drawings, at times to the dismay of the viewer. What is there so much to speak about an old lady, one would wonder. But for Sajeev, he saw the world through her, the papaya tree seen in the courtyards, his parents in a morning stroll in their backyard vegetable garden, the room interiors, the cats that move around; they looked like registering moments for the artist to cherish on later days. But then, why couldn’t he do the same with a camera.

Sajeev with his skill for creating line drawings feels it impossible for him to see an image through a camera. Perhaps, he is a young artist who is without a digital camera that could instantly convert an observed image into a permanent moment, and proliferate if need be. But Sajeev, with his film camera enjoys that anxiety about a captured moment which manifests only when it is treated in a darkroom and he likes to see the surprises that it would reveal there. He is a strange pilgrim in a popular site of pilgrimage. He is a pedestrian in the street filled with digital vehicles; and he enjoys the walk thoroughly. After his grandmother’s death, Sajeev seems to have come to his own devices of negotiating the world. What he has been taking in from around his surroundings subconsciously seems to come back actively to goad him to see the truth of his life without the context of familial love and gratitude. In the new body of works, Sajeev uses memory as a spring board and take a plunge into the political memory of the country. 

However, I do not say that his drawings are overtly political. They suggest politics only when we know for sure that he has been living in Baroda for almost a decade now and has seen the after effects of communal violence and designer pogroms. He never has been a direct victim of all these social atrocities. But once he has overcome the grip of the memories about his grandmother, there seems to have happened a transportation of his own artistic self to the living moments of larger reality. The internalized violence of a society comes to take unprecedentedly strange forms in Sajeev’s drawings. Hence, here you see a lotus pond in fire or a lotus pond with fire emitting from at least some of the lotus flowers. Does the artist obliquely suggest a political party that has lotus as a political symbol and has all the tendencies to instigate communal divisions and hatred? Is burning lotus a symbol that surreptitiously comments upon the political changes in the country? Or is it a radical shift from the painterly traditions created by senior artists like A.Ramachandran, who has been drawing and painting lotus ponds relentlessly for some many years?

In one of the works, Sajeev uses an old wooden box with a sliding lid that moves along a pair of horizontal grooves. This box, seen from the memories of a rural past, was used for keeping spices in the kitchen. Sometimes these boxes were used as containers for keeping anything that would have a future use; it could be a shell, a few pebbles, buttons, needle and threads, old coins, broken toys and so on. Interestingly, these boxes were the favourite items/possessions of the grandmothers. From these magical boxes they used to conjure up divine objects for their grandchildren to play with. This particular treasure trove today is a useless object devoid of even aesthetic value as they are not ornamented or intricately carved with an inlay of mother pearls or ivory. This simple box, with a lid half slid opened, has a little drawing in it; a drawing of a burning wagon. I say Godhra but the artist says Auschwitz. I say 1921 mutiny and the artist says one is free to find associations. Effective in its simple visual presence, this particular work, however is not exceptional as a few artists have attempted this several years before.

 Sajeev titles his works as ‘Forgotten Memories’. If they are forgotten memories, then definitely these works are the reclamation of the same. Memories are a war against oblivion. So if someone asks, the way someone had asked Picasso, what is happening in your lines, then Sajeev could obviously say that a war is on in his lines because these line drawings are his attempts in retrieving the memories from a permanent loss or from them getting submerged into the glitter and glamour/clamour of the present day world. Seen from a different perspective, Sajeev works could be seen as fading lines. They are almost invisible on the surface and this near invisibility could be a ploy used by the artist to make his viewers to remember hard. For the familiar ones, there would be sense of elation in finding similarities, and for the new comers, Sajeev’s works would function as a key to open their own memories. Have they got such fading memories? Are the still in a war with oblivion? These works, for me, are Sajeev’s attempt to memorialize moments than memorise them. Sajeev’s drawings are sepulchres created out of icicles. Will they withstand the heat of time? Let time tell the answer.

(pics by Cops Shiva)

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