Better late than never. It is applicable in the case of visiting an exhibition also. ‘Construct/Constructions’, a group exhibition of thirty artists culled from the Kiran Nadar Museum collection and curated by the in-house curator, Roobina Karode had in fact opened on 23rd April this year. The show will run till 15th December. At the outset itself I should say, it is a coming of age show, especially in the Indian exhibition scenario where a show hardly runs more than two months. It is not only a worth watch show but also a must watch show. Had it been in any other country other than our own where people are killed for eating beef and writers, historians, scientists and artists are giving back their awards to the government and getting no response from it, this show would have been a blockbuster one. Where the government should invest its attention in promoting the contemporary culture to with its declared position of ‘vikas’ (development), it despicably goes out and out to prove that we had test tube baby production facilities and air travel facilities during the times of Ramayana and Mahabharata. Anyway, that is not my point here.
If a show runs for eight months it should have some reasons. First of all we have to agree that a show of this scale and content deserves not just eight months but one years, but really it deserves a lot of appreciation from people as well as from media. Whether the show has got it or not is a different question altogether. Secondly, this should, so painstakingly and meticulously put together could also function as a filler program. as it has helped the museum to cross the severe summer months in Delhi. On a nice, cool and pleasant October evening, if I am the only one person in the halls of the Museum while milling populace throng at the discount sale malls of South Delhi, next door, with one of the pioneer experimental art space, Khoj Artists International, across the road, then there should be something wrong with all of us. I say, we are the citizens of this country and we reflect the attitude and policy of our ruling governments. I do not want to say that during the UPA governments or the governments before them, things were bright and rosy when it came to the attendance of a show. But I do want to say that so long as the government say that godly depictions are better than the secular and nude ones , and there could be government sponsored as well as private censorship on works of art, I am sure that the number of people going to the galleries and museum would further deplete. Museums and galleries are the litmus tests of fascism. When people avoid the spaces of culture and throng at the city squares and malls to listen to patriotic songs and enjoy censored menus, we could say that fascism is here and now.
(Roobina Karode, curator)
‘Construct/Constructions’ is a beautiful concept. It talks about the mental constructs that the artists create out of the material surroundings and their spiritual mediations of it. Also it is about constructions that are in our physical and ideological surroundings. Art cannot be out of these two constant processes that come on the mental interface of creativity. In that sense each work in this show plays a very pivotal role and exemplifies how an artist deals with his or her present as well as the things and ideas that construct their present. Though these works of art come from different time frames, that means from the younger days of Raza, Souza, Vishwanathan, Davierwala, Zarina to the really young people like Masooma Syed, Srinivas Prasad, Nandita Kumar and so on. The show has thirty artists and each work has been given their iconic and monumental presence.
When there are thirty artists in a show it is very difficult to do justice to each and every artist in a critical review. Hence I would say that my review is my view and my priority that does not mean that the other works and artists who do not get a mention here are less relevant therefore unimportant. Hema Upadhyaya has created a slum that covers the earth in a box form, with meticulously creating the slum clusters using the same materials that are used in constructing the slums. When one stands inside the work, one feels how crammed and suffocating would be the existence of the people who live in these structures. However, what makes the work important and relevant for me is the acknowledgement that an artist gives to the existence of slums. These are the structures that the ruling class and the affluent would like to maintain but keep away from the ken of perception. But the truth is that the more the urban sprawls expand the more they will be covered like a fortress by the slums. One has to understand that it is not the slums that automatically mushroom but these urban developments engender the slums. They are the by products of not only the physical development of the urban spaces but also the products of an ideology that makes vertical and horizontal lines in segregating people during the urban development. Hema’s work is a reminder within the urban context that the more you make your dwellings plush and surroundings gentrified and controlled, the more there will be a nomadic growth not only supporting but also threatening the very existence of the urban spaces.
(work by Hema Upadhyaya)
The question here is where does one stand, as an artist, in this discourse? In this criticality of affairs, the artist is like a person who speaks against bottled water from multinational companies and forced to drink it on a daily basis. Artists live in the imagined urban security but they are aware of the issues pertaining to the development agenda of the governments. That is exactly what Natraj Sharma does in his a little bit ambitious but at bit crazy installation of a scaled down housing apartment done totally in oxidized iron. The building looks like an abandoned and gloomy structure; you see the kind of degeneration and decay that we see in the lower middle class apartments, which slowly decay due to the lack of maintenance. Natraj’s work also intends to show the litigations on land and buildings; it at the same time reminds you of the buildings that remain after a bombing or blaze. Tallur brings the colonial history of domination and the changes that brought about the very concept of architecture and lifestyle with the introduction of roof tiles. This large installation reminds the tragedy and comedy of the confrontation between our tradition and modernity.
Gigi Scaria scores the maximum in the show with his ‘Elevator from the Subcontinent’ (which had exhibited in the Indian pavilion of Venice Biennale. This one looks like an altered version of it). Once you are inside the lift, you are willingly undertaking a rollercoaster journey to both hell and heaven. It takes you to the dizzying depths of urbanization; its cream and the dreg. It reels your head and destabilizes your stance. If urbanization and its fastened, secured and elevating version could make your head reel and make you feel nauseous then what could be the effect of it in real time. We come to feel that this is the nausea that we are living with. Nausea is a word related to the existential discourse of the 1970s, when the western countries were facing the issues of fast paced urbanisation. Gigi being aware of this discourse has incorporated all what is involved in this existential discourse. Also it is a climax of his former videos that had brought in multiple narratives in the single frame, questioning the issues of illusion/reality and myth/history. This work, when I was standing inside the life reminded me of the riveting Video/film ‘Deep’ (2002) by Steve McQueen.
(work by Gigi Scaria)
Nandita Kumar’s work that captures a pastoral environment in thin metallic silhouettes in a large jar with the natural voices of birds and other creatures at once presents the nostalgic beauty of our romantic environments and the bottled lives that we artificially live in these days of ‘development’. This work could be a reminder to the world saying how foolish we are in creating the safe havens but literally eliminating what is natural and recreating all those to live ‘naturally’. On a lighter note I would say, if S.Kovan could be arrested and charged with sedition for singing against Amma (Jayalalitha) then artist Masooma Sayyed also should be booked on similar charges for she sings against history using the paper covers of high end whiskey bottles. She creates little tableaus taking historical figures from her country’s (Pakistan) military and political history using the covers of the liquor bottles. The work travels too far to reach the drinking habits of the military men and the irony of using religion as their guiding principle. The work of Masooma reminds me of a book titled ‘My Feudal Lord’ by Tehmina Durrani. It would be justifiable if I talk about the work of Sumedh Rajendran in this same paragraph. He has been creating works using iron and leather for a long time. In one of his poignant works here, he creates the image of a large dove, the symbol of peace at the same time the dweller of abandoned spaces. It is done in the form of a window grill with broken glasses. Sumedh combines a personal memory with the work; he had seen some street urchins pelting stones at an abandoned factory building and the breaking of the window panes giving a great joy to the kids. Sumedh says that the contained humidity of the factory sighed out and it was something that affected him internally. These works carry multiple narratives on the urban realities. Perhaps, a writer like me could go on for another two days writing about urban realities based on the works of Sumedh Rajendran.
Sudarshan Shetty’s work is a wooden carpet with an obscure human figure lying under it. Intricate in carving, this work presents a problematic of the meeting points of urban modern and the traditional rural binary in the context of development. There is a sense of exploitation in this whole process. However, the labour comes to provide beauty to development is intricately connected the way Sudarshan mixes porcelain with wood in the making of traditional jars. But I wonder what is that lacking in these artists including Sudarshan that prevents these artists from being as forceful as Ai Weiwei. Is this the question of conviction, political belief or fear itself? Srinivasa Prasad is in the line of Sudarshan. His work of a bamboo hut casting shadows all over reminds me of a series of other works including the ones done by Sudarshan earlier. But I give a chance of doubt to Srinivasa. He could do better. Pooja Iranna’s works, constructs done with stapler pins looks pretty but less impressive compared to the other works. Reason, the sense of scale. In a group show in a gallery these works could make sense. But in a large scale show it could be less impactful. Is it because of the cluttered spaces where her works are exhibited? The curator should think about it.
(work by Masooma Sayyed)
Also the curator should think about why she included Yamini Nayyar and Simran Gill in this show? May be Roobina has her own logic than they also belong to the KNMA collection. May be she has another curatorial logic which I do not understand. While Gulam Mohammed Sheikh’s Kavad is illustrative of his personal belief in secularism, like all the William Darlymple books are as exciting as his ‘Last Mughal’ or ‘City of Djinns’ all the works of Gulam Mohammed Sheikhs are not that great. I understand at some point of time most of the artists have done something about urbanisation as they are the creatures of this world. However, there is something that makes the works of KGS, Raza, Souza, Ram Kumar, Viswanathan and Davierwala stick out like sore thumbs. With all due respect to these masters I would say, the curator could have considered them in a different show. The only consolation I have here is that they are exhibited in a separate segment. That itself is segregation. It happens when the curator is slightly under pressure more than what she could accommodate in her curatorial perspective. At the same time I thought that Nandita Kumar and Anish Kapoor could have been put face to face to see the effect of it. Last but not the least, why this stinginess when it comes to hand outs? KNMA is a very rich organization. I do not say that any ‘non-mainstream’ critic like me b be given a catalogue even for keep sake but he could be given a hand out, a small booklet with the images and details for reference sake, for free. It helps, it helps a lot.