Sunday, September 28, 2008

Hyderabad Blues

I visualize Hyderabad through the works of two young artists namely Om Soorya and Sujith SN. Perhaps, these are the two artists who brought attention to the Hyderabad art scene. Even before them, C.K.Rajan, a former Radical Group Member and a participant in the prestigious Documenta had settled in Hyderabad by the early 90s. But then there was no worth reckoning art scene in that city. Rajan’s decision to settle in Hyderabad was sheer issue of survival. He was teaching there in the Hyderabad University and was doing his works silently. In late 90s he exhibited the works in a solo exhibition titled ‘Mild Terrors’ at the Siddharth Hall, Max Mueller Bhavan, New Delhi. His image collages were really looking futuristic therefore out of place in a scene which was dominated by paintings, paintings and more paintings. Except for a few friends like us none had noticed Rajan’s work then. I believe Bose Krishnamachari included him in his famous ‘Double-Enders’. In 2005, I curated him in one of my group shows titled ‘High Fly My Beloved Birds’, conceived as a tribute to the departed sculptor and friend Asokan Poduval. Later Documenta and ‘Spy’ happened in Rajan’s life. Now he is a famous Hyderabad based artist.

Hyderabad is still not a lucrative place compared to Baroda or Bangalore, the places where the youngsters would like to hire studios and work from. By the beginning of the new millennium Alex Mathew, again a former Radical Group member, after finishing his Baroda stint went to join the Hyderabad University and he could attract a lot of young students to the university. You may think that I am talking only about Malayalis. Yes, I am talking only about Malayalis because not many Hyderabad artists have come up in the national level. If I am not wrong, Rajeswara Rao is the only other artist hailing from Hyderabad made it in the larger scene of Indian contemporary art. Om Soorya, after his education in the university decided to settle there and Shalini Sawhney of Guild Gallery, Mumbai gave him a big break. Now he is a FICA Young Talent Award Winner and currently he is having a show with the Vadehra Art Gallery, New Delhi. Sujith S.N, a young artist who did his Masters in Hyderabad was promoted initially by Dilip Narayanan of Open Eyed Dreams Gallery, Kochi and later he was picked up by Sakshi Gallery, Mumbai. His recently concluded show in Sakshi got critical as well as market acclamation.

I have never been to Hyderabad. Perhaps, I have looked at the Hyderabad airport from the windows of a Kingfisher flight as I had to break my journey there while traveling to Kochi. Though I looked out for traces of the city as seen in the works of Om Soorya and Sujith, I could not make out much as all the airports have that detached business-like coldness. Till today, for me Hyderabad is a city of lights and structures, repetitive motifs, undulating landscapes, squares and circles, and an all engulfing layer of dust. I imagine the city in this way because this is how Om Soorya and Sujith present their city in the works. Perhaps, Hyderabad has got two versions in my mind; Om Soorya Version and Sujith SN version. And both of them transcend the everydayness of the city into mythical and magical.

Standing in front of the works of Om Soorya, displayed at the first floor space of Vadehra Gallery, I see Hyderabad and a few enthusiastic youngsters whom I had not seen before in Delhi. Om Soorya comes forward and gives me a warm embrace. I could feel his happiness because it is after a long time that we meet. His first major solo show, ‘Random Mirrors in the City of Villagers’ in Guild had a catalogue write up by me. Om Soorya likes my writing and now he is profusely apologetic. His catalogue is written by Noopur Desai, a former gallery executive of Vadehra and he says that he had asked her to produce a write up which would extend the thought process that I had put together in his first catalogue. Never mind, I say. Then he introduces those young enthusiasts to me. They are Om Soorya’s friends who have come all the way from Hyderabad to attend the opening. They are all artists. I meet Suresh P and Kedar Dondhu, both of them are settled now in Hyderabad.

Why Hyderabad? I ask them. They have a ready answer: with the success of Om Soorya and Sujith SN in the scene, those who pass out from Hyderabad University have now grown confident and they have hopes about being picked up by gallery majors elsewhere. Besides, the living cost is less and the ex-students are also allowed to use the library facilities of the University. Alex Mathew, Rakhi Peshwani and a few young teachers inspire these young artists to work harder. Sarada Natrajan teaches art history there and she also inspires young students. I overheard at the bar someone from Hyderabad speaking to a friend of mine that the days of ‘struggling’ are over. “Why should one romanticize struggle? Why can’t one live a good life and produce art?” He asks. I could feel the alcohol induced confidence in his words. I want to tell him that struggle is not all about money. Art is a spiritual struggle; a perpetual struggle with one’s own self. A never ending struggle with the angels and demons in the world of creativity. Rajan still struggles though he is materialistically improved after a long period of ‘struggle’. Success has somehow intoxicated the youngsters, I feel. Hyderabad is not different in this case.

Kedar Dondhu is a Kashi Award Winner. “Why everyone paints the city?” I ask him. “I don’t paint the city. My works are different. But I believe my works too are inspired by the life of Hyderabad,” he introspects. This city must be having something, which intoxicates the youngsters to paint only the city city and more city. “Where have the native Andhra Pradesh young artists gone?” I enquire as I am slightly confused. “They all go into animation industry because there is quick money in it and they don’t want to struggle,” says Kedar. I sigh, at least one person is there who still thinks about ‘struggle’ in a different sense. With no major galleries around, it is interesting to see how these young artists keep their spirits high. “There is one gallery Hastha. And whoever does a show outside Hyderabad as a norm by now does a preview in this gallery. So we get to see the works and a lot of discussions happen around the works,” Kedar informs me.

The bomb blast occurred near Qutub Minar in the afternoon (27th September 2008) has made many people stay back at homes. The gallery looks slightly desolated. But the Hyderabad youngsters are not challenged by the thinness of audience. They are here to feel the ‘Delhi Opening’. That is another high for them and I am sure that they would collect a few stories and a few experiences that a night and a day could provide them, and would go back to their beloved city of Hyderabad. I am sure, one day I too would go there and see what makes this city tick and also what keeps these youngsters in a perpetual high. Then, I would be holding this young artist Om Soorya’s hand and telling him, “Dear friend, the pressure on you to paint more and more was palpable in your Vadehra show. It is time that you come out of these paintings, repetition of images and the confusion about what to include and what to avoid. Your paintings are like a powder keg ready to explode at any time. It is time for you to think about other mediums, which could accommodate your thoughts on the city. If not people would say, ‘Oh….Om Soorya…city and lights….’”

Om Soorya takes my hands in his and looks into my eyes and says, “I like the way you put things. You talk like an artist. When are you going to do your ‘works of art’?”

Resisting a deep passion to kiss him, I say, “Soon.”


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