Sunday, August 9, 2009

Connaught Place WhyNot Place- Why Not?

Seventy days, twenty five artists, five sessions and a lot of art works- if someone asks me to define ‘Connaught Place WhyNot Place’ project initiated by Religare Arts.i Gallery, I would say so. Perhaps, I would add- it is summer magic. And I pinch myself to know that it is not just a mid-summer night’s dream. No, it is real. On 8th August 2009, Arts.i celebrated the successful culmination of the first season (of the summer residency program) with a show by the resident artists.

‘Connaught Place WhyNot Place’, which is going to be a future brand amongst the summer residency programs in India, originated from the fact that the summers are a ‘lean period’ for art in Delhi. Severe climatic conditions send the artists either away from the city or force them to take recluse in their own cocoons. Booming art market had made some dents in this long held notion about Delhi summers. But this time, with the recession blues around, Arts.i thought of making the summer colorful, meaningful and ‘cool’. They short-listed twenty five artists and provided them with studio spaces for doing conventional as well as experimental works.

Located at the historical site of Connaught Place, Arts.i cannot have chosen a better theme than Connaught Place for its residency program. The tag, WhyNot Place points towards the possibilities this city centre can offer to the artists. Connaught Place gets a new meaning and also it appears as a new challenge when this tag of ‘Why Not’ gets added to it. The artists in residency were supposed to take up this challenge and deal with it. This project then is a sort of art workshop and reality show rolled up into one, with Nicholas Hoffland, the big but benevolent brother as curator and mentor.

Now when you talk about a reality show, you tend to take sides- you like some participants and you don’t like some others. In the case of an art reality show, I too am prone to this human weakness. I cannot like all the twenty five artists and their works alike. I have to make my choices.

‘Connaught Place WhyNot Place’ is successful in bringing a few genuine talents to the limelight. I name them- Megha Joshi, Gagan Singh, Shafi Quraishy, Raj Kumar Mohnaty, Mukesh Sharma and Daina Mohapatra.

Megha Joshi, an alumnus of Fine Arts Faculty, Baroda and not a migrant in Delhi re-invents Connaught Place in her installation titled ‘Rooted in Memory’. She collects a lot of milk bottles from one of the famous dairies in CP and creates a sculpture that almost looks like a stream jutting out from a wall which is framed for the purpose. The fragility of memories, even the fragile relationships one can have in a place like Delhi and the brittleness of history are well indicated through this work. Connaught Place, a place that refuses to become ‘Rajiv Chowk’ has nothing but a modern history as its mainstay. It is an evolving space and Megha has envisioned this place as a haunted area. Using latex surgical gloves, she creates a narrative on the quotidian life that evolves around CP. The satirical streak in her works ensures repeated looking.

A migrant’s fear never subsides however he gets naturalized in his new environs. Gagan Singh and Mukesh Sharma in this way express the secret anxieties of a migrant in their works. They also revel in the secret pleasures that the city offers. Religious and social history comes under the microscopic analysis of Gagan Singh as he creates a series of narratives using ink drawings as his medium. These narratives are quirky critiques on a city- perhaps not about Connaught Place alone. The linearity of drawings, the simplicity of thematic selection and the complexity of conceptualizing the theme are starkly noticeable in Gagan’s works.

There is a surreal mixture of textural, textual and image layers in Mukesh Sharma’s work. The apparent abstract feel of the pictorial surface fades away and the figurative narratives come out one by one as the onlooker keeps looking at the work. It is all about Connaught Place and its latest history. The pathways, the metro, people going around with their daily chores etc are discernable. What makes this work important is Mukesh’s skillful weaving of two contemporary factors- the woman is not safe in this city. A social minority lives under the threat of violence. I am very curious to the redefining of Picasso in Mukesh’s work without showing any trace of cubism. A condensed Guernica? Has CP become another war field; war zone of cultures?

Shafi Quraishy has been dealing with the issues of science, technology and technology induced war/terror/torture methods. According to Shafi, human being is the ultimate machine which can withstand any kind of pressure or terror on him. He becomes the ultimate machine because he has a philosophical mind to understand that human being is the biggest enemy of any other human being. In Connught Place WhyNot Place, Shafi creates a huge painting of a knee, seen from a close perspective, with the bone structure and ligaments visible. Behind it, there is the vast expanse of a city plan, resembling CP, seen from an aerial perspective. Nuclear permutations and combinations are seen in the atmosphere. In this tensed musculature detail one can feel the perennial struggle of David against the gigantic Goliath. Shafi imagines the city as a city of Davids and also of Goliaths.

Daina Mohapatra looks at her own self and creates her own multiple images, tonsured and tortured to calmness. These multiples act out several daily dramas, as if in a pantomime. ‘In the Eye of the Storm’, Daina, paints her self portrait with an open mouth that carries an ocean in it. On the right panel, one witnesses another self of the artist making her reflected self to listen the songs of the sea from a conch shell. The background is Connaught Place as indicated by a map with arrows going helter-skelter. Or are they indicating a way out, a way out of the traps of a city as emblematized by Connaught Place?

Raj Kumar Mohanty’s untitled sculptural installation attracts the viewer as it has a mattress created out of cotton balls and a piece of granite for pillow. On the other end of the mattress, a small monitor plays out the image of a dying cockroach on the same bed. It is an interesting take on Connaught Place, in which an artist wants to see CP/city as a mattress where the beings die the death of a cockroach. Migration is still an interesting artistic theme for Raj Mohanty.

Connaught Place WhyNot Place has several installations. The display looks quite contemporary. I can recall the works of Rajarshi Smart, Avishek Sen Satadru Sovani, Pratibha Sing and so on. At the same time there are some experimental works which are done for the sake of experiments.

(For more pictorial reference and for a better view of the works please visit

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