Monday, September 27, 2010

Fragrance of Guava: Marquez and the Dubai Man

(Gabriel Garcia Marquez)

This posting does not have anything to do with art. But it is about human beings. So it should interest you, if you believe you are one among the formerly mentioned tribe.

On the way back to Delhi, my ticket is booked in a flight that goes via Hyderabad. I prefer aisle seats, a habit developed out of my company with Anubhav Nath, who thanks to his huge frame prefers aisle seats.

There are a few advantages in aisle seats. One, it gives you enough room to move your legs. Two, you always feel the angelic beings moving quite close to you along the isles wearing badges that herald their curious names like ‘Poonam’, ‘Nisha’, ‘Payal’, ‘Pinky’ and so on. Three, if you are a compulsive washroom user, there is nothing like an isle seat. Four, it gives you a false sense of self gratification; you have traveled enough by air and you are no longer interested to see things down there through the windows.

While the third is the first reason for many, second becomes the prime reason for most. Third reason is a very pressing one. First is an excuse and the last… that is a sub-conscious issue. None flaunts their sub-conscious on their sleeves.

This young man with a well cut French beard and a wife in ill-cut churidar suit are there already in the middle and the window seats respectively, as I find my place next to them in the aisle seat.

Suddenly I feel that this man could help Lady Macbeth who laments no perfume from the whole of Arabia could wash the smell of blood from her hands. I feel that a perfumery is toppled right next to me, drowning me into the dizzying depths of fragrance.

His wife, perfect round with a golden handbag for hub could have wheeled away anytime had she not been fixed to the seat with the safety belt.

I open a book, a book of book reviews written by S.Jayachandran Nair, my Guru in journalism and read a chapter on Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

‘Marcos’, the young man peeps into my book and reads.

I want to correct him, but I keep my cool. I don’t like people prying into your private world, especially when it comes to reading, eating and other things including sexcapades (sexual escapades).

‘Who is Marcos?’ he asks me. Suddenly a sort of innocence oozes out of this man’s soul and I could feel it. Here is a man, who has not heard of Marquez, I think.

‘He is a well known Colombian novelist and Nobel laureate,’ I tell him while trying hard to prevent eye contact.

‘What do you do?’ he asks.

‘I am a writer,’ I tell him. Perhaps challenged by that answer he scans my bearded face and asks, ‘Do you write for movies?’

‘Yes, one of my stories and scripts is in the post production stage,’ I tell him.

‘What else you do?’ he enquires again.

‘I don’t do anything else.’

‘Shall I borrow your mobile phone for a minute? My wife wants to speak to someone?’ he extends his hands to me.

I could not say no. His wife speaks into the phone. All irrelevant matters for me, which out of curiosity, I force myself to listen. “Where have you reached? Have you had your lunch? Don’t forget to latch the backdoor at night. Tell, auntie to buy that shelf etc etc.”

For a moment I feel offended. Then commonsense works for me. These people don’t have a mobile because they are not going to be in the country. They must be doing an overseas journey and Hyderabad must be their transit point.

While I wander away from my Guru’s words on Marquez, the man, obviously upset by his wife’s callous behavior of overusing a borrowed phone snatches it from her and hands over to me with a confident face.

‘Where are you going?’ he asks me.

Delhi and you?’ I ask

‘Dubai,’ he says with a sense of elation, which can be felt only by those who have made it in the Gulf countries, where they can afford to live with a family, in a proper home with a car and other amenities. ‘I am settled in Dubai,’ he reassures himself.

I realize that the sense of satisfaction comes not from knowing Marquez but from asking a question like, ‘who is Marcos’ with a lot of confidence; living in a hyper developed place like Dubai with no give and take with the world around him.

Here I find a man with no existential angst. A happy family with its concerns moving around a latch and lunch.

The flight takes off. I don’t read anymore till we land in Hyderabad as I oscillate between the fragrance of guava and Arabian dreams.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Moving out of Mayalokam, the World of Illusions: Photography of Leo James

(Leo James)

I am not an ornithologist. However, today I feel like comparing artists with birds. Going by their studio arrangements, artists are of two types: pigeons and hummingbirds. Artists were pigeons when the idea of bohemianism was still relevant. Now most of the artists have become more like hummingbirds.

My analogy comes from the way these birds in question make their nests. Pigeons invade a place, make their very skimpy nests and once the chicks are hatched, they make a mess out of that place. Hummingbirds are a clear contrast to pigeons. They are very orderly, meticulous and dexterous in natural engineering.

(a corner at mayalokam by Leo James)

In a real and imagined zone of bohemians, the occupants behave like pigeons, littering their dwelling spaces with anything and everything they deem to be important to their lives. Artists’ studios used to be like pigeon coves. Today things have changed; many studios look like the office room of a chief executive officer of a corporate establishment.

(Mayalokam by Leo James)

There was/is a beauty in bohemianism and the pigeon nests like studios. The photographs that you see here are the evidence of the existence or former existence of such a studio in Mattancherry, Kochi. These photographs are taken by Leo James, a young photographer, trained in visual communications, apprenticed photography under the ace photography artist, Abul Kalam Azad and currently this twenty seven years old Leo James lives in Dubai.

(Stairs to the world of illusions by Leo James)

Before you make any judgment on these pictures and my relationship with the artist, let me tell you one thing; I have never met this artist. Till this morning, I did not even know that he was living in Dubai. I have been following the pictures of Leo James that he posts quite regularly in his Facebook profile. I was hooked on the very first day itself. I knew this young photographer was gifted and he belongs to a school of photography that I am quite familiar with.

(The Door by Leo James)

You know well that Facebook for those expatriates who are now known as Non-Resident Indians or more theoretically the diaspora Indians (Indian diaspora), now is a window to their nostalgic past. What we consider irrelevant and almost comic/trivial in our daily lives, many of these NRIs post in their FB accounts with a sense of purpose and satisfaction.

(Table at Mayalokam, by Leo James)

I feel that Leo James does not do it for the nostalgic purpose. It is time, I believe, for him to reach out which he could not do when he was in Kerala. Let me come back to the issue of the school of photography, which I was referring to.

(Mayalokam, Leo James)

This school of photography, which I would name today as the ‘Mattancherry School of Photography’ or the ‘Kochi School of Photography’ obviously is led by Abul Kalam Azad (about his works I had posted a blog earlier). Abul Azad works on the local and liminal. He trains his camera at the lost and the neglected. And he posits these deep ironically witted images against the points of the mainstream artistic/cultural discourse.

 (N.N.Mohandas and Abul Azad)

Abul Azad makes the play of shade not as a medium to create ‘effects’ but as a predominant element in his works. Today Abul Azad has left all his sophisticated equipments for a plastic camera. He takes photographs out of this and he calls it lomography. ( I will be writing about lomography soon).

(Abul Azad by Leo James)

Leo James belongs to this Mattancherry School of Photography led by Abul Azad. These photographs document, intervene and trigger off a discourse on the sociology of culture and its changing facets against the light of the socio-political changes happening in Kerala. Of course, when these artists move out of Kochi, they carry this sense of purpose intact along with their equipments.

(studio is getting stripped at Mayalokam, by Leo James)

What you see here today is the documentation of a studio moving or the wrapping up of a studio, which a few artists along with Abul Azad had invaded in one of those dilapidated Mattancherry buildings in the former Jewish Kochi. The first floor building was a studio for Azad and his friends for almost ten years. They lived, worked, ideated, quarreled, boozed there like, yes like pigeons.

(This is how Mayalokam looks from outside, by Leo James)

The studio was called ‘Mayalokam’ (The world of illusions) adequately because it was from where all the illusions were created in the form of reality, I mean in the form of work of art. Leo James was a regular visitor there, spending time with Azad and learning the finer details of photography. These pictures reflect what the studio was like and what it became and how it was left behind by the artists.

(a neat corner at Mayalokam by Leo James)

These photographs tell you the story of an erasure and registration. Erasure is a sort of physical act. You take out your stuff, pack it and move it. Registration is virtual act caught in the photography; like the Kirlian photography that registers the halo of human beings and captures the images of ghosts. What Leo James does in these photographs is a Kirlian act. He reflects his high voltage sensibility on to the images, objects and people that have been so familiar to his eyes and self for a long time and these resultant photographs are halo of the space; the invisible things that otherwise would fail to notice.

(From Mayalokam by Leo James)

The corridors, the wooden staircase, the enamels, framed posters, vases, trivial sculptures and the view from windows impart you with a sense of the space and place. You identify some of the posters there, for example a poster of the Double-Enders or a poster done by KM Madhusudhanan. You think they come from another century and suddenly you realize how the years have passed by, how the acts of culture have become part of the history with a capital ‘H’.

(From Mayalokam by Leo James)

Then you see the objects. They were there all the time, supplementing the life of the artists in Mayalokam.

(From Mayalokam, by Leo James)

The empty walls and the packed stuff. The gloomy interiors. Abul Azad walks like a spirit inside. Faces.

(From Mayalokam, by Leo James)

Leo James is a wonderful photography artist. In the name of digital art, we celebrate anything and everything that comes through photoshop. In the name of photography, we showcase third rate pictures with no effect. Leo James is a young photographer with a wonderful eye.

A few portrait photographs taken by Leo James for your reference:

(Anil Dayanand by Leo James)

(Javeed by Leo James)

(Ajith by Leo James)

(Ali by Leo James)

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Mirage at Religare: Analyzing the City in Garima Jayadevan’s Way

(Mirage by Garima Jayadevan- a view from outside)

The Transforming State- that was the theme of this year’s Religare Arts i residency program, by now famously called ‘Connaught Place/Why Not Place’. With artists Sumakshi Singh and Paola Cabal as mentor-curators, the artists of 2010, namely Purnna Behera, Brad Biancardi, Becky Brown, Rebecca Carter, Raffaella Della Olga, Garima Jayadevan, Greg Jones, Kavita Singh Kale, Megha Katyal, Nidhi Khurana, Jitesh Malik, Koustav Nag, Rajesh Kr Prasad, Vishwa Shroff, Rajesh Kr Singh and Onishi Yasuaki really did come out with set of interesting works.

I should have written about all the works. But my curiosity takes me in and around one particular work titled ‘Mirage’ constructed by a Mumbai based young artist, Garima Jayadevan. Let me add here that delineating this particular work of art does not discount the rest of the artists of quality or consideration. My attention to one amongst the few could be the whims of a critic and I am sure my whimsical engagement would take me to the other works sooner than later.

(Mirage- a view from the door)

Garima Jayadevan’s work is a four feet by seven feet vertical enclosure with carefully cut mirror pieces stuck on to the inner walls of it. Small little decorative electric bulbs runs along like veins and arteries lighting up the interior of the vertical box, where as a viewer you are invited to enter. Once you are in, you are entrapped in a maze that reflects your fragmented and dislocated image into infinity. The lights enhance these reflections and you notice that on the floor there are the images of arrows that point to all directions and while observing this entrapment through the eyes widened with amazement, you do not fail to notice that particular symbol of two interconnected arrows, which obviously the visitors and dwellers in the city of Delhi do not fail to notice as this symbol stands for the city’s transport corporation otherwise known as DTC (Delhi Transport Corporation).

(Mirage- The DTC symbol)

This is work enchants you in different levels. Reading against the backdrop of the thematic and also along with the other works proving their might in various formats, Mirage tells you that it is all about the city; city as a maze, city as a crucible, city as a boiling pot, city as an alluring trap, city as a desire machine, city as an agency that fragments its occupants. Garima’s points of references are the religious structures that she has come across during her twenty six years of life. These structures include Jain Temple, Kerala temples, Glass Palaces of visual opulence etc. There are obvious references to similar works in the recent art history, to which we would make a random visit later.

(Mirage -Detail)

If you don’t have too many references to art and films, the moment you step into this work, you remember your experience in an elevator fitted with mirrors on its four walls, or a changing room in readymade wear showroom or a washroom in a plush airport or a star hotel, or a beauty parlor/saloon where you made your last visit. If you are more inclined to remember arty stuff than the mundane you remember Charlie Chaplin’s movie titled ‘The Circus’ where Chaplin gets into trouble with law and order and gets chased by a policeman only to get trapped into a maze.

(Mirage- detail)

Perhaps, I am artier than thou! That’s why I immediately remembered Charlie Chaplin running like a mouse trapped inside glass house. If you look beyond the religious references of Garima’s works (that works only on the formal level), you come to know that what the work attempts to capture is the fragmented and terrorized relationship between the city as a powerful structure or all allurements and the occupant’s state of perpetual subjection to this terrifying power/beauty. Each time you try to negotiate with the society in different levels and each time you realize that you are left alone to figure out what city is for you. You remember Joseph K in Kafka’s novels where K is left alone to deconstruct the castles and judiciary systems. Garima’s work with its uncanny charm makes you aware of your powerless-ness as put against the omnipotent city, which ironically is constructed by none other than you.

(Mirage - Detail)

Now, I have been accused of some sort of treachery for citing art historical references that almost thwart the right of a work of art to be treated as autonomous and independent of influences. Whenever, I cite an art historical milestone, I don’t intend to question the veracity and originality of the artist in consideration, instead I try to see the linkages between the artist’s formal constitution vis-à-vis similar attempts in history. Here in Garima’s case, it is not me, but the mentors themselves cite the following references as a backdrop to the artist herself, in order to clear her ideas about the city. Though there are no visual references given by the curators, I have made my quick research in the line of the curators and found out the following images for your reference. This does not mean that Garima is a copycat or a blind follower of the following artists.

(Love Forever by Yayoyi Kusama)

(Work by Michelangelo Pistelleto)

(Work by Anjali Srinivasan)

(Work by Anjali Srinivasan)

Garima had her BFA from Rajasthan Arts College, Jaipur and MFA from the Government Fine Arts Institute, Indore (2007). To know her artistic talents a bit more closely, I present a few images from her repertoire of works so far:

(Garima Jayadevan with Mirage)

(Works by Garima Jayadevan)

Those who have seen this much will follow this link for sure: