Sunday, June 28, 2020

Committing a Photographic Act: Rooftops by Sohrab Hura

(Photography artist Sohrab Hura)

Photographs do lie; but there was a time when they never lied. Written words and clicked moments were the evidences of truth. Chances were less in manipulations on analogue photographs and if at all a few multiple exposures and long duration exposures were done one could really look for the evidences of such manipulations within the results. To unravel many a murder mysteries photographs came to be the ultimate evidences. Michelangelo Antonioni’s movie, ‘Blow Up’ (1966) is one such murder mystery and in 1954 itself Alfred Hitchcock had made ‘Rear Window’ with a photographer using his camera to fix a murderer in the next apartment. Most of the possible experiments had been done in the early days of photography and the culmination of which we see in the movie titled ‘Man with a Movie Camera’ (1924) directed by Dziga Vertov. The symbiotic relationship between still photography and moving photography/cinematography helped them develop techniques to dazzle people with tricky visual results during the pre-computer days.

(from Sohrab Hura's Rooftop Series)

However, in the post-computer and present digital days a photograph is the last evidence that could say some truth. Photographs register a reality but with a perspective chosen by the photographer. It has always been so but the early innocence of the image maker using a mechanical device with a chemical coated surface was fundamentally different from the ideological positioning of the present day photographers. Each person equipped with a smartphone is a potential photographer who could at times produce better photographs than a professional photographer could. Today, photography is, done by a photographer is a responsibility for he or she does or commit a photographic act. It is as good as committing a deed, showing commitment to a point of view, which is liable to be seen in various mediums with or without manipulations. That makes the committed photographer an absolutely different personality from the innumerable camera holders in the world. When the veracity of an image is suspected due to manipulations, only the truth value underlined by the photography artist could stand evidence to the truth within the image.

(from Sohrab Hura's Rooftop Series)
Seen against this context, each photograph that appears in the social media, print media and any other mode of communication has a doubtable authenticity and an authentication certificate coming to the viewer in terms of the photographer’s history and commitment. Sohrab Hura is one such photography artist who is has been committing the act of photography against the normal more of manipulations. His works are highly acclaimed and credited in major photography agencies like Magnum and British Photography Journal and so on. An economist by education and a photographer by choice, this thirty nine year old Delhi based artist takes photographs with a sense of critical disinterestedness. The idea of ‘bare life’ seems to be the guiding force of Sohrab. The state seems to be unaware of the kind of life that people lead near and away from its citadels but it needs these lives to be reformed through various modes of control. Bare life is the life of people excluded from the purveyance of the government; but it has its own pace and rhythms, with some ingrained potential to rebel and bring around change.

(from Sohrab Hura's Rooftop Series)

The Roof Top series of Sohrab tells it all. He looks at the buildings around him as he is locked ‘up’ in a country which is locked ‘down’. He has somewhat an advantageous position compared to the terraces that he eavesdrops with his camera. The terraces that had been once a no man’s land (sometimes plumbers go up there to do some repair or the cable guys may climb all the way up to fix a dish antenna) are now occupied by people at various times of a day and night for many different purposes. Old people come to walk around as walking down the roads is prohibited, young guys bring their dogs up there to walk. With the fall of darkness youngsters who seek loneliness sneak up to look at their mobile phones and do their private dealing there. Sohrab catches all these moments. One may think that there is some voyeuristic pleasure in the act but the more you look at the images the more you come to know that the author of the images take a neutral position (which has also an ideological stance emphasizing his neutrality based on being a true witness of the things around). The subjects are unaware of his existence at another window or terrace or balcony.

(from Sohrab Hura's Rooftop Series)

 Sohrab could be replicating the surveillance methods placed by the state at every expected corner in the society. Though that is not the real intention of the artist, he engages himself in a sort of benevolent surveillance; a registering of the facts/acts/events as they are for the posterity or for the time being, to satisfy his own need to make some images. An image is always there with or without an animated object/entity in it. But what image does a willing witness wants is another thing; he waits for some moment to appear or to click at a particular moment to extract the uniqueness of that moment. Something has happened there and what is going to happen, nobody knows. So the witnessing and registration by the photographer himself becomes a partial act which couldn’t be taken for truth or evidence. A photographer always works within this precarious discourse of meaning generated by a photographic moment/event. The presence of a person at a particular place at a given time could be misjudged towards an undesirable end for the given moment could be deceptive, a transgression from the path of the object/person. So even with the sureties of people doing mundane things on a terrace during the lockdown days, Sohrab couldn’t create an ultimate meaning. However, the socio-cultural and political context created by the pandemic seems to have given precarious yet palpable meaning ensembles that could be translated as truthful registrations of those days by Sohrab.

(from Sohrab Hura's Rooftop Series)
Each image created from an absolutely lonely, sad and moody space (I am just making a conjecture) by Sohrab makes an onlooker think more and more about the film ‘Rear Window’. Here James Stewart’s character, Jeffrey looks at the apartments beyond his window as if it were a landscape; he shows the same enthusiasm. He does not look for human presence or activities in particular. All those human activities are bonuses or accidental findings for Jeffrey, which eventually leads to a curious case of murder. This could be interpreted in multiple levels; a movement of human interest from the topographical fascination to anthropological specifics, that underlines Jeff’s initial interest as a transgression and later curiosity as a purpose. In another level, it has some Biblical connotations where the expulsion of human beings from the garden of Paradise takes place. Once that is done, the next is a murder; the murder of Abel. Jeff moves from the simple pleasure of viewing to the witnessing of a homicide. Sohrab’s pictures do evoke such parallels though he does not chance upon one. Many an interesting frame makes us feel the cold survey turning into a smile; exactly the one blooms in the countenance of James Stewart.

(from Sohrab Hura's Rooftop Series)

Sohrab Hura’s ‘Snow’ is another photo series that needs commendation for its literally ‘cold’ reality. Sohrab does not manipulate any single image or event to make them impressive or plain. May be anybody who opens a camera at those scenes could capture something like this; but the problem is that that opening of the camera shutter is a commitment that goes beyond the normal enjoyment of visual beauty of rural Kashmir or the exotic images culled out from there. As I mentioned at the outset, photographic act is a commitment and the images in the suite titled ‘Snow’ becomes all the more poignant especially after a year-long lockdown that the state has been facing since August 2019. Sohrab also published photobooks and writings.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Terrace, Balconies and Lockdown Blues in the Works of Neeraj Singh Khandka

(Artist Neeraj Singh Khandka)

Narrative paintings often give an overview of things and places. The narrator places himself at the edge, may be at an advantageous perch and like those great literary geniuses who have beautifully described the topographical varieties of the lands that they have not visited or seen in places, so vividly that none could dispute their authenticity or vividness, they go on to the interiors, exteriors, backyards, back streets, terraces, the woods and skies that line the horizon and so on with so much of clarity and vivacity. At times the painters keep themselves at the eye level or just below it and imagine all what could lie before and beyond. Miniaturists of yester epochs have shown their dexterity in this front and have inspired many who would energize the field of visual art in India and elsewhere later. Neeraj Singh Khandka, a young artist based in Delhi belongs to this category of artists who have deeper visions regarding topographical complexities. Like in the opening wings of an accordion, he opens up the places around him, seen from a window or terrace, in his simple yet complex graphic prints, technically called woodcuts but done on MDF boards sizing three feet by two feet.

(Stories of Walls in the Lockdown by Khandka)

The works of Khandka are interesting on many counts; of which the prime place could be given to his ability to handle narratives within the single pictorial frame or format, for the fine graphic printmakers this is not a highly challenging task though. These works catch the attention of the onlookers not just because of the artistic dexterity but the innate ability of an artist to ‘portray’ hope and his perennial efforts and energies to wriggle out from the forced confinements. The poetic truth of saying that man is born free but he is in chains everywhere is something that makes all the creative human beings to break the chain (an appropriate expression during the Covid days when the governments ask the people to wash hands with soap and break the chain of infection). Like most of the people in any part of the world where Corona Virus have created havoc, Khandka has also been undergoing self-isolation by default. And any creative person in the world is like a sapling in a pot kept in darkness. It would grow towards light whatever pains it might bring in.

(the Escape by Khandka)

Some break into songs, some into drawings, some into dance and some into depression. According to me depression is also an expression that denies all forms of expression. And the ultimate manifestation of depression could be through self-annihilation. But Khandka is an artist, a printmaker primarily and he sees the world manifesting before him through various activities in the terraces of the adjoining buildings. Man is a terrestrial being. But as he lives in high-rises and multi-storied buildings, his real connection with the terra firma is rare. Most of the activities have gone indoors and only during the vacations people see mother earth and nature in its true sense; these days, ironically, people go on vacations, take pictures of the sceneries in their smart phones and admire them as zoomable images than the images right before their eyes. Beauty and relaxations are now externalized and mediated through smartphones. We could call it mediated pleasures of being or existence. The pandemic situation has thrown people in disarray and the only outlet they have in terms of relaxation is their visit to the terraces in their buildings and the simulation of various activities that they once used to do on the firm earth.

(Life in the Lockdown by Khandka)

Videos that have been streaming in from different parts of the world that have gone into lock down show how people make use of balconies and terraces as the new location of their social engagement. Shifting this human engagement from the real spaces to the terraces and balconies has given them a new identity and realization. The new identity is that of a citizen in confinement who craves for freedom and camaraderie; the new realization is that the sprawling houses they have with high walls and securities cameras in fact have been the walls of jails and they too need the windows, terraces and balconies to rebuild connection with their fellow beings. Reducing the space to balconies to terraces or expanding the scope of such narrow spaces to a new vista of freedom has created a new ‘point of view’ and this is the perspective that Khandka uses in his works that shows the images of various spaces and beings (at times surrogate self-portraits) seen from/in the balconies and terraces.

(Quarantine 2 by Khandka)

There is something Bhupenesque about these works, I mean the feeling that the works of Bhupen Khakar evokes in the onlookers. Take the work titled ‘Stories of Walls in the Lockdown’. This is a jumble of balconies and terraces where people do various activities. Interestingly one could see only men on the terraces. What happened to the women in those households?  I think that the artist covertly mentions the fact that the women are forced into perpetual confinement inside the homes as their men folks are perpetually ‘home’ and need to be provided with food and other homely services. For the women, the lockdown is an authorized extension of what they have been going through even before the Covid or a sort of snatching away of their ‘own’ spaces from them for once the women have been the ‘owners’ of the balconies and terraces where they gossiped, watched the world, haggled with the vendors, bought milk and vegetables, dried clothes, watered plants and even on rare occasions used as launching pad to their own self chosen deaths.

(Balconies and Rooftops by Khandka)

Khandka, like the character in O.Henry’s short story last leaf, nourishes hope in each of his lockdown works. There is a plant or tree right in front of him. He is looking at them either in the demure acceptance of the lockdown or his vain effort to escape from the confinement through the terraces. Here one could see a normal citizen becoming a criminal by default. Each of his action is viewed with suspicion. So he becomes the thief in the folklores and legends, who comes by the terrace and goes by it. Seen in a different sense, he is the romantic lover, who stealthily visits his beloved via terrace. Or is he the virus himself that could visit you from the most unexpected yet familiar quarters? There is another work of Khandka titled ‘Quarantine’. It is the portrait of a chair, the real seat of power. Citizens’ woes have been created by the foolish but arrogant decisions of the super king who occupies the single chair of authority. Though the man is missing/absence, the looming presence is threatening and palpable, that makes the critique quite strong and appealing.

(The Mask Seller, Unlocking the Lock by Khandka)

Khandka nails the point in with a work titled ‘the Maks Seller: Unlocking the Lock’. The work has a surrogate self of the artist in the form of a mask seller. He is in a corner perhaps in a street but in fact he is inside the corner of a room itself, unable to go anywhere, which deepens the irony. His movement is curtailed by the thorns coming out from the floor around him. The single stool, a place to rest his tired legs and body, too has nails coming out from its seat. To sum up the picture, the protagonist is frozen and is made to stand still as in a punitive dictum given by the state. He has the saving tool, in the form of masks, but he cannot do anything with that as he is forced to stand in a corner. The irony of lockdown, the inevitability of human loneliness and suffering, and the unavoidable surrendering of human dignity before the iron fists of the state are adequately brought out through various images in this work. At the same time the artist affirms that there still is hope in the world through the single plant glowing against a rising sun just behind him, the artist and the human being. A worth seeing body of works by Neeraj Singh Khandka.

-          JohnyML

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Ayisha Sasidharan's Zentangles: Meditative Art Making that Denies Individualism

(Ayisha Sasidharan)

At the Sanghumukham Beach, early in the morning I get this whatsapp message from ‘sayahna. org’ in which I find a link with some beautifully patterned pictures by an artist, Ayisha Sasidharan. I have not heard about the artist previously and her brief biodata positions her as a freelancing translator of literature. The pictures are black and white in nature, intricate floral patterns running into each other multiplying and metastasizing into varied but legible forms still not really giving a tangible figure to pin it down as ‘something’ that I already know. A kaleidoscope never fails to enthuse and engage me. These pictures by Ayisha catch my attention and the psychedelic feel is quite unsettling but interesting. The more you look at it, it feels like you are looking into it. There is something that holds you and draws you in. At the sea shore my daily dose of meditation (looking at the waves lashing against the shore, the ever changing patterns of clouds in the sky, their edges that gets variedly illuminated by the arrival of sunrays and so on for around twenty minutes sum up my mediation) gets a fillip by these pictures and I become curious.

(Ayisha's Work)

The message that came along with the pictures of Ayisha besides introducing the artist in brief words, also has described the pictorial style as ‘Zentangles’. Seemingly auto replicating patterns, using curves, circles, wavy lines and triangles build the pictorial space which is less than four inches in size and does not have up, down, left or right. While working one could rotate the surface as per your need to distribute the patterns. It has a self-generated rhythm and you don’t need to have a proscribed and prescribed idea about the possible outcome. As the name of the style suggests, it is meditative and absorbing. One of the websites that promote Zentangle style says that practicing Zentangle painting or drawing helps in alleviating the problems caused by phobias, manias, depressions, illnesses, laziness, pains, insomnia, lack of concentration and so on. May be that is true. Though small in size and intricate in nature, Ayisha’s works give me this idea about trekking. The path may look tough and confusing but it induces some kind of a pleasure of tackling that challenge. You tend to forget rest of the world and focus on what you do; means climbing. Here in the case of Zentangles, it is drawing patterns.

(Ayisha's Work)

Rick Robert and Maria Thomas, a share market player and economic analyst, and an artist drew botanical drawings filled with calligraphic patterns, came together in life and work only to establish this style exactly in 2013. They live in Central Massachusetts in the US and with the successful franchising of the style all over the world, run an alternative museum for exhibiting the Zentangle works. The story goes like this: One day Maria Thomas was making a botanical drawing and feeling a sensation of floating and mindfulness. She felt void and complete at the same time. When Rick Robert came in she told him about the sensation and he, a practitioner of meditation, immediately told her that it was exactly the peaking state of meditation. They put their heads together and thought of making an art style that would help people meditate without the hassles of learning a technique or style. One just had to get a start. Take a piece of paper, an ink pen and go. They called the piece of paper tiles and many such tiles painted could join together to make an ensemble of works.

(Ayisha's Work)

 There is some kind of automatism in this style. Anybody could make it and in pure mindfulness. Mindfulness is a state of mindlessness. Anybody who wants to forget the world for the time being and focus on what they do, basically making patterns on a paper tile, they could just go on with it. People with compulsive and obsessive nature could find it interesting and at the same time the slow and calm ones who need a bit of motivation to go a little fast also could get into it. Though it is a curative and meditative art form, I find there is only one problem; the problem of having no style. The style is generic as the patterns may look unique in each formation exactly like the formations in a kaleidoscope, but it could never be repeated the way artists do in their individualized artistic styles. So it would remain a generic art form, helping the practitioners form clubs and self -help platforms and so on. They do definitely make an artist out of a non-artist. Postmodern sensibilities help one to be an artist even without academic training. Here in Zentangles, one doesn’t need academic training and also it ensures that one doesn’t bother much about the mixing of colors because the style is created in black and white; white paper and black ink. Maria and Rick say that it does not have anything to do with Zen for they are not Zen practitioners themselves. They wanted a word to go with ‘tangles’ and Zen rang well with it, and none else had registered Zentangles in the website domains. So it stuck. Fortunately, the meditative part of the art making has justified the name that they chose.

 (Ayisha's Work)

(Work by Takashi Murakami)

(Work by Aubrey Beardsley) 

Ayisha’s works remind me the works of Takashi Murakami, the well-known Japanese contemporary artist with an international standing. He has created a series of works called Kai Kai Ki Ki where he repeats flowers and floral patterns in huge canvases and mural scale surfaces. Perhaps, he knows the mathematics of making such patterns, which is a part of the Zen practice in Japan. His references must be coming from those pattern making practices meant for calming the mind. He has given them a contemporary edge and a happy feeling. Ayisha Sasidharan’s works are pleasant to look at and definitely they will help one to go deeper into one’s own self or absorbed in sublime thoughts. In certain ways it gives optical illusions and cajoles forms out of it. If more than one artist comes together to show their works in the Zentangles style then it would be difficult to discern one from the other. May be Ayisha could refer the works of the Art Nouveau painters like Aubrey Beardsley to gain individual style from the practice of Zentangles. Despite all generic eventualities, Ayisha’s works have an individualistic edge and one has to see more works from her in order to see how she could lend her personal mark on those works.

-          JohnyML

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Kanai Kunhiraman: A Sculptor’s Story 1 Importance of Being Kanai Kunhiraman

(Kanai Kunhiraman and wife Nalini)

Ask any random person in Kerala about the painter that he knows. The answer would be invariably the expected one: Raja Ravi Varma. Upon prodding further he may utter a couple of other names depending on his home town in Kerala itself. Obviously, each village has its own poets, artists and mad men whom people tend to remember wherever they are. Rearticulate the question and replace the word painter with sculptor. Then the person may give a confused look in the beginning and soon you will see the only answer possible, for himself and for many, brightening up his face. The answer, again, is the expected one: Kanai Kunhiraman. He seems to have left an indelible impression in the minds of the people in Kerala with his monumental and impressive public sculptures. What about his reputation beyond the borders of Kerala?

(Kanai's work at the NGMA, New Delhi) 

Those artists who belong to his generation and also those who have spent some time with Kanai in his rare outing in other parts of the country might know him as an artist. One of his works, a horse like sculpture fashioned out of a moped scrap could be seen in the sculpture garden at the National Gallery of Modern Art in New Delhi. But it has lost itself among other sculptures those are preserved at times and at other times seem abandoned.  The reason could be their provinciality not only of the aesthetics employed but also of the reputation of the names attached to those sculptors. Those artists who have got their due in the national art historical discourse find their pedestals within the royal halls of the Jaipur House where the NGMA is located. The other sculptures are left to weather under the open sky. Had Kanai Kunhiraman been recognized with some important national award he would have been inside the gallery and there would have been a retrospective by now.

(Raja Ravi Varma)

However, the criticism cannot be simply levelled at the authorities alone. Partly the reason for Kanai’s scant reputation elsewhere other than in Kerala (despite his initial fame as an internationally acclaimed and promising young sculptor from South India in late 1960s) lies with his own reluctance. Kanai somehow does not like to bask in the glory elsewhere. From the very beginning he has been happy with the cultural environment in Kerala, besides wading cleverly through the turbulent political waters of the state, mostly keeping his neck out and not only surviving but also doing extremely imposing sculptures in the public domain. His savvy nature in dealing with the political big wigs of different denominations perhaps made him complacent which he covers with his insistence on the natural environments that inspire his sculptures which he thinks wouldn’t be available elsewhere in the country.

(Reg Butler)

An artist who had gone to Britain to study sculpture under one of the famous artists and pedagogues, Reg Butler at the Slade School of Art and also had intimate familiarity with the giants like Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth shouldn’t have thought that a place in some corner of the world would be enough for an artist to do works and flourish. Perhaps, the same encounters might have made him think that remaining in one place did all the difference for both Moore and Hepworth had done most of their monumental public works in Britain itself. Whatever may be the case, once Kanai was back from London, he decided to stay in Kerala itself. He had gone for a very few sculptural symposiums elsewhere in Indian in the beginning but the huge opening and mileage that he had gained through his first monumental and path breaking sculpture, Yakshi, in the newly built dam site in Malampuzha, Palaghat District in north Kerala, in 1969, gave the sufficient impetus for his artistic self and ever since he has been doing sculptures through the length and breadth of Kerala, braving all the odds.

(Henry Moore)

Thinking of Kanai’s sojourn in public art so far (he is in his early eighties and going strong still), one comes to know that it was not a cake walk though no other sculptor could really make so much an impact as Kanai did not only in Kerala’s landscape but also in the psyche of the people there. Kanai rewrote the social and cultural mores of Kerala after waging a tough ideological and aesthetical fight with the orthodox and hypocritical society. It is a miraculous feat considering the number of works that he has done both in the public and private domain during a time when not enough state of private patronage was available in Kerala. However, there was an upward momentum among the cultural activists and benevolent patrons through rare, at that time as all of them were look for some indigenous expression in Kerala’s art against the larger backdrop of the modern Indian art.

(Barbara Hepworth)

As mentioned before, Kanai is not really a name to reckon with outside Kerala, a fact that so many diehard fans of Kanai love to dispute. They would say that it is not Kanai problem but the others’ inability to understand him. Sceptics would say that Kanai doesn’t have enough movable works to show in the galleries as he has devoted his time and energy in creating monumental public sculptures. Both may be true to an extent but the real problem lies in the systemic apathy, fueled by the artist’s own reluctance and complacency, in promoting Kanai beyond Kerala. Look for Kanai Kunhiraman in Youtube. You will find more that twenty videos featuring the artist, his works and his interviews, all in Malayalam. It is never an issue if someone chooses to speak in his mother tongue. But today we have the facilities to develop subtitles, using easy technologies. None seems to have bothered to do so. Hence, Kanai remains confined in a language shell. It is true that a work of art would speak for itself, and Kanai’s works do speak for themselves and at times for the artist too.

(Kanai's Nandi at Malampuzha) 

A google search would definitely yield a few articles about Kanai in English. Some academic journals also must be having studies written by scholars, all in English. But while the former materials talk the same stories told by the artist himself at various points (artists have the tendency to repeat the same story about their lives and works to different journalists and writers thinking that they all would make different stories about them but unfortunately all of them would repeat the same words of the artists), the latter are full of academic jargons and contortions that leave an interested reader disappointed. What is the solution to save Kanai from this conundrum that he himself also has partly contributed in building up? The solution is simple; make more literature on his art in various languages other than in Malayalam. As English is the link language for us in India, ideally that would be the first vehicle to redeem the limited reputation of a legendary sculptor like Kanai.
Kanai’s reluctance to participate in gallery based shows with his sculptural miniatures or sculptures created for disseminating through galleries is one of the reasons for his limited reputation elsewhere. He is also a painter but in paintings he has a different aesthetics which he had employed in some of his non-figurative sculptures and also a pictorial language long abandoned by his contemporaries. He is all the more happy to show his paintings but those who are impressed by his sculptures perhaps wouldn’t like to have the paintings as they find them less moving and persuasive like his sculptures. Kanai writes poems in Malayalam but they too are circulated within a niche audience that perhaps don’t have anything to do with the major poetry loving circles in Kerala. Caught between his ambition to be known also as a painter and poet, and his perennial identity as a sculptor, Kanai’s reputation needs to be salvaged as an artist who has been instrumental in changing the artistic mindscape in Kerala along with a few other artists other than Raja Ravi Varma.

(Kanai Kunhiraman)

I feel the need of Kanai’s story to be told to a larger audience that still thinks him as a new finding. It is not necessary that the greatness of an artist is understood during his life time. An artist’s worth is always revealed through the layers of time and the endurance of the aesthetical relevance of their works in the given societies, and their capacity to renew themselves, ideate and makes intellectual negotiations with the changing public perceptions. One may go up or down in reputation irrespective of the present status. However, some stories have to be told so that they would become the planks from which the others could dive deep into his creative life and know more. This series is intended to do that. Welcome to the series.

-          JohnyML

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Broken Walls, Banksy and Prasad Kumar KS: An Overview

(Banksy's Painting in Gaza Strip)

In 2015, internationally ‘unknown’ street artist (now a gallery artist too), Banksy sneaked into the strife ridden Gaza Strip, between Palestine and Israel and painted a few images in his typical style. One of them has a huge kitten looking cutely but sadly at the people from the wall of a dilapidated house that perhaps was a home for a few kids and kittens before being bombarded by the enemy tanks and bombers. The images became sensation and in the following years Banksy again visited the place to draw a few more images. It is said that one of the walls was stolen by someone who knew the value of Banksy’s art in the international market. When Banksy does anything anonymously that catches the eyes of the world. But here in another corner of the world, if someone predates Banksy with his works, nobody cares to acknowledge even.

(Prasad Kumar KS)

My Facebook messenger inbox has an entry from Prasad Kumar KS, introducing himself as an artist with some words as well as some images. It was in 2013. The market boom had turned out to be a thing of nostalgic past and the Indian artists were back on the life theme that they knew better; struggle. The images were interesting and since then I have been looking at his art. Today when he reposted the works in his Facebook again, I found this striking resemblance between the idea that Banksy would later make an international sensation and conscience churning work of art. Prasad was no Banksy then and even now he doesn’t aspire to be another Banksy. But Prasad’s paintings from 2013 show dilapidated homes where children are seen in absolute destitution and deprivation. Besides, Prasad brings in some interesting references from the modern Indian art history; two paintings of Raja Ravi Varma and one painting by K.C.S.Panicker.

(Painting by Prasad Kumar KS) 

A girl in her petticoat is standing on a broken piece of wall and tries to see what is lying beyond after the unexpected collapse. It is not a natural calamity for sure as the ruins do not look like that. The scenario is obviously a landscape after a battle or a one sided attack. The collapsed home is not a just a home; it could be a museum. A museum is also a place where the dead ones are interned. Metaphorically speaking, the destroyed house is a dead place where one could see two beautiful ladies in two paintings by Raja Ravi Varma. One is Damayanti telling her message to the swan and the other one is a rich and cultured Nair lady with a Sarod, a north Indian musical instrument. It automatically envisions a time before the collapse when the girl was secure and happy inside the museum or home, in the presence of these vivacious ladies and thinking of her own future. Suddenly everything is brought into a halt. The irony is that the works of art on the wall remain intact; only the girl’s dreams are collapsed. If one looks at Banksy’s work you will the same; the works of art are intact and what lie in shambles are the hope of the children.

(Painting by Prasad Kumar KS)

(Painting by KCS Panicker)

In another body of paintings instead of Raja Ravi Varma, Prasad brings another doyen of Indian modern art into focus. This time the wall seems to be an external one where the last painting of KCS Panicker, ‘Dog and Crow’ is hung. One is not sure whether it is hung there or it is willingly painted by another graffiti artist. The images in the painting are ominous; they herald death, an end. The black dog that gazes at the onlookers stands there like a portal that separates the idiom of Indigenous modernism developed by K.C.S.Panicker himself from the modern art lingua created by other artists under the influence of western modernism. It poses the philosophical question; what’s next? Indian art discourse was intending to overthrow indigenous modernism in order to become more global and diversified, and usher in Post-Modernism. Crows are the omens of souls; they are the couriers between this and the other world, the belief goes. Vincent Vangogh had sensed it. Crows in the Wheatfield, a predominantly yellow painting with a blue sky and a few black crows flitting all over, waiting for something eerie to happen.

(Painting by Prasad Kumar KS)

(Crows in the Wheat field by Vangogh)

In Prasad’s painting, the Dog and Crows work is either a reflection of what is going on in front of it. The wall with the painting, though dilapidated, opens to a street where the garbage is dumped. There is a lonely young boy retrieving a few things, like a boy doll, a toy guitar and a kite, while dogs and crows scramble through the garbage. They are just ordinary dogs and crows; not with extra sensory or terrestrial or clairvoyant powers. Against the mundane reality, the grand modern painting stands like an accidental reference. Prasad repeats the background image again in a couple of other paintings where he makes permutations and combinations with dogs and crow images. There is no obvious war there in the background like in the previous painting. However, the war here is between the rubbish that the consumerist world produces and the poor people who are supposed to forage through the bins for sustenance. Garbage makes poor people; it is not the other way round. Rich always make garbage and the poor.

(works by Banksy)

(works by Prasad Kumar KS)

In Prasad’s works one sees the collapse of a world order where aesthetics and harmonious existence were the hallmarks. Like in the works of Banksy later, one does not come across the images of fighter planes or artillery tanks. But the broken walls are a proof of the war being waged in unexpected hours. It is not that Banksy was always subtle when it came to depicting war mongering. He has given a shell launcher to Mona Lisa and a fighter chopper full of hearts. Prasad too has painted fighter planes and bombers realistically and symbolically in other works, though not in this series. Provincial artists could be prophets in the wilderness. But one day they would definitely be recognized.

-          JohnyML