Chemould Prescott Road has a roster of strong mid-career artists who have been part of the global international art scene.
The volatility of India, its borders, the fine balance of the mere existence of her people, are represented by artists whose practice at most times remains responsive to the political, to notions of the border and the narratives of the national.
The poetic metaphors in the works by Shilpa Gupta which are provocative yet sensitive, juxtaposed with more assertive narrations by Jitish Kallat, and staying attentive to the broader sub-continental history by presenting works by Atul Dodiya and Reena Kallat comprise the main elements with additional works by Mithu Sen.
The sculptural assemblage and painting by Atul Dodiya presented in the booth was part of his recent solo exhibition, 7000 Museums: A Project for the Republic of India at the Dr. Bhau Daji Lad City Museum, Mumbai, India. the exhibition was part of the Museum’s curatorial series, ‘Engaging Traditions’, which encourages contemporary artists to work with the Museum’s history and collection.
‘The cabinet’ (a format that is often used by Dodiya) evokes a layered dialogue that includes, photographs from Dodiya’s archives, paintings referencing artists, objects both found and sculpted by the artist, with varied conceptual frameworks from the Museum’s collection. They reference defining
moments of history, art history as well as the semantics of museums and museum displays.
Atul addresses the complexity of various simultaneous happenings in history- of politics, art and culture, through playful interventions in his works. The oil painting references historical photographs of events from the freedom struggle in the city of Mumbai in the 30s and 40s which are interrupted through abstractions from, markings, gashes from the works of Rabindranath Tagore - poet and painter, working in Bengal at the very time that Gandhi was making his mark in the western provinces.
The process for Jitish Kallat’s new works titled Wind Study (the hour of the day of the month of the season) begins with a graphite drawing on paper.
Evocative of unknown neural networks, unnamed constellations or sacred geometries, the drawing becomes a device to read the forces of nature that inhabit the space and time of the artwork during its making. Kallat carefully overlays the graphite lines with an inflammable liquid that he sets aflame and in a few moments this undergoes phase transition-from liquid to semisolid to fire to finally arise as dark fumes.
The movement of breeze at the moment of combustion determines the direction in which the emergent fumes would leave their marks on the surface of the paper. The drawing thus becomes an apparatus to convene and eavesdrop on a silent conversation between the wind and fire, directing the very course of the work.
In the lenticular photopiece titled Celes Terres Perpetuum it is the position of the viewer’s body that determines what is seen. As one moves, the images that appear like telescopic views of the cosmos or like surfaces of astral bodies, might flip to reveal in their inverse, the images of rotis (breads). This piece connects notions of time, sustenance, the cosmic and the celestial that have been recurrent themes in Kallat’s work.
Mumbai-based artist Shilpa Gupta addresses the weighty issues of religion, nationality, and history with wry humor. Using video, sculpture, photography, and sound, she distills critical observations into pithy reflections on conditions in South Asia.
This testing of the border’s instability appears in 100 Hand Drawn Maps (2010), components of a larger ongoing project. For these works, the artist travelled from India to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, inviting participants to draw maps from memory. Layering these drawings atop one another, she illustrates the mercurial nature of nation as idea and, as the work’s lines intersect and diverge, its ambivalent and logocentric status.
Reena Kallat, has been working with salt in various contexts, occasionally within her sculptural practice as metaphor for sustenance but also to write transient texts on the beach-front, wherein the text might manifest briefly, soon to be absorbed back by the sea, often as a gesture of what she calls, ‘resistance against forgetting’.
Salt, an essential mineral for human existence, equally used as a preservative, one that extends life is often cited in various religious traditions as a symbol of permanence, value and purification. Her series of works using salt explores the tenuous yet intrinsic relationship between the body and the oceans highlighting the fragility and unpredictability of existence.
The four poems by women writers from India are translations from regional languages such as Urdu, Gujarati and Telugu into English. The text based works in salt have an element of surrender, their submission to the variables of nature incorporates time as a crucial element of the production of the work. Reena works collaboratively keeping in mind tidal calendars, sunset timings etc., which form an unseen, and unlikely, backdrop to the fleeting presence of the salt.
Mithu Sen stands as a crucial feminist voice in contemporary Indian art. Known for creating sensual, if "grotesque" representations of the human body, she explores bodily materials such as hair, teeth and bones. This larger than life steel spine like installation is created of pickaxes and leather.
The pickaxe is a manual tool widely deployed in construction industries, where the lack of modern technologies is substituted by low-wage labour. The pickaxe was also used as a tool of destruction of a mosque that was the cause of widespread rioting and the breaking down of the social fabric of India in 1992-93. The pickaxe as spine - thus began to denote - both its strength in holding up as also the fragility of falling apart.
Sen makes delicate yet provocative drawings detailing amalgams of human, animal and plant life. The creatures and forms that emerge in this series speak of an inner world- a meeting between the psychological and the physical realms. Sen’s recent drawings centre on the space between utterance and comprehension, the void between language and meaning, the presence and absence of the line, the gemoetry of abstraction and the appearance of figuration
The drawings are composed of numerous layers of graphite and watercolour on paper, which is covered by hand etched plexiglas. Sen manipulates shadow and light to test the limits of materiality and pushes her drawings into the space of immateriality and transience.
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