Existential Explorations as a point of departure
A threshold to myriad possibilities
The summer months in India may not be the best time to initiate gallery business, but exceptions can be fruitful and worth mentioning for. Jugnu and Ramjit Ray decided to take stock of the prospects and delve into the vast resourcefulness of art that exists in Kolkata and beyond. Their enterprise has been organized to form the Matrix International Centre of Excellence (MICE) of which Galleria M is the flagship centre set up in the heart of the metropolis. The foundation aspires to promote creative practices of individual artists and community-based ventures. The opening of their initiative was kindled with a stimulating display of art forms comprised of 16 contemporary art practitioners. Though the selection of the artists does not seem to merit any specific objective, the artworks do provide routes for some approaches.
A few of the artists represented here have been widely exhibited in the contemporary art circuit. Though some are relatively younger but they do impress with their creative articulations. Most are adept in using an amalgamation of various mediums or materials and the dexterity of their application is noteworthy.
But what takes precedence above all through viewing of such a heterogeneous assortment of creations are the establishment of the 'cult of the individual'. Perhaps that is the defining approach of these artists and for most amongst us today, to recollect a bit of the reclaimed sense of the social self. By twisting nostalgia and re-assembling the past, a few of the artists push and prod their art historical heritage. The result is that ideas about psychology, desire and paradoxical emotions have found space and structure within the featured artworks.
Far out-stretching its touristic or instant image capturing capacity, photography has developed as a versatile medium where it can embody the presence and absence, reality and fiction through a heightened version which masquerades as the real. It intrigues the senses to differentiate between the fictionalization of the real and realization of the fiction. In the process, the origin seems to have an apocryphal dialogue, but this is negotiated through a process of deduction and a supposition of the psychological disposition of the framed composition. Arpan Mukherjee and Moutushi Chakraborty, both alumnus of the Printmaking Department of Santiniketan, have exploited the potentialities of this medium in their own distinct ways. Both these artists have played with ideas of archival research and manipulation of truth. But their modes of display are different. Arpan's narrative is multi-layered, fractional and dependent on his private history. A Place Called Home and Abandon accentuate the speculation of attendance to shift the construction of the narrative for the engagement of a story. His explorations in photography find him crafting conceptualized series of entities with the use of ambrotype technique, a photographic method invented by Frederick Scott Archer in the 1850s to produce deliberately underexposed negatives optimized for viewing as positives on a transparent support (glass). These experimentations included within the series Affinity delve into political context of the human body and the trajectories within a situated space. On the other side, historical references give precedence to the hierarchical dichotomy in the screen prints executed by Moutushi. Viewers are propelled to step into an enigmatic moment of the past. The subtle tonal quality of the prints further enhances the reflective aura that the artist has deliberately tried to enliven. The images have become a mirror that seems to amplify her reality.
Since people still tend to look at photographic documentation as an anchor of truthful representation, she has used this technique as a contraption to re-examine the celebration of femininity. The Land-lord's Wife and Femme 2 are worth mentioning in this respect. But this self-introspection has found a different characterization in the work of a younger contemporary from the same segment. Jayashree Basak has blended her printmaking expertness (etching and viscosity) with the intricate craft of Kantha stitch, a technique of embroidery originating from undivided Bengal and now prevalent in Bangladesh and West Bengal. Dreamtime and The Weekend have blurred the distinction of the inside (personal narrative) and the outside (public or surrounding space) by the perception of the human body.
It is as if the self is interested in a different form of alienation but seeks an attachment to the outer form. Furthering this investigation of the human condition, Mahjabin Imam Majumdar has significantly placed the body in a transitory state where soul-searching becomes a reconciliation and contest with the natural elements that creep into her imagery.
Slow Lament appears to express the angst of her emotional outpourings. Originally from Bangladesh but now settled in Santiniketan, she seeks to confront her sense of displacement with fear and sorrow.
Her paintings act as a valve and as a distraught mirror for the predicaments we are usually not able to deal with. The inter-weaving of floral motifs within the body appears to twinge existence for the transmutation of her feelings, which find a dedicated rendering in the form of her images. Mahjabin's work gives a sense of a yearning to return to something, a desire that pervades a fixed orientation by constructing a space which has become non-existent by loosening it from reality where the subject becomes the protagonist of a fantastical narrative of loss and desire.
If symbols can tell stories just by the simple pictorial organization of shapes, texture and spatial demarcation through lines and colour then Pampa Panwar's work displays a harmonious fabric where the simplicity of artistic expression and the materialization of thoughts have united to create imagery. She demonstrates how figuration can present an alternative vision indicating other layers of time and space. Moving away from the notion of linear, flat reality she uses elements of geometric order, basic primary shapes as a foundation on which to build simple forms. On the Other Side of Time invites viewer to navigate around the surface of her paintings, where the subtlety and visual poise achieve the desired effect to describe the environmental systems that regulate our natural rhythms. She seems interested in the abstract design that lies latent in the snapshots of reality.
On the other hand, Ushmita Sahu takes geometry as a clue to capture the ambivalent space between the abstract and the figurative. Paying homage to well-known personalities or past masters can be a tricky issue, more so if the work alludes to an ambiguous definition of space, which the artist refers to as 'mapping'. Louis Kahn was one of the most influential architects of the twentieth century whose work combined visually compelling spaces with drama as the changing light transformed the sensory experience of being in the building at different times of the day and night. An expert manipulator of form and light, his architecture was shaped by shadow. Kahn's buildings are known for their formal perfection of monumentality which creates an essence of spiritual upliftment. Ushmita's untitled works from the series of Columns of Light- Homage to Louis Kahn may be difficult to decipher with respect to her reverence for the master architect, but her metaphysical reasoning with the construction of spaces creates numerous registers of transformation. The buoyant colour patch looks like an alien object in the process of disintegration and works like a metaphor invading the spaces concerned. At once elusive and impossible, she is making her work with the 'occult' in mind, opening up a space beyond. In fact Kahn too harboured similar desire to explore the mystery of geometry to unveil a world that transcends the physicality of things.
The minute rendering of claustrophobic lines presented by Surajit Biswas gives the impression of a unique texture akin to weaving. The calculated rhythm of the patterns drawn on paper by the deft use of pen and ink evokes a kind of spiritual absorption of one's surroundings. The drawings give the impression of a 'static tension' through the creation of complex patterns that simulate some kind of a mystical effect, churning out from the depths of the linear conglomerations. It is not abstraction that interests him, but perhaps a subterranean sense of the physical domain spurs him to address the elemental in both nature and art.
In fact, the line between the two realms is easily blurred and, thus, assists the artists in avoiding falling into the trappings of abstract patterns. Surajit's work negotiates the problem of abstraction to give a concrete character, rather than becoming a means to an end. Articulation of such negotiations through philosophical doctrines can be an impediment, but not for Nobina Gupta. Exploiting the usage of materials and medium for the building of the form, she finds herself choreographing a dialogue between the piece and the space it inhabit. Anant 2 expresses an evolution of existence in which the creative process may be accepted as a positive energy. This seamless force is an abstraction that emulates space. It imbues the form with a certain sense of austerity and balance.
Observation of human life has been one of the primal points of departure for Chandra Bhattacharjee. He metaphorically uses the portrait to instil a sense of contradiction within the narrative of the image rendered. It is as if he wishes to depict the conflict that we encounter with respect to both our public and private spaces. A veteran of numerous expositions, Bhattacharjee's technical virtuosity is noteworthy. The same may be said for another artist, but albeit in a different medium. Pankaj Panwar, a professor at the sculpture department of Kala Bhavana, Santiniketan, is known for his large-scale sculptural arrangements in various mediums of his choice. Re-modelling the classical techniques of sculpture, he transforms a mundane subject with a humorous intent, which has something to do with finding both delightful and disgusting.
A commonplace scene or situation is flaunted with playful dimensions with a physicality of conditioning us with what we believe to be ideas we want. It is like articulating an advertisement to reaffirm the transformative effect of an internal logic. Hamara Bajaj Chetak cuts into and out of the production and existence of life and art, but you cannot disrupt and change the original source. It has a blockbuster effect, which adds further to the charm of the work. Panwar is definitely interested in many other things that are there within the space, besides the material qualities. Diametrically opposite and searching to unearth the physical frustration to promulgate a condition of empowerment, Pradeep Patra seems to reinforce his personal disquiet as well as the social chaos which is its source. Palanka displays a convolution of human figures. It seeks for self-assertion but reeks of vulnerability and transience of the bodies. The duality of the socio-political condition is asserted by the use of framed wooden platform meant for leisure and comfort which is manifested through its colloquial title. Though politics might not be his cup of tea, but Sankha Banerjee's jingoistic arrangement of images creates a dispatch which entices the viewer to search for clues. It has an unbalancing effect due to its chaotic structure, reminiscent of a democratic set-up that the artist has experienced. If it does not beguile you, Dark Chocolate Democracy (book-II) will entrap you through its multiple identities of references. Mimicking the visceral body of a book, Sankha's discourse draws heavily from his acquaintance with the art of illustration. A deft manipulator of unearthing examples and conjoining them to build up a code of conjecture seem to be his primary focus.
Though simplistic in its tenor of linear characterization, the objectification of reality, Amitesh Shrivastava's ink drawings elicit a kind of anxiety which an individual may encounter through interactions in an inhospitable space. Designing his images as motifs of remonstration, he dwells more on the contraption of the depicted forms. It seems they are used as teasers to enable the viewer to unravel information and opinions. In a different format, existential sensibilities have been encased as abstract associations through the miscellany of materials that Dharitri Boro has used in her multi-material surface assemblages or in her boxes of 'Monologue'. They have become repository of private ruminations, misconstrued and misremembered. In I and You the bent pins seem to bring to forth the frailty of truth. She is not concerned with subtlety but occupied with creating a dialogue with the material. She collects crusts of assorted materials for engaging different processes. The resulting works are like material remains of an attempt at self-improvement.
Fragmentary narratives of inert models may be used as tools of appropriation to raise questions and provoke discourse. Prasanta Sahu's inquiry about human predicament is driven by what he himself finds uncomfortable. He dissects the situational context anthropometrically and arranges the fragmented figurations meticulously to uncover a kind of political discourse.
Homage to an Unknown Soldier makes us re-look at the unthinkable sacrifice under the concealment of identity politics and the iconicity that defines its dominant nationalist strain. Is this an assumption of reality or the commercialization of politics surrounding us? Whether we like it or not, Prasanta throws back at us the pervading question with respect to our identitary preoccupations. On the contrary, Debajit Chakraborty ensures that investigation of the human condition attains a spiritual height, where pain and destruction dissolve into nothingness, where all acts become saturated within one supreme whole. Mahakal is the symbolization of the concealment of the other identity.
Bringing together contrasting themes, imagery, ideas and mediums of creation emerging in contemporary art practice can be a challenging task. It gives indication of the aesthetics of a generation. Paroma Maiti and Ushmita Sahu's curatorial venture gives an engrossing display of etiquette, language and theoretical structuring. From a critical viewpoint, the aim has been to include and inspire. In a self-promoting era the 'cult of the individual' does not necessarily denigrate the work of an artist but becomes an important influencing factor of how and what he/she creates. Despite their disparate references, the artists included within this gallery exposition have explored the fragility of the space around us through manipulation of truth, instinct and existence. This is a way of disseminating the heritage of modernism.
RITENDRA ROY is a practicing artist and researcher. He is associate professor at the Department of Visual Arts, University of Kalyani, West Bengal, India.