The exhibition titled “The Journey Is The Destination” hosted at the Jehangir Nicholson Gallery, presents an opportunity for the audience to imbibe selected artworks of India’s pioneering contemporary artists. This spellbinding exhibition features works of eight great artists; Anju Dodiya, Atul Dodiya, Sunil Gawde, Nalini Malani, Baju Parthan, Sudhir Patwardhan, Vivan Sundaram, and Zarina Hashmi. Furthermore, as the title suggests, the exhibition takes the viewer on an enthralling journey, narrating a tale of how art practices of these maestros has undergone a significant shift with time.
Intriguing works of artist Zarina Hashmi titled ‘Cage’ (1970), and ‘Companions of the End of the Night’ (2013), lay juxtaposed against each other, displayed on a wall of the gallery. Her work is mostly non-figurative, seesawing between woodblock prints and calligraphy. The former artwork is an ink print created by assembled pieces of wood. Her artwork signifies a warm shelter, further suggestive of a protective environment. Particular to this work, an interesting observation —- she has created an imagery of a wooden house, on a medium (paper) which is essentially made from wood itself. Additionally, the wood on the surface also mimics the actual texture of logs of wood. Furthermore, Zarina’s works primarily reflect her childhood memories of the period of partition between Pakistan and India. Ostracised from her homeland, in an effort to relocate, the notion of home thus became central to her work.
However, in Zarina’s ’Companions of the End of the Night’, traces a new development in her practice. Unlike her previous work, this piece reflects her interest and appreciation for Urdu calligraphy. One sees a cryptic black rectangle with minuscule dots on the surface translates into black and white abstraction. Beneath the black rectangles one can see the Urdu phrase, translating into — “Akhri Shabke Hum Safar”, which is also the title of her work. Furthermore, there appears to be a subtle hint of Sufism in this particular artwork, poignantly reflective of the extinction of Urdu script in present day India. Perhaps the black backdrop along with the ascending dots represent the dying journey of Urdu poetry in this country. The extinction of Urdu literature could be traced to the hegemony of English language adopted from the West, or due to the domination of the Arabic script.
Amongst the seventeen works exhibited at the gallery, virtuoso artist Baju Parthan’s artistic practice has witnessed a radical transformation over the years. As a part of the collection, Parthan’s “An Act of Equilibrium — The Wind” (1991) is juxtaposed alongside “Chorus — 2” (2011). The former is acrylics on paper, reflecting the artist’s preoccupation with folklore, myths, and legends. During the 90s, Parthan travelled to Goa and enrolled himself in a five year course in fine arts where he got exposed to Indian mythology, thereby resulting in Parthan incorporating such elements in his earlier works. However, in this particular work, one sees him depicting an intimate bond between humans and animals. Further, the painting represents animals as spiritual beings who can be appealed to for aid and safety, thereby indulging in a primal animistic culture.
However, if Parthan’s earlier work was characterised by themes of mysticism, his latter work is inspired by a virtual reality. Chorus — 2, a 3D lenticular print, reflects Parthan’s fascination with technology. The work depicts the iconic chawls of Mumbai with aeroplanes hovering on top. Since the artist has used lenticular imagery, it creates an illusion of depth. Hence, his work can be read as an intersection of multiple realities. The constant changing of social landscapes symbolises the evolution in our social milieu — as a viewer what world are we located in? Are we still dwelling on a past cityscape which is no longer there? Are we anguished, saddened, worried about the current reality we are living in? As we advance into the future do we see technology as fulfilling the void in our lives or interfering in every aspect of our lives?
Having said that, the exhibition provides those who are coming to see the show with written material on the exhibition, as well as information on the artists who are part of the show. Further, this is acknowledged as a great practice by a majority of the viewers who would like to interpret artworks, as it provides certain clues to grasp the concept of the exhibition. Nevertheless, the exhibition has truly shown the journey of artists back then and now by helping viewers engage in a visual dialogue with counterpart works of each artist.