Rana Begum | The Space Between

 

An interplay of light and shadow on human-made forms, Rana Begum’s latest body of work uses geometric abstraction as a visual tool to create an aesthetically pleasing experience for viewers. Her visually serene sculptures are an intersection of hard-edged shapes and softly diffused lights, aspiring to create a sense of purity and harmony. A series of past and present artworks which trace the dynamic relationship between shape, form, and colour are part of Begum’s first solo exhibition titled “The Space Between” featured at a public space at London’s Parasol Unit.

Inspired by Islamic architecture and by pioneers of minimalism such as Ellsworth Kelly and Sol LeWitt, Begum’s work oscillates between the ornamental, meditative, and industrial. Her body of work comprises of delicately folded steel sheets which emulate the Japanese art of origami. With a desire to create artwork which is pure and simple, her work is an conjunction of hard-edged metal material with the soft reflections producing moments of aesthetic wonder.

For instance in No. 555 and No. 563, we sense a geometric equilibrium which make the folded metal works appear almost weightless. Each folded sheet is meticulously constructed, with the underside side coated with fluorescent colours, thereby creating reflections falling upon the supporting wall. The outcome of such graceful works attribute a sense of lightness and fragility to the sculpture, further making the work appear buoyant. In the first work, the white and sea weed green are juxtaposed to give prominence to the geometrical contours in the body of work. The reflection creates a powerful effect of a third dimension which not only is vividly poetic, but also a visceral experience for the viewer who is exploring the multi-perspective quality the body work has to offer.

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Begum, whose body of work is spatially playful, articulates repetition in some of her works. Keeping it simple and minimal in its formal language, her work titled No. 277 is a black and blood red triangular repetitive pattern displayed one above the other, on the wall and the floor. Influenced by traditional Islamic art and architecture, the practice of using repetitive geometric motifs is said to reflect the unchanging tenets to be followed by the doctrine of Islam. Furthermore, as visualising the divine is an anathema to Islam, followers took refuge in geometric repetitive patterns. From there on the act of creating geometry became an essential part of worship. In this light, Begum’s use of repetition gives rise to the idea of the divine, further evoking a sense of the numinous.

Today Begum’s art practice is lodged between constructivism and minimalism, luring the audience to take a glimpse inside her symmetrical mind. Her distinctive visual vocabulary gives industrialised materials a magical touch, there by skilfully engaging with elements of colour, material, movement and form.

The Triumph of Aesthetic | Christo Vladimirov Javacheff’s The Floating Piers

 

 

Lustrous, satiny, and monumental are precisely the words which describe prolific artist Christo Vladimirov Javacheff’s latest project. The seventy-four year old Bulgarian artist, best known for his stupendous environmental installations has yet again got the internet buzzing about his masterpiece — “The Floating Piers”. This phenomenal installation lies afloat on the surface of Italy’s breathtaking Lake Iseo, and is anticipated to draw a footfall of half a million visitors.

Christo’s outdoor creation is strategically located in the midst of Lake Iseo, striking a strong contrast with the deep blue waters of the lake. The floating installation is created using 200,000 high-density recycled polythene cubes, and is covered in a bright saffron coloured cloth allowing hundreds of visitors to get a chance to walk on water, ever so gently. The saffron coloured undulating pathway resonates a playful, upbeat, even positive aura. Furthermore, the installation links the viewer’s imagination to the mythological scene from the Hindu epic ‘Ramayana’, where invincible lord Ram and his army built a bridge out of stones which float on water, thus enabling him to cross from one point to another in order to rescue his wife, Sita. It is in this light the pathway is viewed, as though one is on a spiritual quest, offering a pilgrimage with an uncertain intention.

Resembling the yellow brick road from the tale of Oz, the piers create a vantage point that can never otherwise cease to exist. The installation exposes the viewer to multiple ways of seeing the artwork as well as alternating perspectives. From a bird’s eye view the installation is seen as a symphony of lines — following stringent, linear geometric interventions. Additionally, the phenomenal installation is remarkably juxtaposed against the free flowing temperament of Iseo, where the solid form of the installation is slicing the soft currents of the water body.

However, the work of art is not restricted to just the Floating Piers. The aesthetic experience entails the scenic lake, the piers, the mountains surrounding the installation, the weather conditions which make the pier enjoyable to walk on — all account for making up the aesthetic. The gentle movement of the waves against the Pier are pacifying yet romantic, as if the waves are caressing the walker on the pier. Thus, for the artist, “The work of art isn’t the Floating Piers…but the journey: those who went will carry them in their minds for the rest of their lives”.

To many, the beauty in Christo’s installation resides in it’s indelible experience. However, a critical question to ask is — what makes the installation so profound? Is it his celebrity status in the art world, or the genuine nature of the artwork that is luring people to his creation? Nevertheless, the large scale installation which is only on for a period of sixteen days, gives the artwork a temporary residence, yet leaves a lasting impression on the viewers.

The Journey Is The Destination | The Artist’s Journey between Then and Now

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

Brian Jungen |Prototypes for New Understanding

 

In an exhibition titled “Prototypes for New Understanding”, displayed at the Vancouver Art Gallery, one encounters artist Brian Jungen’s creative endeavour — a unique hybrid creation of Nike’s Air Jordans with aboriginal masks. This synthesised creation merges elements of tradition and contemporary, and carries with it undertones of commodity fetishism, alienation, and consumerism. By integrating the sacred and mundane, Jungen’s sculptures not only encourage multiple ways of seeing ordinary objects, but also reflect an unconventional symbolical meaning.

Upon looking at the masks, one perceives the mass-produced Jordans as signifiers of eliteness and comfort. Perhaps, the reason for using Jordans amongst other shoes can be attributed to the notion of sanctitude attached to the shoes itself. As an average price of Air Jordans is estimated to be ranging between rupees ten to twelve thousand ($150 – $180), it is quite clear that these shoes are exquisite. They seem to have a pristine quality, satirising the quality of an artefact placed within a museum space.

Further, this enthralling dichotomous creation can be associated with Duchamp’s “ready mades”— the urinal. Just as Duchamp took an ordinary object, placed in the walls of a museum and tagged the object as ‘art’, in the same light Jungen has taken a pairs of Nike shoes and has placed them within a museum calling it art. However, in the process of placing the Jordans in the sacred space of a museum, their original meaning becomes lost. As a result, the viewer tends to attribute meanings that have absolutely no connection to the object’s original purpose.

Moreover, taking a closer glance at the shoes, one may notice that the shoes remain in their most original and unaltered form. Along with that, in many masks the “made in …” tag is also visible. Since the shoes are primarily made in third world countries, the artist draws a vital connection between the Jordans and the workers present in such countries. His work draws attention to the issues of the exploitation in Nike sweatshops. In the capitalist model, the consumers spend around hundred dollars on each pair, while the sweatshop workers receive less than quarter of that per day, resulting in alienation from the product itself. However, the moment the Jordans become linked to money, buyers start to view the objects as inherently carrying value instead of taking into consideration the amount of labor which has gone into creating the object. As a result, the Jordans become perceived as a fetishised commodity.

Jungen’s idea is simple: to re-contextualise daily objects in order to give them a new definition and meaning. The artist through his work conjures the masks into existence by using human hair in few of the masks, thereby creating a sense of eeriness around them. Further, it appears as though the artist is making an anthropological reading about the cross culture resemblance between Nike’s consumer culture and aboriginal culture. By using pigments of red, white, and black, the artist might be subtly trying to hint that the giant shoe brand Nike could be borrowing designs from a previous culture.

In essence, Jungen’s unique Nike masks symbolise themes of commodification, alienation, and critical expressions of contemporary consumerism. As the title of the exhibition “Prototype for New Understanding” suggests some type of experimentation or modification, Jungen has truly changed the manner in which masks may be perceived in the eyes of the viewer.

 

Colour in the City of Mumbai| Eye on Poland: An Exhibition of Vibrant Polish Graphic Designs

Whether one acknowledges it or not, we are witnessing the dawning of a new age — that of an image based culture, where the power of the visual, especially that of graphic design, is affecting a significant part of human life. One such prominent example is that of Polish poster art, which has established a unique position in the field of graphic design in the European subcontinent. It is in this context, the ongoing exhibition at the Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum titled ‘Eye on Poland’ aims to bring Polish graphic design to the forefront for the audience of Mumbai.

In collaboration with the Polish Institute New Delhi, the exhibition is co-curated by Magdalena Frankowska and Artur Frankowski, showcasing the evocative, yet aesthetically pleasing graphic design visuals. The exhibition displays an array of cinema and concert posters, CDs, album covers, providing an insight into the contemporary art practices of poster design prevailing in the Polish field of design. The exhibition is not only awe-inspiring in terms of the visual language, but also reflective of the complex historical and emotional engagement with poster art in Poland.

A tradition which is over a century old, the emergence of Polish poster art can be traced back to the communist rule which dominated the country during World War II. During that period, Poland was a victim to censorship and oppression, and the only art form which prevailed was that of the poster — mainly for cultural propaganda. As a result, leading Polish artists invested all their passion and effort solely in the enrichment of poster art, which later on laid the foundations for the ‘Polish Poster School’. Poster art then, often became perceived as a form of escapism from the dull atmosphere created by the communist regime.

However, even though Polish poster art during the 19th century carried with it undertones of a socio-political milieu, contemporary Polish poster art has transformed into an art form in search for a new expression of visual vocabulary. This growing tradition has been incorporated in the current exhibition, which brings together works of Jakub de Barbaro, Edgar Bak, Ada Bucholc, along with many other contemporaries.

For instance, in the exhibition, Grzegorz Laszuk’s poster titled ‘Romeo Juliet’, reflects the mood of tragedy, capturing Romeo falling into the hands of his ill fate, evoking feelings of desolation and hopelessness adding on to the viewer’s aesthetic experience. Equally intriguing is Ada Bucholc’s illustration for the cover of British magazine ‘Little White Lies’, which is renowned for its movie reviews and iconic covers. This cover, inspired by the movie — Maps to the Stars, features legendary actress Julianne Moore. The cover uses bright hues of pink and yellow, resembling prints made by pop artists Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein.

Another piece titled ‘The Locomotive/Ideology’, depicts a monochrome text designed by artist Małgorzata Gurowsk, showcasing images of trains, Jews, troops, homosexuals, as well as animals. This poster carries undertones of anti-semitism and racism, further signifying the dark days of Polish history. Equally fascinating is the poster titled ‘Animals’, designed by Robert Czajka, which shows various animals in warm tones or orange and brown. The design template has given a modern twist to children’s story books by using the technique of minimalistic drawing.

Furthermore, other art works in the collection combine robust colours, mottos, and ordinary symbols to send out concise messages while keeping in mind a certain aesthetic sense. As curator Frankowska remarks, “The idea behind the exhibition is to take the viewer on a voyage through a wide range of styles, attitudes and design strategies reflecting the richness of the current Polish graphic design scene.”

However, one must keep in mind that the art of producing Polish posters is viewed as well as sold exclusively in spaces of museums and art galleries. Nevertheless, the sophisticated, vibrant, and aesthetically sound posters in the current collection have typified the spirit of the tradition of Polish poster art, aiming to make these posters accessible to a worldwide audience.

S. H Raza | Aarambh @ 93

Indian modernist, Syed Haider Raza unveils his new solo exhibition at gallery Art Musings in Colaba, titled ‘Aarambh @ 93’. The painter’s oeuvre comprising over thirty paintings is characterised by his depiction of Bindu. The dynamic, yet aesthetically pleasing dot, or how Raza would describe it — Bindu, is a visually stimulating image, resonating a mystical energy creating a dialogue between the image and the viewer. In this particular series, Raza’s vivid imagination allows him to explore a new visual idiom engaging with notions of creation and existence.

Upon entering the gallery, the first painting which caught my eye was ‘Hartiabh’. The geometric pattern represents a symphony of lines, incorporating a triangle and a circle. The cold colour palette with shades of blues and greens creates a mood of tranquillity and collectedness, leaving the viewer with a feeling of contentment. The Bindu, which is strategically positioned at the top, draws the viewer’s gaze, and causes it to focus from top to bottom. The artist has beautifully juxtaposed the colours and texture to create a sense of conflict as well as harmony between the elements.

In my opinion, the Bindu signifies a narrative of an existential anguish. The circle signifies creation, and the triangle represents destruction. If one looks at the composition with a mortal dimension of our human existence, the crookedness of the lines could perhaps symbolise the discourse of a life filled with ups and downs. However, one must not fret upon such imbalances, as nothing is permanent — not our sorrows, nor are we. This further engages with existential questions of life itself— despite knowing nothing is permanent why do we humans dwell upon joy or sadness? If we do not cherish the moments of joy, or engage with disorder, then what is after all the purpose of life itself? Are we just mere actors on a performative stage incapable of deciphering the telos of life? 

From the collection, the painting titled ‘Samavesh’ has an element of fascination. As a viewer, the centrally dominant Bindu evokes an overwhelming feeling. In my opinion, the impact of this work can be felt only when one is standing right in front of it. The black coloured Bindu, appearing like a black hole, is a space looking out into the void. A sense of mystery, enchantment and fear prevails in the image. Furthermore, the surrounding bright hues of blue, red, yellow, and white could perhaps resemble water, fire, land and sky, thereby complimenting the Bindu. The Bindu then, resembles a ubiquitous mass, a part of the cosmos, as a bearer of all of nature.

That being said, Raza’s work continues to be popular amongst art connoisseurs. He till date continues to push the limits of experimentation with the motif of a Bindu, producing and reproducing timeless pieces of art.

Megapolis India| Without Walls | Studio X

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The process of making a city ‘modern’ has brought joy as well as anomie – joy because people are getting exposed to new forms of information and communication technology, integrating sections of society, anomie because modernisation tends to shun the unprivileged even more. The changing dynamics of Mumbai’s infrastructure and economy have resulted in patterns of spatial segregation  – which have denied the poor their right to the city. The homeless, classified as the “other”, are rendered passive in the changing urban landscape. However, in recent times, the plight of the poor has witnessed a certain revival in popular imagination. A co-curated multimedia exhibition by Megapolis India and Studio X, along with inputs from NGO Pehchan, has focused on the plight of the homeless by exposing the everyday struggles faced by them.

Upon entering the exhibition, one sees a series of video interviews displayed on a projection screen, where women, young and old, reveal their daily struggles living on footpaths. For instance, Meera, a woman in her 30s, along with her family has been living on the footpath for years. She says, “This is where we were born and raised, where our children were born and raised.. Where will we go, even if you chase us away?”. This powerful statement gives us a glimpse of the lives of the homeless, making the urban city dweller question whether or not the homeless have a right at all to decide upon what type of urbanism they want. The series of video interviews made me raise certain questions — on whose ideology does the city run on? Is urban planning done taking into consideration the homeless/poor? Has urbanisation completely become a capitalist endeavour? Are the homeless completely left out of the process of globalisation? 

One whole wall of the exhibition is assigned to maps of areas where the homeless dwell, along with photographs which display the areas where the homeless reside. Thus, as a viewer when I began to engage with the map, there seemed to be a sense of loss of identity and belongingness. In my opinion, the larger than life map displayed on the wall seemed to be overwhelming, further making the observer feel displaced. There seems to be a “growing amnesia” towards the poor, making them appear as overlooked elements of society, as political scientist Rajni Kothari recalls. The homeless seem to be perceived as an unchanging, mundane aspect of the urban dweller’s life.

As an observer, I also find it amusing to see how the visual space of the gallery can transform mundane aspects of life to sacred. The homeless are seen as inhabitants of a space, but who do not seem to catch the everyday pedestrian or a car go-er’s gaze. However, when the lives of the homeless are displayed in a gallery, they instantly become noticed and valued. The visual space of a gallery has the power to alter the perception of an object/group of people. Furthermore, the public then starts to pay attention to the plight of the homeless population.

Moreover, as one walks through the exhibition, a certain sense of a nomadic lifestyle seems to prevail in the images. As a viewer, I feel as if Mumbai’s homeless are living as urban nomads. The temporary lifestyle — similar to that of a nomad, lacks privacy, makes a person succumb to loneliness, keeps an individual always thinking of new places to rest and work in. Nevertheless, the exhibition is an eye opener and can be looked at as a tribute to Mumbai’s homeless.