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.

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.

Gauri Gill & Rajesh Vangad | Fields of Sight

A collaboration between photographer Gauri Gill and Warli artist Rajesh Vangad, which takes you on a journey away from the urban complexities present in Mumbai, creating a dialogue between two people from different walks of life. This hybrid creation is solely done in a monochromatic palette, and is an amalgamation between photography and indigenous Warli painting. In 2013, Gill was invited to an Adivasi district in Maharashtra – Dahanu where she was to create works for a primary school. During her stay there, she was welcomed by Rajesh Vangad who let her reside at his place, and later on took her to various locations which had significance in terms of folklore and political activity.

As the duo moved from location to location, capturing different landscapes which speak volumes, Gill decided to place Vangad as the protagonist in each picture, trying to capture the sentiment of each location. However, the images were not simply of the Warli painter placed against the backdrop of a landscape, assuming a passive role. Instead, the images incorporated Vangad’s Warli inscriptions on top of each photograph, positioning the painter in a much more active space.

As a viewer, there are several elements which one must pay attention to. For instance, the monochromatic tones used in the photograph mimic the manner in which Warli paintings are traditionally done – white pigment used on a reddish-brown background.Furthermore, this monochromatic theme can be viewed as a way of acknowledging the art form.

If we also closely look at the painting-photographs, we see that the protagonist’s gaze never matches the viewer’s. To me, this mismatch of the gaze symbolises a sense of loss, desolation and alienation. In each of the images in the series, the painter seems to be positioned in a certain manner in the landscape, where he seems to be in engaged in deep thought, speculating over a series of events which had taken place in each respective landscape.There seems to be a sense of nostalgia which can be sensed through the body language of the artist present in the frame, reminiscing about a certain “there and then” as contrasted with a “here and now”. Perhaps, this sense of melancholy stems from the socio-political conditions which are inseparable from the environment.

The Adivasi village has been through series of political turmoil. During the 70s, the village was intruded by gangs and political parties, leaving the locals displaced, frightened and terrorised. Apart from the raids conducted by the mobs, the village has witnessed forest fires, landslides and other such natural calamities that could leave the protagonist who is also the member of the village in a grieved state.

As the technique of Warli paintings depict themes of harvest, fishsing, fertility, festivals, earthquakes, tsunamis and other events which impact the lives of the community members, the inscription of such themes in the pictorial frame brings a sense of life into the pictures. As a result, the pictures seem to have a narrative of their own, speaking volumes of a particular scene.

Thus, it is important to note that we must not just look at tribal art in isolation, and locate it in another time frame and render it as stagnant and static. We should acknowledge the art form as we acknowledge any other. This indigenous art form has navigated its way from inscriptions on manure coated walls to canvases. For instance, noted Warli artist — Jivya Soma Mashe, has showcased her work alongside artist Richard Long in Europe.