THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS
A boundary is not that which something stops but, as the Greeks recognized, the boundary is that from which something begins its presencing. (Martin Heidegger, Building, dwelling, thinking).
It is the trope of our times to locate the question of culture in the realm of the beyond. We are less exercised by annihilation- the death of the author- or epiphany- the manifestation of the ‘subject’. Our existence and the present exhibition today is marked by a tenebrous sense of survival, living on the borderlines of the present, for which there
seems to be no proper name other than the current and controversial shiftiness of the prefix ‘post’: post-modernism, post-colonialism, post-feminism…
The beyond is neither a new horizon nor a leaving behind of the past…(beginnings and endings may be the sustaining myths of the middle years; but, at present, we find ourselves in the moment of transit where space and time cross to produce complex figures of difference and identity, past and present, inside and outside, inclusion and exclusion. Space is an amorphous concept in post-colonial discourse. This space has physical, metaphoric and psychological connotations that are almost, always intertwined and represented in socio-linguistic patterns. What we understand as post-colonial identity-formation is inextricably linked to the mapping of the psychological space of a community, necessitated by certain historical exigencies.
A staging of otherness and alteration constitutes these works creating this body of visual text seized with mirth, resemblance and desire. First the confrontational and the heroic outsider, to the mainstream and its institutions, who upheld a subversive revolutionary identity, and the second that verged on the solipsistic guise, whose reclusive symptoms manifest often through a disquieting expressionism, by using the premises of abstractionist formalism. The complex entanglements of cultural currents that emerged with present concerns in post-colonial studies can only be presented adequately in exhibitions like these and thus become an experience. If Historicism – and even the modern, European idea of History - came to non-European peoples in the nineteenth century, or somebody’s way of saying “not yet” to somebody else, if former simple presentation models are abandoned and the dialogues between cultures as open processes, the exhibition space transforms into a site of ‘contemporary gaze’. The present site provokes a dialogue that will not question our own notion of culture and society but will also affect how we imagine ourselves.
This dialogue is a continuous process: it has little to do with past concepts of edification, but emerges as a vital process, a landscape where we become familiar with the changes influencing our lives. Thus signals out how an eclectic range of imagery, from the changing world of post-colonial India became instrumental in evolving a visual language of collage and citation, which in turn, acted as a vehicle of cultural force, creating and negotiating as the sacred, the erotic, the political, the modern and beyond. The very idea of historicizing, which carried with it some peculiarly European assumptions of disenchanted space, secular time and human sovereignty now challenges the notion of our presence in the waiting rooms of meta-narratives.
This exhibition provides an insight into the condition of contemporary art in India and the opportunity for many questions regarding the idea of “identity”, and the extent to which we stretch ourselves? The questions that come up are: Is there a need to probe? For whom is the programme being done? Nothing but the most complex and historically specific conceptions of identity and subjectivity can sufficiently grasp the present situation and articulate a politics adequate to it. Perhaps, the cultural time is paced differently according to one’s location, in relation to domination. Thus, the ‘afterlife’ of colonial discourse is very different for the colonizer and the colonized. The ‘Other’ no longer geographically distanced, but within, and over time significantly shaping landscape and culture - Samosas at the National Theatre Café in Britain or Race riots. Not all places in the transnational circuit are however, similarly ‘post-colonial’. The active, subjective, inescapable, everyday engagement with the legacies of colonization/decolonization that is part of the British matrix for reggae, bhangra rap, Hanif Kureshi’s screenplays, or Homi Bhabha’s hybridity are not the terms of theoretical, artistic or political endeavours in India. For each of us there are multiple time- pathways, variously paced, so that cultural change is simultaneously slow and fast, not just across communities, but within socially and historically positioned selves.
The exhibition space acts as a site where these seven emerging artists work out their destiny, the right to signify, human experience the ‘wholeness’ of existence for to exist to dispense with utilitarian projects and engage the violent dynamic that has no other object than the return to
a lost totality. Such encounters open the interior experience of wholeness and belong to the realm of the sacred and erotic. Their truth is known only because of a set of accidents. There is no more reality that meets the eye, and then listens to what is produced, in addition to exchange identifiable in the dialogue to keep the record of these invisible events. This exhibition keeps the record of such events, nearly effaced, self-effacing, but altogether real, a breaking or a wounding on the subject of breaking and wounding inscribed into the very body of this faithfully
produced space-this exhibition that gives birth to this dialogue, a genre that shows unmistakable colours as the question of interpretation of an encounter.
This group show, comprising works by a representative fraction of a region, has contributed enormously in the making of our contemporary visual text. What is also important for us is that the works in this show need to be seen in the context of its current concerns, practices and expectations. They provide a sort of crucible of the art of the moment. In the present exhibition, a shifting weave of memory takes place, a gaze that is intimate and penetrating. Texture is an important attribute in these works of five artists that is achieved through intricate dividing and layering of the ground. The patterning of separate areas sets off these spaces, giving each its own depth and providing body to the visual text. Considered or hieratic, almost arresting, each has its own story to tell; one face seems shadowed with reverie, animated with varied layers of slips and glazes. Here the practitioner is an itinerant traveller. His or her work is formidable and carries the mark of a consummate improviser. The ensemble and paintings have an opulent materiality that convinces sheerly, based on its energy and subtle text and has the wheels of memory to make fitful revolutions. The narratives are inescapable, constantly intersecting our lives and minds, and produce powerful effects on the viewers. We share with them their view of a fluid, impermanent reality and this time besmeared with expressionistic brushwork that is much freer and bears a strong personal identity. Works that are self-referential, steeped in personal vision that is intimate and preoccupied
with explorations of form, space and myth. Viewings that result, not in familiarity, but fresh discoveries. One suspects nevertheless that a passion still burns within these artists, even if its flame is kept under strict cerebral restraint. For some, however, the fire roars at the edge of control and it is as turbulent as life itself.
In Avijit Mukherjee’s watercolours, entropy is not the reigning spectre; instead, they are pervaded by lightness and exhilaration. In spite of his enormous erudition and sense of form, he puts them together with a calm detachment in which a clear structure combines intimately with eroticism and expressiveness, to achieve a paradoxical visual image, which creates scenes of artifice and makes him one of those rare painters. But these artifices do not by any means resist our emotional identification or intellectual response. Celebrated by his contemporaries for his formal rigour and invention, his language provides unending possibilities for learned exegesis and decoding of his gestured rhetoric. We see the large modulations and brilliant monochromatic fields obtained through difference of values spread before us, which does not consist only of relations of warm and cool, of expansion and contraction, which vary in accordance with the colours considered. It also consists of regimes of colours, the relationship between these regimes, and the harmonies between tones.
In the recent works by Santanu Mitra, Sanjoy Basu or Tanmoy Biswas, what is also important for us is that the works in this show need to be seen in the context of its current concerns, practices and expectations, which provide a sort of crucible of the art of the moment. Works that are self-referential, are steeped in personal vision that is intimate and reoccupied with explorations of form, space and myth. The body of work deals with very diverse issues that correlate at times but can remain quite distinct from each other and does observe, cogitate and ponder over numerous ideas and themes using different means , just as a writer’s oeuvre may span poetry, play-writing, psychoanalysis, and even criticism; viewings that result not in familiarity but fresh discoveries. One suspects, nevertheless, that a passion still burns within these artists, even if its flame is kept under strict cerebral restraint. For some, however, the fire roars at the edge of control and it is turbulent as
life itself. This exhibition addresses some of these artists. Their work is often linked to the painterly tradition of Abstract Expressionism with nuances of myth, transfiguration effervescent with our eclectics; it is at
least painterly and mostly representational. But the historical ancestry is of less significance than an understanding of how it asserts itself within the present. In fact, what these paintings do is affirm the relative unimportance of historically- derived meaning in favour of a compelling physicality and emotional presence. They are distinguished by an absence of the moat of theory surrounding much contemporary and conceptual art. This gives the paintings that quality of a world whose contents might
be said to be suspended in a simultaneous presence of being.
Mitra, who according to the experience of all times, always says “I”, recites to us the entire dramatic scale of his passions and appetites, and breathes it.
Basu’s application of paint across the surface of the canvas reinforces, or counterpoints, the rhythms set up by the distribution of figures and the grouping dark and light masses. One relates to narrative elements and still enjoys the paintings as brilliant compositions. In these new works,
Biswas coaxes frenzy, for example, and drama from the strokes of the brush, marking exquisite sombre passages of colour. He is no longer the recluse painter but a theatre director carrying with him the concept of the whole thing. The theatrical, dramatic use of the light in these works
emphasizes a narrative, and the abstract chiaroscuro of luminosity and darkness modelling across the canvas, but there is also a use of light-accents to pick out sequences of movement.
In Timir Brahma’s work, time–space-periods, pop remainders float through his works in abandon with a fluidity assuming now one form, now another illuminating areas as vivid streaks of lighting descending into a light drizzle, a kind of lunar aesthetics grow on the viewer as
our own contemporary experience abides in another pictorial space and time.
The works of Kayas Saha have a stream of consciousness quality in them, as if the outside world had been brought indoors and painted from multiple memories. Memory proves crucial to him and enables him to function at all times during periods of anxiety, torment and pensiveness -when it is not goaded into services by devices or activities designed for a purpose. His readings and contemplations creep into his works surreptitiously. They are not merely studies or drawings but concentrated expressions of a precocious talent. Works are never cataclysmic and, for the most part, there is predictability and containment in the form of his core images that coaxes frenzy held within carefully balanced compositions expressing a transcendental emotivity, a struggle so grand
and precocious, that makes the soul tremble before the pulsating drama, that is ideas, arise from darkness.
Srikanta Paul’s works are illuminated as it were, by an entirely expressive and affective surface, but it never gives itself away as an external sign - rich in privacy and inwardness. His painting is an act of his mind, where the memory mode plays a vital part; the memory of surface values remains with us whether we are looking at his painting or
not. When the painting is not before us the recall sensations stay with us; the interaction between repetition and recollection has already become a part of the memory. Paul plots the position of objects around the figures,
marking the points where their forms reflect, intersect or overlap; the frame within the frame diverges instead of converging. Humans float through his works in gay abandon, with a fluidity assuming now one form, now another, illuminating areas as vivid streaks of lighting descending into a light drizzle, a kind of lunar aesthetics grow on the
viewer as our own experience abides in another pictorial space.
Soumitra Sengupta’s ability to conjure up experience through colour and through the shape and weight of lines and rhythms of composition are eloquent. One senses a working out of pictorial conventions, of attitudes and of free associations that swivel between dream and reality. The
works have an exuberant narrative quality, as figures, both wraith-like and robust; take on symbolic weight as they get filtered through liquid swells and flows of translucent colours.
Meaningful works like Krishnapriya Dasgupta’s hold such equal promise for us. Because we have experienced art only in the margins, we find ourselves not only alienated but alienated from our own alienation; without doubt we speak in a feeble tongue. We have exchanged our
positions as critique of coloniality and the modern resulting meaningful discourses. The images here are replete with images retrieved from the times and spaces he has navigated inwardly and intensely with an indiscriminate abandon, unconfined.
For all the idea of Rajesh Deb’s best canvases, he is a consummate craftsman. His field express, in elliptical terms, of the wavering between transcendence and materiality, joy and sombreness, solipsism and an inner spirituality, which characterizes our slouch towards a fresh cultural discourse. It is as though Deb sets out to escape the confines of everyday reality, the colours of the intermediate zone do not suggest the therealized ambience of ecstatic release; they are imbued with an almost material weight and beauty of a colonial past.
In Tamal Krishna’s work, expressionistic markers float through his works in gay abandon with a fluidity assuming now one for, now another, illuminating areas as vivid streaks of lighting descending into a light drizzle, a kind of lunar aesthetics grow on the viewer as our own experience abides in another pictorial space - distinctly luminescent. His performers all shackled on stage, with torture instruments visible in the wings.
In Nilanjan Banerjee’s abstract done in acrylics and oil pastels on canvas in abandon with a fluidity assuming now one form, now another illuminating areas as vivid streaks of lighting descending into a light drizzle, a kind of lunar aesthetics grow on the viewer as our own experience abides in another pictorial space- distinctly luminescent. Moreover, the application of colour also reveals distinct purposes, where paint body produces a kind of textual differentiation enumerating various forms and corresponding traditions. A definite silhouette which encompasses formal structures, for another Nilanjan Banerjee’s studies become unpretentious, the thick paint body seem less important than tone, shadow set against deeper shadow, Banerjee plots, marking the points where their forms reflect, intersect or overlap, the frame within the frame diverges instead of converging.
The act of painting makes multiple entries in Sanjay Sengupta’s work and exits to leaf through the painting surface. His acrylics and ink on canvas are travels of a pensive mind that adheres to a humble submission of space and its infinite possibilities rather than to specificities of form and their impositions. He meditates upon the pictorial surface to arrive at a response that lends a sort of primordial energy to the work. It becomes apparent viewing his work that Sengupta enjoys solitude for his painting which awakens and takes its shape in silence. A shifting weave of memory, her gaze is intimate and penetrating.
Texture is an important attribute in Soumitra Kar’s work which is achieved through intricate dividing and layering of the ground. The patterning of separate areas sets off these spaces giving each its own depth and providing body to the visual text. Her images stem from their environment. These come to her in the way of revelation- the specific context in which a woman would limit and define her significance. Considered or hieratic, almost arresting, each has its own story to tell; one face seems shadowed with reverie. She animates her portraits with
varied layers of slips and glazes, joy and sombreness, solipsism and an inner spirituality, which characterizes our slouch towards a fresh cultural discourse.
Sekharbaran Karmakar’s watercolours rendering figures tattooed with signs on a white surface are signs of emerging talent. Their truth is known only because of a set of accidents. There is no more reality that meets the eye, and then listens to what is produced, in addition to an exchange identifiable in the dialogue to keep the record of these invisible events. This exhibition keeps the record of such events, nearly effaced, self-effacing, but altogether real, a breaking or a wounding on the subject of breaking and wounding inscribed into the very body of this faithfully
produced space. This exhibition gives birth to this dialogue, a genre that shows unmistakable colours as the question of interpretation of an encounter.
Arunima Sanyal’s acrylic on canvas is riveting. Only in the dissolution of the subject do we know that consciousness is the ecstatic discovery of human destiny. Not an originator or proprietor, but a fissure, an opening where you would like to grasp your timeless substance, encounter only a slipping, only the poorly coordinated play of your perishable elements. It is associated with living, living more ascertaining to life up to the point of death than act. In these entire works, one can see eroticism, as a means of revolt, not an exercise of power but a tumultuous upheaval of limitation, which may be called ‘sovereignty’. They depict a meaningless loss - transcending the development of means - an escape in her antiquated world. However, escape is toward the impossible world whose extreme limit assumes laughter, irony, ecstasy, terrified approach towards the end.
Rabin Roy’s paintings provide a salutary reminder that identity is always multivalent. One of his canvases has fragments of evocative concerns, because it does not only reveal but provides, instead, a wholly indigenous renewal of “self”. He attempts to set up a dialogue between our obsessions and private associations. His text can be read as an allegory of the artist’s calling. In the domain of Roy’s painting, his language represents an immense shift in sensibility; the intensities of the sensation are more acute since the visual field is organized on the basis of frontality. Frontality appears as the principle of formal rationality, as against the substantive rationality of the keyhole aesthetic, which Indian painting has to shed if it has to free itself from marginality.
In the domain of Diptish Ghosh Dastidar’s painting, his language represents an immense shift in sensibility; the intensities of the sensation are more acute since the visual field is organized on the basis of Dastidar’s intensity, romanticism and of the way they are painted provide a celebratory transcendence of the subject matter, here Picasso acts as reference. How does one wade across these somnolent sloughs, the sparse and effusive grounds where all our leads are buried? Along with the modernist techniques he foregrounds other devices to celebrate the surface, illuminating, inexorably bringing to life, tending a surface he fears might dull.
Suranjana Sen is an itinerant traveller. Her works are formidable and carry the mark of a consummate improviser. Her ensemble and paintings have an opulent materiality that convinces sheerly based on its energy and subtle text. She has the wheels of memory to make fitful revolutions. Her kitchen sink narratives are inescapable, constantly intersecting our lives and minds, and produce powerful effects on the viewers. She shares with us her view of a fluid, impermanent reality and this time besmeared with expressionistic brushwork that is much freer than before and bears a strong personal identity.
Irony, this time of the verbal kind, is also a tactic adopted by Sanjay Patra in his depiction of his expressionistic works, provides another kind of repudiation of the rhetoric subversive sexuality. In this he abandons ironic inversion for the stoic silence that hovers. His works explore a contrast between two kinds of private pursuits. At the same time he rejects any pictorial superficiality.
For those who wish to engage playfulness, delight, and absence will find them figure decisively in Chinmoy Mukherjee’s paintings. He reacts to the overload of encounters where memory and subterfuge plays a vital part but does not fall into a semantic net. His works are like journals that rally between public and private meanings, provide the impulse for a number of his works and open up an epistemological gulf between the object, its image, and its verbal signs and constructs where the existential meets the topical. The objects depicted by Mukherjee seem to cry out for captions and forces us to consider the materiality of the object and its metaphorical associations. He consciously lives in his times and wishes to engage with historical events rather than withdraw from them, the times are fraught with new as well as abiding traumas. He depicts them with extreme sensitivity.
In his media installations, Satadru Sovan Banduri beguiles the viewer into a seemingly no-win game of illusion and recognition of many beginnings and no end. Banduri employs a subjective apparatus not as a passive spectator but as a critical insider who controls the ‘plot’ through the very media of realism which he employs to realize them. As Banduri’s work evolves, a major and a minor area of concentration usually start to play off one another. The linear elements run back and forth between these two masses, and occasionally establish distant satellite areas at the end of their sweep.
The paintings on display here overflow the edge and confront our borders of geographical construct, which is within the closed walls of our mind. We ask where is the porosity of such limits, the uncertainty of sharing, and the fragility of resolutions. Between where, at one’s stake, is reaching the limits, playing with them, establishing passages.
Nanak Ganguly is an independent art critic based in Kolkata.
Arunima SanyalAvijit MukherjeeChinmoy MukherjeeDiptish Ghosh DastidarKayas SahaKrishnapriya DasguptaNilanjan BanerjeeRabin RoyRajesh DebSanjay Sen Gupta Sanjoy BoseSanjoy PatraSantanu MitraSatadru Sovan BanduriSekhar Baran Karmakar Soumitra KarSoumitra SenguptaSrikanta PaulSuranjana Sen LahiriTamal krsnaTanmoy BiswasTimir Brahma