| Some of the exhibits of Mukta Shilpa. Picture by Amit Datta
Mukta Shilpa, forum for free art, was launched with a view to promoting creative activity outside the purview of the gallery system. With that aim in mind first a workshop was held at the Academy of Fine Arts from February 7. Thirty-two artists participated in it and they were told to respond to verse by several poets and create works inspired by the lines.
The artists were thereby given a chance to break out of the mould because they were not weighed down by commercial concerns. But did the artists honestly respond to the call to break free of conventions imposed by the gallery system' Few really did so. They were content to work within perimeters set by real and imaginary arbiters of culture. Many of them used found material or unconventional odds and ends. They were installations insomuch as most were not intended to be permanent exhibits.
But beyond that tokenism they never really dared to break the threadbare and cliched conventions of what is often mistaken for lyricism. There was plenty of pseudo-poetry. That is flaccid works, lacking the muscle and vigour of creativity.
However, there were some surprises. The only woman participant perhaps dared to do what she did because she was not even aware of the unwritten laws. Navaneeta Javed is a gynaecologist by profession but she pursues painting and drawing with much enthusiasm. This is perhaps her first attempt at installation employing materials used everyday. With these she has created the form of a woman lying on the floor.
Though she is high up on the social ladder, yet Javed shares a kinship with another “untrained” artist of humble origin — Shakila of collage fame. Neither tries to please anybody.
Besides her, the other products of art colleges who have kept everything to the minimum leave an impression on the viewer’s mind. Partha Pratim Deb is one such. Caterpillars wriggling on toadstools created with lengths of rope reflect Al Mahmood’s poetry. But Sunil Das' blotches of red on white sheets are melodramatic gestures.
Samir Aich's black on black paper butterflies (you realise they are mosquitoes only after reading Barun Chakraborty's accompanying verse) are interspersed with red ones. Against a black background is drawn a white smokestack. Aich uses the format of a notice board with subdued humour.
Tapan Mitra sticks to basics — strips of blue and green cloth hang from the metal rim of a cycle wheel. An honest response to Manika Roy's simple lines on rain.
Hiran Mitra creates bold calligraphic strokes in red and yellow and black on a large rectangle of newsprint.
Adip Dutta and Ratantanu Ghati exhibit forms that complement each other — Dutta's in white and brown and Ghati in a darker shade. But both look like they have been hastily conceived. Perhaps a little more care was demanded.
The show's organiser is Ashit Paul, who responds to Naser Hussain. His work comprises the two leaves of a door painted blue with innumerable knobs fixed to them — intimations of a brighter future. But the scrawled verse becomes an overstatement. Sometimes less is more. But we all forget that.