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Nature gains permanence in art

Camaraderie has brought together four artists — two from Calcutta and the rest from Gujarat -- to the latest exhibition at Galerie 88. Pinaki Barua and Debnath Basu are from this city, while Anandajit Ray is from Vadodara and Walter Emilo D’Souza is from Ahmedabad. The last two are showing their work for the first time in Calcutta.

They have another element in common. They use media not seen very often in the galleries of Calcutta. Pinaki Barua is the most straightforward of them all. His medium-sized lithographs in a series titled Terror Unleashed record his response to the carnage in Gujarat. There is no simple depiction of the horror of the bloodbath. The figures are those of human beings bent double with agony or reduced to a sub-human state after being exposed to relentless violence.

Barua from Kala Bhavan doesn't delineate individual figures clearly. Perhaps a single limb or a mouth gaping with terror are shown but the rest is a tangled heap of frenetic and angular lines. Terror seems to have wiped out their individuality. But amidst the terror are beings who have remained untouched.

Instead of using virgin paper Debnath Basu uses photocopies of a daily's original Independence Day edition. On it he paints or draws images such as the Sukumar Ray’s famous drawing from Abol Tabol of a man trying to entrap his own shadow in a basket and replicates them. A guillotine sprouts wings, what seems like a caricature Gandhi stands in the dead centre of a maze, two graceful storks fight to the last, tiny figures of men with hugely exaggerated members hold women in their toils. There is an unmistakable element of voyeurism in all his works. This is Basu’s reading of history with very personal footnotes and anecdotes.

Images of objects of everyday use fraught with latent violence appear in his works on mirrors. There is, for example, a huge safety razor with a row of serrated teeth. He seeks to create fragmented images on mirrors with photocopies showing underneath. Perhaps the artist needs to articulate himself more clearly. However, there is no communication gap in the case of his white-on-white illustrations for a story in Bengali, simplicity being their salient virtue.

Walter D’Souza is the most prolific, contributing a series of large and small woodcuts and metal sculptures. The world of crises and tensions that make the headlines seeks refuge and solace amidst the perfection of nature as seen in a lily pond. Nature is cast in the mould of classical architectural ornament as seen in the lotuses swathed with ribbons. This idea finds literal expression in his small metal casts, something like the “cold pastoral” of Keats.

Anandajit Ray is audacious, smart and smart alecky. Sometimes grotesque borders on the bizarre. This is seen in his takes on currency notes where he replaces the kitschy images of bank notes with banal, personal imagery of his making. His metal cast coins seemingly belong to antiquity but these are clever inversions of icons we take for granted. Ray's collaborations with Basu and D’Souza are fruitful. Particularly in the faux history book Public Transport Defence Devices.

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