Adip Dutta’s exhibition of sculpture and fine drawings at Experimenter with the enigmatic title of “I have a face, but a face of what I am not” (till September 10) makes viewers aware of the aesthetic potential of the most humdrum things we use everyday and take for granted. At the same time, this artist, like any other with a mind of his own, can tease out off-colour stuff from apparently innocuous material. Dutta was trained as a sculptor and he backs and forths between making things with his hand from diverse material and drawing with ink and brush.
One chuckles at the frequent use of words that would make a sailor blush, and the vegetal shapes that remind us of certain body parts. But it goes beyond cheap thrills, for the artist is referring to the tradition in popular Bengali publishing, often dubbed bat-tala, of carrying crude woodcut illustrations alongside pornographic literature, size-zero books that can easily be identified by the transparent yellow paper they are wrapped in, and sold along with other penny dreadfuls on pavements.
Another pleasure afforded by this exhibition derives from the use of industrial material as it is, without trying either to camouflage or change it. The objects of everyday use that Dutta exhibits are either inflated to such a gigantic scale that they become unrecognizable, or are reduced to miniatures that could belong to a doll’s house. Whatever be their size, the objects he creates with his own hands, putting in much physical labour and toil, using materials like steel mesh that are not very kind to the epidermis, are very much there. Their undeniable physicality makes a strong impact on viewers, quite unlike some of the recent exhibitions in this gallery where clever, marketable ideas — mostly reflections of ideas trendy in the West (I wonder what Plato would have said to that!) — are on display.
The first object that grabs one’s eyeballs is the huge white thing lying in the middle of the kerchief-size floor of the gallery. It resembles an open book with talons lying amidst dug-up clay, as if thrown up by excavation undertaken either by archaeologists or palaeontologists. Actually, the artist has made clever use of the depression in the floor of the gallery with kund-like steps around it. This fibreglass object looks familiar enough but it takes some time for one to realize that it is a hair clip of Brobdingnagian proportion.
The same with the giant hair-band with waves on top. It resembles a triumphal archway, perhaps for the Lilliputs. This play with scales makes the exhibits even more intriguing. Hence the title of the exhibition. Cork screw curls of steel — again industrial material — cascade from the wall like a waterfall or a particularly luxuriant head of frizzy hair. There is also the giant loofah made of steel mesh that resembles a bird’s nest dangling midair, a tailorbird’s nest to be specific. Such visual puns enrich the exhibition and we see more of them in the “books” Dutta has created.
Next to the majuscule bird’s nest are the miniscule drawings of the scrubber, doormat, safety pin, linen shirt, trousers — the entire commonplace range titled Protagonists for good reason, for it is the sublimation of the quotidian. These black-and-white line drawings, often stippled or banded as required, create a very tangible texture, as in the drawing of the toast, and recall botanical drawings of the 19th century — a trademark of this artist.
The next set of drawings and text in the “books” takes us back to the visual and verbal puns. The text in fine print (magnifying glasses have been provided to read it) is sprinkled with literals as they are meant to refer to smut that is never proof-read carefully.
The phallic piece of plumbing cast in bronze makes Dutta’s intent clear enough, and this idea is carried forward in the drawings titled The Tap Tonic and The Coiled Serpent. The Crispy Crunchy Coitus with its accompanying drawing of two mating dragonflies leaves nothing to the imagination, while the superb pumpkin and brinjal allude to the depiction of the female form in classical art.
This play of words, images and forms is delightful.