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MISTY CURTAIN AND THE MACABRE TOUCH

Visual Arts

Aakriti Art Gallery had started the GenNext series of exhibitions to focus on young artists, who, it thought, showed promise. Most of the participants of this particular show were born in the 1980s, with one of them, Nihaal Faizal, born as late as in the 1990s. In its sixth edition (up to October 15), GenNext shows every sign of maturity, manifested in not only more carefully chosen works but also better display as more space is available now owing to the limited number of exhibits.

In earlier editions, often more shiny and essentially crude works used to be shown, but with time the gallerist seems to have become more discerning. Most of the artists have chosen more traditional forms of expression such as painting, and only two participants have used photographs. Of course, one can say that the artists have played safe. While that is a fact, even that is not always a guarantee of quality.

Two of the artists have appropriated well-known Kalighat pata images like many other earlier participants, but this time the technical quality is of a much higher order. There are fresher ideas too, which are all the better for their simplicity. Sudipta Das from Assam has created both her works with strips of paper touched with watercolour. So, in effect, her works are like large hairy wall-hangings or curtains that tickle your imagination as they look familiar enough but, at the same time, elude an easy explanation.

Vidhan Kumar of Bihar has something more obvious to speak of — rising prices and their effect on ordinary lives and the electoral system. Instead of making any grandiose statement, he uses the straightforward device of the stencils used to print symbols of various political parties to create an umbrella-like form. The latter, in turn, could be anything from an unfurled brolly to a dish antenna. What is important is that its shiny surface with the cut-out holes looks exciting enough.

Equally stimulating is Rajesh Kumar Ranjan’s work in which he uses countless, tiny stainless steel balls to conjure up forms that resemble a monstrous biological specimen floating in formaldehyde and a complex solar system comprising tightly packed planets without any breathing space between them. Such a phenomenon would be horrific beyond the wildest imaginings of science fiction.

Small boxes like islands interconnected with electrical wires and lit inside to focus on small drawings or suggestions of forms within them. This is how Dharitri Boro’s works may be described in short. Boro was born in Assam and was trained at MS University in Baroda. The drawings suggest embryonic forms that in turn look like germinating seeds, and insects trapped in amber. Both works are clearly thought out and executed.

Nihaal Faizal uses photographs to construct his images. Assembly Line has a touch of macabre humour. Innumerable clones of Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse, who are either extreme sports freaks or perhaps have a suicidal streak, jump out of a factory building. Two of them have already made a successful landing and wave out like stars. Francesca Ramello from Italy is the only foreigner participating this time. She uses photographs as well but the result is quite disappointing, particularly the floral modifications.

There is a touch of the macabre and grotesque in the painting of Sumantra Mukherjee as well. A ganja-smoking devotee of Kali screams or perhaps sings, exposing his tonsils in a drawing that severely distorts his facial features. The other painting, however, is more of a surrealist cliché.

Kanika Shah of Vadodara in Gujarat is a neat printmaker. She realizes the importance of leaving out virgin space so that the viewer’s attention is focused entirely on the image itself. Even colours she uses sparingly. In Still it Blossoms in My Garden for You she uses an expanse of red and a touch of pink on a white ground. The result is absolutely cool. Her childlike evocation of a train journey is quirky — even funny. Yet she is tremendously skilled as well, as is evident from her etching and embossing in this diptych.

Rajarshi Sengupta’s painting of new-rich babu, on the other hand, shows how a simple idea that has been in currency since the 19th century can go wrong if the treatment is too overwrought. The works of Prem Kumar Singh, originally from Jharkhand but based in Vadodara, mark the triumph of simplicity. His White Landscape-3 is shrouded in a curtain of grey mist, an enigmatic and elusive work that invites the viewer to unravel its mystery.