Six years ago, an art workshop spurred by the advice of Paritosh Sen, who was then 88 years young, led to a spanking new gallery in one of those dowager mansions of the city in rather period disrepair. Harrington Street Arts Centre can, therefore, never forget its mentor whose birth anniversary falls in October. In Remembering Paritosh Sen —that’s how its current show, on till October 20, is titled — the gallery fulfils an obligation towards the memory of the man who gave it conceptual birth.
Most of the participating artists this time were involved in the workshop then. The three who weren’t are Veena Bhargava, a close friend of Sen and his wife; Chittravanu Majumdar whose father, Nirode, had been among the champions of modern art and who started Calcutta Group with Sen in 1943; and Jogen Chowdhury, who’s on the gallery’s steering committee.
Bhargava’s contribution, a set of three digital prints, is a tribute that touches upon different aspects of the artist. One, for example, clubs Tagore and Picasso together because both were his heroes. But adding Sen here, though at the bottom so that he can ‘look up’ to the icons, could be good-natured ribbing of a possible reverse narcissism that stimulated him to paint caricatures of himself.
Majumdar shows digital prints too which seem to predict a dark, apocalyptic wasteland. The barren foreground of frazzled grass and grey boulders recedes into a distant horizon that’s strangely edged with a luminous white or red-orange to warn of some kind of disasters beyond. A fierce sky above unfolds a drama of cloud formations and light. The set of six prints, called Landscapes, shows the allegorical possibilities of the genre, as lyricism is replaced with menace.
Jogen Chowdhury’s Head could well belong to this landscape, though its mark of violence — an open cut — is starkly understated. There’s another head in this show which seems to have weathered the apocalypse but been thoroughly mauled by it. And that, of course, is by Jaya Ganguly. No less dystopian is Arindam Chattopadhyay’s canvas, with its smoky, textured surface and disintegrating forms. Partha Pratim Deb’s works are spry and pleasing though not playful as they usually are, while what’s noticeable in Amitava Dhar’s work is its fleeting chaos.
In contrast to the fussily overcharged canvases of Tapos Konar and Shahjahan is Adip Dutta’s wry squint at everyday things — called Protagonists to lend them individuality — that turn invisible through their ubiquitous presence. He explores, close up, their texture, structure, weave. And Rathin Kanji’s acrylics have the neat, simplified articulation of graphic design as he plays on contraries with words in No Game, Game On. The other’s blasé presentation of a text that asks viewers to weigh their options for or against war in the manner of a clinical debate may not be terribly original, but its irony sears, nevertheless.
Dark irony bristles in Chhatrapati Dutta’s photo collages, too. But he uses backlit film, not bromide, to convey the Urban Predicament, a set of four pieces. The scramble of disjointed images — flyovers, high-rises, the river Hooghly, a discarded effigy of the goddess Durga and such — composes a vertiginous maze that invites the eye to wend its way through it. If the wrinkles of a withered old woman or the carcass of a boat coming apart appear too déjà vu, the red and green glow lends an eerie unreality to the fractured view of the city.
The last of the artists is Samir Roy whose two assemblages are untitled perhaps because he could find no pretty, pithy phrase to summarize the feelings behind them. For he tries to understand how man battles his own vulnerability in a contingent universe by inventing quick-fix myths. Egg shells and a tangle of copper wires suggest that the human body is as delicately crafted as life is perilously fragile. Little phials — the kind homeopathic medicine comes in — containing tiny strips of printed paper that hint at individual destinies, cluster into a colony as though seeking solace in togetherness. Or in religious faith, for the other work, with thick handmade paper torn into a rugged terrain, has these oblong pouches labelled with numbers. They happen to mimic the puja offerings sold at the Puri temple which are also posted to devotees: vials of virtue marketed as an investment in the afterlife, as it were. Not unlike the sale of indulgences that led Martin Luther to protest and the Church to split. But can the psychological anchor of absolution ultimately redeem the rootless?