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LOOKING CLOSELY AT UNREALITY

Visual Arts

No one said it better than Hamlet when he exclaimed, “Words, words, words”, as an expression of his verdict on verbiage. Verbiage — often more like tripe — seems to have become the stock-in-trade of a good number of men and women engaged in the business of making art in India, and that includes both the artists and that tribe of professionals who shot into prominence only recently in this country — the curator. This is the first thought that strikes you on opening the invitation to “The Indian Parallax, or the Doubling of Happiness: works in two-dimension and sculpture towards the third image — the abstract reality” (till December 23) from the Birla Academy of Art & Culture. Even if you are familiar with the word, “parallax”, you wonder if its use in an exhibition of contemporary Indian art was absolutely imperative, when the latter half of the title says it all.

Then on reading the catalogue produced by the same institution you realize why curator Shaheen Merali feels compelled to do so. Merali is also a writer, is based in London, and has curated important exhibitions in Berlin, Korea and India, and that includes the exhibition of International Collection of this institution, when a locally-restored Louise Bourgeois was lumped with the rest of the works in the glare of studio lights. And what the catalogue does not mention but proves adequately is that he specializes in the use of gobbledygook that obfuscates and baffles the reader like the emperor’s new clothes which were non-existent. Quite expectedly, he doffs his cap to Bollywood that threatens to emerge as the sole representative of Indian culture here and abroad. It is the cash cow which even the West has learnt to respect.

If only Merali had chosen the works on display with the same scrupulous care he created a smokescreen around himself. He has chosen the easy way out by selecting 10 artists for whom the whole world is home and who are quite well known on the international circuit. With a few exceptions, these are works that depend too much on how either the curator or creator feels or claims they are, which can be far removed from what they actually are.

The only work that affects the viewer viscerally is Mithu Sen’s I chew, I bite, (picture, detail) a rather large work, a quality it has in common with the other exhibits. Sen, Probir Gupta and Chittrovanu Mazumdar are the only artists from Bengal here, although the first two are settled in Delhi. Sen has created the likeness of teeth with dental polymer before, but never on this scale, and never before has the effect been so violently disturbing as in Francis Bacon’s renderings of the smashed-up faces of accident victims. Her large drawing of the homosexual lovers with the accompanying sound track is gimmicky by comparison.

The Kallat couple is present here. Although Jitish’s painting of two giant cushions without covers is clearly non-representational in spite of being so, more than this, it is his concrete bed that has clearly shifted from immediately recognizable reality. This, like many of the works here, approaches “abstract reality” that the title speaks of. This, more than the word, “parallax”, defines the exhibition.

Reena Saini Kallat’s Untitled Cobweb (knots and crossings) is composed of such strong lines, although it is made of rubberstamps, that it could be a drawing. Her works focus on the deleterious effect of official records and the “stamp” of authenticity, or “chhappa”, as the vulgar call it. However, her video, Synapse (another big word), does not have the same impact as it appears far too contrived.

Manish Nai’s “sculptures” with cloth and newspapers are credible explorations of form. Hema Upadhyay’s untitled work shows tiny, quaint (Boschian?) figures slowly sinking into the quagmire of despair represented by the decorative paper surface painted over with black.

Probir Gupta’s assemblage of photographs, film projection and giant fibreglass fragment of a skeleton is a largely sentimental project. Remen Chopra’s layered photographs of pretty Punjabi girls in places of worship fall in the same category. Sheba Chhachhi resorts to exoticism as her heart cries out for the plight of Kashmir. Isolated from the nocturnal ambience he created with the colour, black, sounds and images at his recent exhibition at another city gallery, Mazumdar’s “carriage of nights” loses much of its mystique. At least his “machine” trundles back and forth with the regularity of a toy train. Vibha Galhotra’s “kinetic work” had gone kaput.