If you werenít looking too carefully at the works of Sougata Das, on view at Studio 21 till March 30, their multicoloured motifs gleaming with festive abandon would suggest an indulgence of the pretty. But the look of mina and bidri ó exacting traditional crafts the artist had learnt at one time ó has actually been appropriated by him as part of his creative endeavour for an entirely different purpose: loading his images with a strident irony by forging a misalliance of contraries. That this idiom probably hasnít been tried in quite this way before, at least on this scale and in these parts, makes the experiment worthy of note.
And what are these contraries that he melds? Figures that are contorted, tortured, flung around by unseen forces and faces that are grotesque together script an allegory of nightmares. But the colour, sheen and dainty miniature forms that are cut out from aluminium foil and then painted with transparent or opaque acrylic to conjure a faux inlay effect ó a most demanding process ó speak of a happy, playful whimsy.
The result is an unsettling experience which suggests that people camouflage private agony with public smiles. In fact, Camouflage is the title of two works, one of which refers to Munchís iconic The Scream and gives the show its name. Das has covered its face with a floral pattern which is like bright wrapping paper, although the terror in the undefined eyes and the frozen scream of the open mouth jolt you, upturning your initial response.
Treating the face as an unknown territory where bizarre and frightening features can assault your senses, the artist brings to mind the description of ogres and demons in childrenís stories. With gigantic teeth, ditto nostrils caught from below, monstrous lips and eyes that seem to glare murderously down at you or radiate rays like a stylized rising sun. But their malevolent appearance isnít without a touch of wry theatricality. Another work, Unlimited Talk, reveals the sharp, quick exaggeration of a caricaturistís lines.
But the figures in Decomposed and Fanatic seem tormented, torn apart; the first invaded with multicoloured insects and maggots and the latter with a close jostle of blue guns, both packaged, as it were, to catch the consumerís eye. Which, Das suggests with a complicit wink in Through the Lens, is fixated on objects, big and small, essential and de luxe. Made by man but curiously mythologized by consumerist values, these objects swarm around helpless figures in several works, declaring an agenda of multiplying desires which may only obscure but not arrest the Passing of Time, visualized by the artist as a densely packed hour glass which must, inevitably, devour all things.