Those who wish to gauge what young artists here are up to could get an inkling from Studio 21’s current show, Monsoon Mix, which is on till today. The 11 artists presented cover a range of styles and concerns, from baroque extravagance to barely-there brevity. But both extremes, as well as the works that fall in between, indicate quite clearly the search for new ways of saying things, even if there aren’t always new things to say.
And the first artist who must be mentioned in this context is Sumantra Mukherjee, who has just one work on view, Burn All, but claims immediate attention. The cutout of a board he shows builds up an imploding tragedy that’s as private and intense as it’s symbolic of an affliction of modern, industrial society. Engraved to depict, in terms of Pop art, the head of a person battered from within, her— or is it his? — Expressionist angst is pregnant with the narrative of a lonely, frightened, disintegrating misfit, perhaps even an addict. As in the artist’s paintings, numbers are incorporated as features and deep facial furrows. But the number here is 420, which leads you to believe that he is tempted to judge rather than to empathize. On the other hand, the subject’s gesture of crushing despair and the blinding red used finally leave the image in moral ambivalence.
Interesting allusions emerge in one of Sukanta Hazra’s mixed media works. What you see appears to be the disintegration around a misfit — either a saint or a sinner, both beyond the pale of majority norms — as a babel of fragmented trivia is charged with irony and erotica. But these don’t cohere into a legitimate, meaningful experience. This misfit could be an artist, or any kind of creator, the albatross who seeks to possess the skies, the world, through his creative act. Or somebody without a social conscience. Which is why he can be A Man Who Has Been Sitting on the Top of the World. His identity is obliterated with only his mouth visible in a dense shadow. But does he smile, smirk or snarl?
There’s less ambiguity in Chandana Mukherjee’s oils where she sees herself — the artist — as something of an albatross: a huge bird with a woman’s head and green feathers interspersed with a red that is like flames. Her florid imagination — that may bring to mind Roberto Matta — throws in a vertiginous mix of perspectives, planes and scales to script a melodramatic spectacle in depicting what seems to be a bizarre yet seductively intricate cityscape in Of Me and My Lineage. The bird woman holds a palette and brush in another work, where her absorption in her art as she turns the wreckage of a taxi into an image, is reflected in the very title, Me in Myself (picture).
At the opposite end are Santanu Mitra and Apu Dasgupta, who drain the substance out of figures, leaving them as faded, bloodless spectres with watercolour stains. How an innocuous image, abbreviated to bare outlines in an anonymous space, can turn insidious with its references to violence is seen in Number 26, where Mitra lines up a vertical column of heads as though it were an execution squad. And Dasgupta’s twilight zone phantoms, offering chance glimpses of bone structures inside these pale shells, and holding or trailing what looks like the large intestine, appear to be sympathetic, though not sentimental, portraits of the wretched of the earth.
Somewhere in between the two extremes falls Debosmita Samanta’s Bollywood nostalgia evoked with a cunning recipe: yesteryear stars paired with a shamiana here or a balcony there in serigraphic print, acrylic and decorative material, while Arunima Sanyal mines the miniature tradition in delicate tones.
The winking humour of Anirban Ghosh’s series of prints, Junkyard, arises from the patchwork of picture excerpts in the first work that shows the digital age descending on earth from outer space, nudging awake a skull-and-crossbones danger alert. The ridiculous machismo that Timir Brahma proclaims in his irreverent take on the Aryan heartland myth of Hanuman’s devotion to Ram is loudly ‘filmi’. Ashish Chakraborty’s humour is gentler, particularly in Stolen Kiss and Bachelor Bed. But his nailclipper can turn hilariously murderous too. And Mrinmay Debbarma’s satiric wit in Little Boy sees a dictator as a figure of impotent pomposity. Because, while he stands on a bomb which doubles as a globe — with its obvious reference to Chaplin’s Great Dictator — its fuse is already alight, predicting an impending comic book explosion: boom...