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REBELS WITHOUT A CAUSE

Visual Arts

The, shall we say, credo (calling it a mere artist’s statement would not do justice to its claims), of the Non-Veg Art Show at Maya Art Space (October 24-November 6) sounded so challenging that one wondered who these firebrands were. Consider this: “The Non-Veg art show is a space of transgression. Of pushing the limits. And tinkering with the boundaries, as well.” A trail of similar platitudes follows. “The Non-Veg show dares to sensationalise the mindless desire to follow the trends blindly. It dares to negotiate with the uncomfortable self that is, more often than not, thrown under the carpet.” T.S. Eliot is not spared. “As Elliot [sic] famously asked, ‘Do we dare disturb the universe?’ This art show, with all humility, does.”

One could not help recalling Lucian Freud’s brilliant aside. He had remarked that if he had ever made any comment on his art, that was as relevant to it as the noise a tennis player makes while playing a shot. Flaubert was positively vitriolic on this score: “The more words there are on a gallery wall next to a picture, the worse the picture.” To be fair, at the Non-Veg Art Show, art babble was discreetly placed.

The participants’ idea of “disturbing the universe” was asking an actor from Tollygunge who had turned up — either by coincidence or design — to open the exhibition by bursting a confetti-filled balloon with a toy gun. Minuscule images used in the artwork on show had been turned into confetti. Both the artists, Nilanjan Das and Anirban Ghosh, have produced slick and clever works which are much in demand in galleries as they reflect the glossy patina that so many aspects of everyday life — from clothing to food — have been invested with ever since globalization came our way.

The worlds that Nilanjan Das and Anirban Ghosh produce in their paintings are imitations of the glossy world of advertisements where such images are used to inveigle viewers to buy consumer products, not all of them absolute necessities. These images are not copy-pasted on canvas. They are tweaked instead to look deceptively close to the originals. Nilanjan Das has created monstrous heads with the tiny images used in the confetti. These heads have associations of fast food that has marginalized home-cooked food now being served in fancy restaurants. Exoticizing and defamiliarizing what was once everyday reality are among the fallouts of globalization. Das’s images act as a cautionary tale for those addicted to fast food, the fast track to obesity. The villain of the piece — the moreish burger — is there with all its toothsome enticements. There is also the giant doughnut floating against a strawberry pink background. All these images resemble advertisements at first glance but are actually not. Technically, these paintings are as smooth and flawless as the airbrushed images of leaders of Communist regimes. One has to take a close look at them to detect the elements of subversion under their skin. All three artists are from the media. Hence their familiarity with this glitzy world.

Anirban Ghosh is a graphic artist by profession and he looks closely at celebrity culture. His installation with a dresser with lights — the kind one associates with a greenroom — and cheap plastic toys arranged on it indicates the make-believe world of the electronic media which literally turns night into day (picture). Pasted on the side of the dresser are calendar pictures of great personalities of Bengal juxtaposed with images of Bollywood stars. The idea is fine, the execution simplistic. Ghosh’s digital images are a take on the advertisements of luxury products which are displayed as such.

While these works are trendy, Bandeep Singh’s photographs are of the classic black-and-white kind. These are studies of nudes whose faces are concealed, and even when some body parts are revealed, others are under the cover of gauzy veils. For obvious reasons, he calls the series Dupatta after the veil, a sign of modesty. At one time, the salwar kameez ensemble was unthinkable without it. The details of these silver gelatin prints are worth inspection. In high contrast are the porous skin textures of the model and the crinkled gauze.