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IDENTITY CRISIS

Local artist Satyajit Ray’s statement is revealing. With his tongue quite obviously parked in his cheek, he says he dreamt that lines — straight, patterned, cross-hatched — were attacking him and each other. Which may remind the viewer of Khoka from an old Bengali rhyme who dreamt that a veritable Russo-Japanese war raged in his study among his inkpot and pen, slate and pencil. Only, Ray wasn’t dreaming but drawing, and the battleground was the white paper he worked upon, which conspired to seize and freeze the lines into images.

What kind of images? Well, you ought not to be guillotined for calling them surreal, because, yes, the meticulous drawing and the absurd juxtapositions he relishes are features of classical Surrealism. But there’s no dredging of dark, tangled memories via unsettling dreams here. Rather, these images may well have been sparked by the inspired nonsense of Sukumar Ray, particularly such Abol Tabol gems as Khichuri and Kimbhut where the poet’s fey whimsy scrambles the identity of creatures with crazy misalliances.

But why only Abol Tabol? Taking impish delight in rupturing empirical perception with fanciful mix-ups infects other children’s rhymes too. And that’s the spirit — of impish delight — which buoys the artist’s recent works, to be seen at Studio 21 till May 3. There are, to be sure, sneak references to thoughtless violence at times. Hence, a pistol protrudes from the head of a zebra as though from a holster, in a painting of photographic verisimilitude.

Or you may sense a debunking smirk while confronting a 198 cm x 80 cm x 83.5 cm fibreglass sculpture. For here is a peacock without its wing and tail, the natural accoutrements of pride. But dressed in a pair of jeans and painted black, it still seems to preen with hauteur. Its name? Superstar, naturally.

But the works are refreshingly free from profound pronouncements, and draw the viewer into their quirky fantasy with a winking complicity of fables and folk myths. A fine draughtsman, Ray can tame the most combative ink lines.

Elephants, macaws, guns, cars, tigers, boxing gloves, giraffes, snakes, raptors and the like are cropped and conjoined at will as the artist overturns Nature’s writ to play god in a topsy-turvy world where a macaw lunches on a tiger, a hen sports a scimitar head and a muscular period car sprouts elephant tusks and a trunk.

But the work that most asserts its presence is, undoubtedly, The Animal. The painted fibreglass zebra with just two legs raises one in what seems like a boast of aggressive maleness. But the stance is aborted by some malevolent force that’s planted a macaw head on it and rendered it vulnerable. Why? Because of an identity crisis, of course.