The dilemma of searching for fresh ways of seeing and saying things when everything seems to have been seen and said already poses a challenge, but that can also motivate students as it did the fourteen from Kala Bhavan, Santiniketan, who showed their works at Birla Academy recently. You could make out that much thought and hard work had gone into the whole exercise. Besides, including students from different departments — ceramics, textile designing and graphic printing apart from painting and sculpture — ensured a welcome variety.
Although most were from Calcutta and other places in Bengal, it was encouraging to see students from troubled border states participating also. For example, Amphu Terangpi was from Karbi Anglong, Assam. Her quaint imagery conjured up a child-like fantasy in a landscape where a clever use of white space around tiny silhouettes articulated a lively drama. Her mixed media canvas was interesting in its combination of cityscape geometry in the manner of Georgia O’Keeffe’s Precisionism with the flamboyant stylization of Japanese art in a figure that looked like a Kabuki actor.
Nagaland’s Chumbeni Kikon Kyong titled her glazed stoneware Meditation. That clued you in on how she discovered in inanimate loops, orbs and diacritics — joined together like some voluptuous script — a resonance of tactile, organic renewal with its continuous, burgeoning micro life seen in twigs and bulbs, snails and other tiny creatures. Kompi Riba of Arunachal Pradesh was, likewise, enthralled by the patterns of growth and decay in nature. Her best work was the litho, Patience, which evoked a banyan through dark patches and slivers and a fanning canopy of fine, webbed lines.
When you came to Insha Manzoor from Kashmir you could see how her assemblage — for want of a more specific label— subtly wove a spectrum of references, reflections and feelings. The Sufi tradition of knotting thread and cloth on the filigree walls of dargahs to make wishes — a tradition embraced by all communities in this country— was archly quoted with poignant undertones that had both gender and political dimensions. The desire for self-determination in the Valley, scotched by the power of the State, and the way women, particularly, have been affected by the violence that’s turned paradise into hell, were the interlinked concerns suggested through a woman’s burdened face which emerged from the pieces of cloth tied on a bamboo lattice, lit from behind.
The mixed media nudes of Tanvi Jain of Delhi exposed the vulnerability of women’s flesh which, when stripped of identity, was fair game for male hunters whether in suits, jeans or lungi. And the zipper, a probable symbol of erotic play, could turn offensive in unwelcome hands. Rishu Tyagi of Meerut relished contrasting what’s seen from the outside and what’s tantalizingly hidden. Like women’s handbags, for instance. Or weaver bird nests inside which she placed little bars to stress the anonymity of highrises as against the personalized homes of birds. All of it stoneware, though. Stoneware was the choice of Punjab’s Vishal, as well, who explored different kinds of shapes and glazes.
Prarthana Hazra combined different media and material (picture): woodcut, relief print, plywood and glass. Their strong outlines and matte colours received a touch of bracing levity from her curiously edited images that teased the viewer’s focus with what was unseen. Sayoni Das showed woodcuts with textured, sculpturesque forms and matte colours. The overlap of figures to approximate motion in time reminded you of Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase.
Sandipa Mondal and Soumi Banik both tried out, with encouraging results, media of textile designing such as kalamkari and woven tapestry. The east Asian vocabulary of landscapes influenced both. But while a spare one in browns by Mondal was particularly enchanting, Banik’s paean to spring had a poetic exuberance. Their tapestries — called murals — with jute, wool and cotton, went for harmonized colours in geometric layouts, varied with gaps, lumps and knots.
Aritro Roy Choudhury’s pungent wit in making a point was seen in his stoneware hand-pump, all bent and broken, as though from frantic overuse. By calling it Population, he packed in an environmentalist’s sermon in a pithy image. His lighthearted manner spilled over into his other works as well, particularly a painting of 12 disjointed scenes done with the quick sketchy lines of cartoons which may have had an autobiographical thread running through them. While Dwaipayan Chakraborty explored, like some of the others, the versatility of stoneware yet again, Santanu Chatterjee’s rumbustious acrylics attempted to capture, somewhat in the manner of an established young artist, the maddening reality of India.