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WHEN TOUCH LEAVES AN IMPRINT

It may well be sensuous romanticism about clay that inspired an engagement with ceramics and earthenware among the 12 artists who showed their sculptures recently at Maya Art Space. It may well be that the tactile richness of modelling lumps of wet earth, which initially need no tools in yielding to skilled and caressing fingers, is a vote for touch over the sense of sight. But invoking, in this context, a weighty epistemological debate about the “hegemony of vision”—which, claimed the exhibition note, was suitably challenged by clay-modelling — resulted in an amusing overstatement. The kind that’s pithily conveyed in the Bengali proverb about killing flies with cannon.

Besides, you can’t help but bring in a rider to the position taken by the author of the text, the sculptor, Partha Dasgupta, who also conceptualized the show: as soon as glazes and paint enter the creative process — as they often do in ceramics — vision wrests back its pre-eminence in the final round. But yes, the beginning has to be a tactile involvement with clay, a material of incredible versatility. Hence, the title of the show, “Mark on Clay”.

But cramming the limited gallery space with breakable sculptures — including free-standing figures— made you so anxious that viewing pleasure got curtailed. Particularly because two — or was it three?— pieces had to be banished outside the gallery proper. From the pictures in the handy little booklet of the show, you could also guess that some of the works probably chosen initially couldn’t be accommodated in the end, but aroused interest nevertheless. The solution in such cases might lie in splitting a show into a series.

Dasgupta himself harmonized a spectrum of light shades, partly glistening, partly matte, and textured the surface with cracks and pits. A set of eight stoneware plaques called Clay Tablets stressed the artist’s faith in the life-giving power of touch on clay in a line that could be translated as Let no touch go to waste, which was gravid with suggestions.

Debajit Chakraborty’s high-relief head with bulging eyes and sunken cheeks set on springs and two stands appeared as a reworking of tribal art idiom until you read the title: At Night When I Come Back Home. Leavening comments on trying everyday situations with wry banter seemed to be his style. For example, a ceramic and iron piece, Tomaro Lagiya Achhi Pathho Cheye, mocked the tradition of sucrose poetic language in expressing romantic or religious yearning: of the lover for the beloved; of the devotee for the deity. But what was awaited with such fervent longing in this work? Water from a dry tap, apparently.

Asish Chowdhury’s choice of a circular structure with a depression or hollow in the middle held out the obvious suggestion of an unending circle of life. This was stressed in Landscape where human habitation and nature were made to coexist. The naked figure of a man by Debasish Das, fired in segments, was impressive at proportions of 5’x18”x10”. Conceptually, however, it appeared rather undemanding. But the same sort of theme — physical intimacy—was handled with playful symbolism in Male and Female by Shibram Das. And Pallab Das chose humour, too, in his portrait of Hanuman, crowned with bananas in the manner of laurels.

Subhra Das’s stoneware plate would have been visually elegant and nothing more with its subtly coloured whorls but for the title: Om (picture). That made you wonder whether she had been inspired by Raza’s Bindu paintings. What strengthened the surmise was the densely-coloured centre that seemed to radiate outwards in concentric rings. Krishna Gopal Guchhait and Dipankar Karmakar had nimble fingers but were tempted into loquacity. The former was particularly guilty in this regard. In the case of Arnab Manna’s ceramic bags with glass bottles, however, the sly reference to consumerist lifestyles by mimicking window displays called for an elaborate arrangement. Yet, when he returned to a classical shape like an amphora, his deviations didn’t quite work.

Sanjay Samanta was exploratory in his abstraction of voluminous shapes and a rising column, but Anitya Roy’s focus and forte were the human figure. His 49.5” tall Girl Without a Shadow, for example, insinuated a dark narrative only through imprints on the body. His ease in evoking moods through small inflections in moulding the clay was seen in two works, Black Head and White Head. But more interesting was the base for a reclining mermaid in Matsya Kanya: a large, faux period map which opened up possibilities that had little to do with clay.