It lies diagonally in one section of the gallery’s floor, this bare carcass made of arching terracotta ribs splayed like arms and tied to a long spine of sturdy wood with rough coir rope. As though it were the skeletal remains of a beached whale, shrunken several sizes smaller, of course, but one that had died, rotted, withered, leaving just the structure of bones behind. Or a disintegrating boat, cannibalized. It could well be that the artist, Tapan Maharana, has taken a cue from established young exponents in quoting anatomical references. What’s important here is that the work comes across as a powerful metaphor for the vulnerability of life, its final resolution. His other sculpture, a packing crate in sandstone, may recall Tony Cragg’s remarkable arrangement, Stack, though very distantly. The rugged object, speaking of transit, holds the eye but could have done with more weathering.
Maharana is one of the 10 artists participating in Galerie 88’s summer show, on till July 14. It ought to be noted that nine of them were born in the 1980s. The show, therefore, indicates how the young are grappling with their circumstances in terms of the art traditions they access. Take, for example, Shrimanti Saha and her light, lively, nimble mixed media collages, especially, Study of Alter Ego. You can see across it the century-old shadow of the master inventors of the medium, Picasso and Braque. But, instead of putting different shapes together into an architectural amalgam, Saha disperses them, making a neat, but not sequential, montage of disparate little tableaux that’s right for cartoon animation.
When you come to Abhijit Sarkar, you see Roy Lichtenstein leap out of his works. The idea of comic book grammar appeals to him as it does to many other young artists. And so his ink drawing is like illustrations — particularly the kind you see in Indian textbooks —with an emphasis on outlines and raw letterpress colours rather than on tone. And on text, too, though that’s not imprisoned in speech bubbles. He picks popular aspects of social life to pickle: cinema posters, changing mores of sexuality, violence — especially against women — clichéd lines or some oft-repeated film dialogue (Love me or kill me/tera keya hoga Kaliya and so forth). And there’s even a boom. But the challenge for the artist in the future lies in testing this kind of mildly amusing pastiche for more trenchant comments on society.
For Md. Sabir Ali, fantasy is a staple, clothed in a language that hints at different sources, one being the Miniature. Another is Chagall whose presence is visible in the acrylic Artist Departing with his Painted Donkey, particularly in its lucid, overlapping colours that sculpt form subtly, dispensing with harsh lines, and evoke a gentle rhythm. Miniature stylization inspires Prasad K.P. too. But more than the somewhat insipid figuration, it’s the abstract filigree of pink, bristly branches that you remember. Pappu Bardhan paints the banana flower and the jackfruit, both typical of Bengal, apparently as symbols of plenty co-existing with poverty. The jackfruit does suggest fetid decay in its overripe corpulence, but doesn’t quite match the artist’s visual postscript of a struggle for survival, tucked into one corner of each picture.
Kundan Mondal’s canvas, A Brief Mystery of Time, echoes the Stephen Hawking title perhaps to stress that nothing is stable in the universe; that life — suggested by cellular formations and toy-like animals — is as capricious in its variety as it’s contingent, not governed by any superior design; that civilizations, with their in-built destructiveness, don’t script a story of linear progress. The dark, mottled faux-mural ground and the hallucinatory figure of a still, giant horse — outlined with tiny dots as though it were a constellation and looming over clusters of tiny people — suggest a mythopoeic vision that resists facile reading and engages you at more than one level. Another artist to note is Mahesh Baliga whose series of three paintings, titled Travelogue Landscape (picture), depicts fishing and hunting. In fact, however, they are replete with a romanticism of brooding introversion, seen in a lone figure wrapped in the dense solitude of dry, thick casein, applied with a canny sense of mixing, smearing and spattering colours.
Shweta Naik translates the spry scribbles and squiggles usual in sketches into agile, dancing, tumbling arabesques in bronze. They become tangled branches in one sculpture and playful figures in the other. And Sushanta Maharana’s woodcarving probes the canine form which, in Bones on Flesh, adopts what could be called the Cubist strategy of simultaneity: bringing multi-plane views onto the same surface.