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ART WITHOUT AN EXCUSE

The Banyan Art Show at Ganges Art Gallery (July 11 to 25) proved yet again that the presence of a few well-known artists cannot raise the standard and quality of an exhibition which has no unifying theme to hold it together. How could a recent painting by K.G. Subramanyan salvage such an exhibition when most of the works on display seemed to have been chosen by a blindfolded curator? They seemed to be there by pure chance.

One wondered what business Indrapamit Roy’s surreal painting, where the line that separates mirage from reality dissolves, had to be there. Or, for that matter, the Jyoti Bhatt serigraph, where the popular and folk merged, or Jyotsna Bhatt’s ceramic with its complex form resembling a budding bloom.

It was impossible to make out what Alok Bal had in mind when in not one, but six paintings, he superimposed the images of six wild animals on a greyish square. Since these were all exotic creatures, including some endangered ones, one wondered whether the artist belonged to the green lobby, and perhaps this was some subtle campaign for their protection.

Then there were four of Jagannath Mohapatra’s oddball paintings. A pot-bellied man did a balancing act with red chillis. The same pot-bellied man wearing a garland of vegetables stood barebodied in front of a table fan. It was not even crude enough to be funny. However, Mohapatra’s other two paintings were more imaginative and intriguing — the forested paper boat with a house on the top of a pole, and buildings spilling out of the giant horn of a phonograph attached to a dinky toy.

Amarnath Sharma’s work resembled a silkscreen but was actually a painting — acrylic on paper. What was the point of showing labourers carrying loads? Equally strange was Animesh Maity’s composition with several small studies of the underclasses. Neither as a composition nor as individual paintings did they have anything to offer. One would not be exaggerating if one said that the same held for Mrinal Mandal’s clichéd abstract studies in grey.

As with Maity’s composition, the many participants did not even have enough technical skill to recommend themselves. Charu Sompura’s etching of a candlelit woman’s face was not technically striking enough to deserve a second look. The same holds for Anuj Poddar’s green glass skull with indeterminate features. The head of a goat is a common sight in Calcutta whose presiding deity is the goddess Kali. Mausumi Roy’s work was a replica of just that. With this difference. This goathead was green. Once again, the logic of its presence was missing.

Black dominated Nakul Mandal’s painting. The touches of molten orange, yellow and green —easily psychedelic — did catch the eye. The colours were at least livid. There are several women artists who have taken up embroidery in right earnest, using it as a form of expression. Kruti Mukherjee is one such. She had embroidered cityscapes on cloth and displayed them with their wooden frames in place. A length of plaited copper wires hung from each of the frames. It looked as if the embroidered cities have sprouted roots.

Sajal Sarkar’s paintings may not have been great but the idea — an urban landscape haunted by the phantoms of birds and fowl — was interesting. The shadowy forms of these feathered creatures were reflected on building walls.

Shaik Asghar Ali’s print could be mistaken for an illustration of Shakespeare’s play, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. But the donkey-headed being in this etching was no Nick Bottom, for he was gender-less. Two small glass globes hung side by side. One had ants crawling all over. The other carried images of travellers from a good part of the world. The latter — the double globes —was an attractive display, drawing parallels between the two species of being. This one was by M. Junaid.

Sathi Guin’s so-called sculpture — kitchen garden — was made of wire and colourful glass beads. Quite unintentionally, they looked as if kids had put them together. Mitul Shah’s colourful organisms/waste material floating in a void were among the more beautiful works on display, although they did give rise to a sense of déjà vu. Prem Kumar Singh’s figurines with their elongated penises (were they wearing penis gourds?) were mystifying. Anupam Chakraborty’s red floral form reminded one of Tagore’s famous play. Tiny flowers made of brilliant white paper were strewn all over the bottom of Debasish Dutta’s work. But like many of the works here, the flowers had no excuse to be there.