Annus Horibilis Twice Over. Really? Wouldn’t Nature demur at Birla Academy’s anthropocentric despair over the Covid years of 2020 and 2021 in the title of its recent show? For hadn’t “lesser” creatures actually begun to celebrate a worldwide halt to the rampage of human beings?
But artists, being human, will mirror human perspectives in recording their Notes from the Lockdown, as the tagline of the exhibition puts it. However, many works predate the pandemic, as undying socio-political embers are stoked anew. Like in Gaza or in the debate around Gandhi as an ideological metaphor. Baishampayan Saha’s photograph of graffiti saying ‘Free Gaza’ is a tacit reminder of a tangled colonial past that refuses to go, while his close-up of the striding legs of Gandhi’s statue is ambivalent in its hints.
From a winking nod to Surrealism in Portrait of a Versifier (picture, left) and Bleeding Coffee Mug, E.H. Pushkin goes for a mock-serious open-endedness in a bare-bones structure titled Multiple Concepts for a Single Creation. Its three leaning rods meet at the top like the support of a tent to suggest the cohesive strength of a composite. In Jamil Ahmed Khan’s works, newspaper, pasted on as ground or in shreds, talks of different concerns, from urban waste to the environment.
If Suresh Nair filled his lockdown hours painting minute, agile, abbreviated images on one-inch square cards, the art veteran, Lalitha Lajmi’s 14 ft-long Lockdown Scroll approximates a flowing river of life with disparate images scattered like flotsam on it. The elongated, sculpturesque faces in her other works appear as symbols of gaunt resilience (picture, right). On the other hand, there’s infectious brevity in the way another senior, Shobha Broota, dots space with little specks of ink that seem to coalesce or disperse to form floating, evanescent orbs.
Sahaj Umang Singh Bhatia’s installation dedicated to the long farmers’ stir declares that the spirit of protest hasn’t been snuffed out. But it’s the video and installations of Shailesh BR that deliver irreverent sidewinders at religious practices to provoke complicit smirks in the viewer.