The strange ways of memory

It is a shame that some well-thought-out exhibitions are on one moment and gone the next. Lapses, curated by the young Anushka Rajendran and jointly organized by Harrington Street Arts Centre and Shine Empire of Delhi, lasted only from April 29 to May 1. Yet it boasted some sensitive and powerful works by a mix of 11 young and mature artists. This is Rajendran's statement: "This exhibition is a freehand exploration of how art affects and is affected by the processes of collective, personal and historical memory." The artists, each in his or her own way, demonstrated the strange ways of memory.

By VISUAL ARTS - Soumitra Das
  • Published 3.06.17
  •  

It is a shame that some well-thought-out exhibitions are on one moment and gone the next. Lapses, curated by the young Anushka Rajendran and jointly organized by Harrington Street Arts Centre and Shine Empire of Delhi, lasted only from April 29 to May 1. Yet it boasted some sensitive and powerful works by a mix of 11 young and mature artists. This is Rajendran's statement: "This exhibition is a freehand exploration of how art affects and is affected by the processes of collective, personal and historical memory." The artists, each in his or her own way, demonstrated the strange ways of memory.

Perhaps the most affective works were the ink and graphite markings of Neerja Kothari, whose calligraphic transcriptions of a simple exercise - Heel Toe - meant to enhance balance, became a metaphor of human frailty. The second was based on Kothari's response to Philip Glass's composition, the intensely beautiful Metamorphosis. It looked more like an exercise in terpsichorean rather than graphic art as it traced Kothari's reaction to the various undulating movements through ethereal waves of markings. On closer inspection the markings yielded the mathematical base of the works - an explosion of numerals.

Subrat Kumar Behera created a series of strong and lively lithographs where he depicted the birth of Goa based on Hindu myths and its long history of Portuguese colonization. As in all cities or regions that boast of their "cosmopolitanism", Behera contends that such sobriquets are earned at the expense of the natives who are often bled white by foreigners who lord it over the indigenes.

Expunging sections of Lok Sabha debates may amount to collective amnesia. Shilpa Gupta demonstrates this process through her minimalist work where the most significant sections of a discussion on deaths in police firing are obliterated - both a physical and psychological process.

The most spectacular work was Ranbir Kaleka's video, House of Opaque Water, projected on three panels that covered the better part of the spacious gallery's length. The Sundarbans, which stand the real risk of being swallowed by the sea, had a direct relevance to the first Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2012, for which it was made, the site being close to the sea. The video opens with the experiences of a man whose home in the mangrove forests has been washed away, and thereafter the documentary style melds with the fantastical as a tsunami-like cataclysm upends time itself. The spectral boat with a fire burning in it and adrift in the sea recalls a Ganesh Pyne painting. The web of electronic and local sounds casts an ominous spell. The video unlocks a world of dreams.

Gandhara Art Gallery's Paper & Pigments (April 1-13) was a small but significant show. Arindam Chatterjee's watercolour, Buffoons, of a nude trying on a dunce's cap, could have stepped out of King Lear. The dark and disturbing work is most relevant to our times when insanity is the order of the day. Debnath Basu's charlatan is a reflection on sleights of hand, chicanery, pseudo-science and post-truth. You cannot really trust what you see with your eyes any longer.

Prasanta Sahu's Study - drawings on paper with Japanese ink - are apparently about construction workers. They are nameless silhouettes risking their lives as they ascend the grid of scaffolding in these drawings approaching abstraction. Yet, under their skin, they are flesh-and-blood creatures like us.

Adip Dutta expands on what he observes with his eyes - roads being dug up - a familiar scene in Calcutta. But his delicate and meticulous pen-and-ink drawings, Rupture, reach way beyond ground realities to memories of archaeological excavations.

Jagannath Panda is known for his flamboyant works. In The Structure of Arid Terrain he fell back on geometry to create configurations that look severe and rugged. But a close enough look reveals slivers of Indian miniature paintings in them. The ruggedness is only an illusion.

Manjunath Kamath's work, 34 Days, that is all length with little breadth, is actually a curious assemblage of 32 small, framed watercolours depicting random slices of life - a hand holding a bough with twittering birds, a hand cutting a cake, a fly settled on a man's cheek, an ape, a stag and a duck inside a cage. The improbability of such an assemblage is obvious.

Sujith SN's world is a state-of-the-art battlefield where the blood and gore is not visible. The tower amidst a military stronghold with fighter planes winging out of it is a nightmare reflecting the stark realities of modern-day warfare.