The current exhibition at Serendip (January 14 to 23, WelcomeArt, Windsor Manor, 26 onwards, Gallerie Serendip) presents ''My World'' by Mantu Das.
The substantial work by a painter barely 25 years old is quite admirable in its un-pretended simplicity and involvement with issues and sensations of immediate reality – direct as well as metaphorical, passionate and sarcastic, empathic and accusatory, descriptive and poetic.
The artist responds to his immediate Assamese surroundings and the country against a broader context. He seems to be an overseer and judge of things whose personal concern brings in autobiographical motifs among the panoramas of human nature.
His canvases are structured by dense architectural views where bright buildings in modern cities create a playful, alluring background whose emphasis on the surface betrays vacuity. Otherwise, close-up takes enhance the latent there element of miniature-like treatment of space that flattens out volumes and opens them to sight.
Amid such backdrops he depicts various groups of people – human types, their diverse characters, occupations and ways, most of them sharply observed and shown in the middle of a happening that reveals their moods, exuberance and mischief, desires and hidden urges, also greed, hypocrisy, violence and criminality.
The reality where tradition mixes with international trends, colonial vestiges with indigenous beliefs, local patterns of aggressiveness reverberate of the global inertia of injustice. Specific events in their proximity layer over vaster narratives, contemporised fables and intimate memory, underscored by a wish to cleanse and change things, although the storyteller admits pessimism. His relief comes from ventures into the pristine abundance of the organic world and fantasy where Henri Rousseau’s spirit appears to inhabit classical Indian painting.
If Das may have been inspired by N S Harsha, and his human figures come through as signs of courses of life, they are anchored in a light-succinct realistic rendering that sometimes ventures into stylised, expressionistic ridicule and sometimes turn lyrical. Perhaps the artist still needs to combine these elements more tightly, but already deserves appreciation.
“Beyond Oxiana”, the site-specific installation by Unni Gjersten, was brought by the Office for Contemporary Art Norway and Bangalore’s Colab to 1Shanthi Road Studio/Gallery (January 16 to February 12). In a way that is infrequent in India, the Norwegian artist from a rather minimalist, conceptually formulated position and using only words stencilled on the gallery walls is able to conjure sensations that begin with scraps of information, memories and impressions but end up on the edge of a synaesthetic pervasiveness around visual and emotive intuitions about people and their places.
Gjersten has travelled in China interviewing mostly intellectuals of different generations living in diverse parts of this vast land. From the conversations she has retained simple, indirect indications of personal lives, thoughts, landscapes and taste of food, domestic and neighbourhood character, signs of history, relationship between individuals and government policies or images of neighbouring countries. The text on the walls is distributed according to their geographic location.
Even without realising its exact correspondences, the viewer-reader moving in the empty room centre is able to intuit the sense of expansive as well as immediate spaces that are remote from one another and simultaneously contradict, clash, overlap and permeate in a tentative approximation. The understated effect grows slowly in a rather poetic manner in which meaning and muted feelings blend with a nearly tangible visuality, aromas and maybe sounds.
Perhaps a Western perceptual angle and contact with people of serious reflections has emphasised the mood of sadness, restraint and pessimism without admitting contemporary China’s materialistic drive, pleasure seeking and confident demonstrativeness of achievement.
Maturing in contact
From the 14th Jaaga accommodates three friends who drifted away to jobs but blog contact helped them also get back to art. Their works, while different, prove growing maturity.
Pooja Gupta’s canvases with female figures and nudes among abstract and ornate backgrounds combine perhaps too evident compositional strategies with lyrical moods, their traditional character being contemporised by the sharp-blurring effects of digital printing.
Nirali Lal, with humour and warmth, indeed squares the circle by transposing Baroda city square sights into canvas cubes suspended over rope-filled tyres reinterpreting those into design-like evocations amid pulsating pigment motifs.
The most absorbing is Archana Prasad’s interactive piece with a robotic “Enlightened Singularity” image that triggered by someone’s physical entry asks for a prayer with the sound of a gong and promising to appear throws up a flickering, skeletal figure that imitates the viewer’s movement. Its humour marries irreverence to conventional religion with faith in our own lofty aspirations and their future.