Reality check

Different Strokes

Reality check

reSignatures of the visible : Arun’s works draw upon a vast span of both experience and reference that constantly feeds his contextual premise.He is a qualified sculptor and professional toymaker. While his evocative installations — both stationary and kinetic — provoke the viewers, his vigilant camera captures the essence of the environment he lives in.

When Saffronart and Guild Art Gallery presented the exhibition, ‘A New Vanguard: Trends in Contemporary Indian Art’, in New York during September/ October 2009, the show included works by eighteen contemporary Indian artists that encompassed diverse artistic practices like painting, digital printmaking, sculpture, site specific installation and video art. One of the featured artists was Hosamane Gurupadappa Arunkumar.

Born in 1968 in a small village near Heggodu, Shimoga district, Arunkumar spent his childhood days amidst verdant and richly forested Malnad region. Coming from a family of agriculturists, he was, even as a child, exposed not only to prevailing practices of farming but also to the vagaries of the life of a farmer.

His father was an avid reader and regularly subscribed to Lankesh Patrike, Sudha, Mayura and several other mainstream publications; the habit rubbed on young Arun as well, who had his early education in local village schools. “During those days, the illustrations in Amar Chitra Katha and other magazines also filled me with wonder.”

After completing his schooling in Davangere, Arun enrolled at the Faculty of Fine Arts, M S University, Baroda and successfully completed both BA and MA in sculpture (1989-1995). Thereafter, he shifted to Delhi initially as an artist-in-residence at the Garhi Studio. “In Delhi, I confronted a different type of reality and the hangover of MSU began to fade rapidly.”   

In the ensuing years, his sculptures, installations and photographs came to be featured at several important exhibitions in India and abroad. His solo exhibitions, Feed (2006) and Tract (2010), at Nature Morte, marked a turning point in his career and received wide critical attention.

Other important exhibitions which included Arun’s works were ‘Nutida Knost Fran Indien’,
Göteborg and Stockholm, Sweden (1998); ‘Sheesha’, Ecole Superieure des Beaux-Arts de Tours, France (2003); Buy-Sellf, Ateliers d'artistes de la ville de Marseille, France (2004); ‘World @ Hunger’, World Social Forum, Porto Alegre, Brazil (2005); ‘Here There Now’, Gallery Soulflower, Bangkok (2007); China International Gallery exposition, Beijing (2007); ‘Indian Colour’, Gallery Keumsan, Seoul (2007); ‘Chaos in Order’, Vietnam (2008); and ‘Shifting terrains/ Altered realities’, Delhi/ Singapore (2008).

Arun was invited to participate in CHROMA public art project in Bergen, Norway (2003) and International Artists Camp, Colombo in 2005. He also took part in ARCUS artist-in-residence program at Moriya, Ibaraki Prefecture, Japan (1999); Adelaide Festival of Arts, Australia (2002); KHOJ International residency, New Delhi (2002) and artist-in-residence program at the University of South Australia, Adelaide (2008).

Contextual premise

A prolific artist adept in several mediums, Arun lives and works in Gurgaon. His sculptures and installations are known for their interplay of lighthearted and absurd imagery even as they raise serious issues and grave concerns.

Critics have recognised Arun’s facility to delve into the dynamics of human and environmental relationships; his knack of articulating social densities through layers of ‘playful aesthetics’; and his ability to create works that physically appear basic, but convey a complex message quite contrary to their appearance.

“Arun’s works rely on the signatures of the visible, often interred through an amalgamation of personal experience and information routing,” says art critic Anshuman Dasgupta, with reference to the exhibition, Tract. “Arun hails from a family of farmers; hence each story of bounty or scarcity of food takes him down the memory and experience of living the anxiety related to food…

So, even the hands that sow the seeds, which symbolically and eventually feed us, turn pink, violet, or blue in appearance. They are also truncated, suggesting violence that could overpower the tender labour, which the intimate knowledge or farming and agriculture entail for the insiders.”

Curator Himanshu Desai feels that although Arun’s works appear simple, “they draw upon a vast span of both experience and reference that constantly feeds his contextual premise.”

Intriguingly, Arun employs not only conventional materials but also readymade objects such as toys, plastic, ceramics, cow dung, hay and TV monitors in his work. In one of his well known works, ‘Earth-diner’, in an act of creative subversion, he grew tall wheat crops on a dining table!

For ‘Varaha’, he hoisted a massive pig made of polythene shopping bags. In ‘Stone Soup Maker’, he presented a used oven and utensils in which were placed stones and wood pieces collected from the Western Ghats.

For him, the material/ medium is very important and has to jell with the subject matter. “Each material has its own character, meaning and significance. One has to understand and respect the qualities of the material before employing it in one’s work.”

An off-shoot of Arun’s exhibition, Tract, is the release of a visual book with 100 images (12 x 17 inch/ Hard Bound/ limited editions of 100, signed by the artist). It is an extraordinary record which eloquently highlights many anxieties of our time.

From the farmer’s hand (the tip of the little finger is chopped off) caressing a dry tract of land to the skin of a red tomato curled like a foetus; from beautiful landscapes of flowering farmlands to mushrooming concrete jungles; from slimy earthworms crawling out of moist soil to majestic anthills pierced by barbed wire fences; from sprouting leaves to vanishing water tanks; from farmers to butchers to abandoned gods inside wayside temples; from potatoes taking human form to rice plants with roots resembling veins in the body; from rows of pesticide bottles to press reports of farmers’ death; from migrants leading donkeys and elephants on Delhi roads to canteen scenes of working men… the photographs represent a long and interesting journey with varying plots and perspectives.

Although appearing deliberately juxtaposed and disjointed, taken collectively, the images in the visual book present a united vision of and an emotional response to the ever-changing realities and conflicts that haunt our everyday existence.

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