Art reviews

Art reviews

Art reviews

Exotic as sophisticated background

Used to Tasveer’s presentations of photography that, like any other kind of art, brings an interpretation and enhanced experience of reality, one may have at least initially responded in the negative to the latest display of prints by Norman Parkinson. The collection of his fashion images titled “Pink is the navy Blue of India” (February 24 to March 20), since most of it comes from a trip to the country, immediately strike as aesthetic in a sophisticated, if stylistically dated, way irritating perhaps that the beautiful exoticism of the locales merely serves as a background for high-end Western couture. 

Nevertheless, the sensitivity of the takes and their formal quality let the spectator consider that even the sheer artificiality of fashion photographs can, within the limitation of their milieu, capture vital aspects of a culture, in this case it being very European glamour fantasies staged around Oriental backdrops, the inherent differences as well as connections of the latter helping to project the former. The finesse, inventiveness and boldness of Parkinson ensure that the atmosphere around Europe’s fashion of the 1950s not only holds evidence of the period but also retains its poetic liveliness. In fact, such capacity of the British photographer came through well because the exhibition included examples from the several decades of his career.

The black and white prints from the late 1930s grasp the essence of that day’s grand design through contrasting tonalities and dramatic geometry as well as the aristocratic grace and sensuous allure of its independent woman. Actually, Parkinson’s shots are much less posed in a conventional manner than those of his contemporaries in the 50s. They do have an artifice of their own, yet one that gently leads to the ethos of the time, which happens most naturally when the models, the clothes and the environs belong to the same urban culture. With sharp observation and warm, empathic humour, Parkinson responded to the changing moods and perspectives of the post war era with elements of democratisation and stated openness onto other countries, ideologies and cultures. 

His wit seemed to have both enabled the contact and tempered the impact of the Western filtering of the process. Here come the shots juxtaposing a model’s face and a village cow’s, portraying a figure amid narrow London slum walls, comparing an Orientalising hat design with African warrior dancers and comparing a white model’s profile to the made-up face of an Egyptian Sphinx. The Indian photographs do not try to undermine the familiar Occidental visions of the place, instead gracefully appropriating the ideas of architectural and ornamental opulence, refinement, eroticism and romantic emotionality, of snake charmers and caparisoned elephants, pretty poverty and child innocence. 

Parkinson here finely conjures responsive, but not literal, similarities in textures, colours and patterns between the dresses, stances and expressions of the models and the marble monuments, richly carved temples and festive decorations, sometimes creating a separate stage for the fashion and sometimes modulating the play of illumination and shadows to absorb the model. He may rely on the normal hues of a reality fragment to link it to the model, otherwise construct a theatrical surround, like one of flower heaps on Dal Lake. Among the instances of his later work, one is less convinced by the white robed model next to Buddhist monks, whereas the swimming costumes with a witty allusion to the Soviet sports obsession are a delight as is the 1982 shot of a black model echoing the curvaceous linearity of a sculpture. 

Rough reality animation

Despite its awkward title, Baadal N Nanjundaswamy’s exhibition “Colors & Beyond” (Bar1, March 10 to 15) was a refreshingly direct effort. The young artist from Mysore does pen drawings on paper, in a tight-loose network of lines, recreating a strong and involved, yet somewhat distanced, sensation of his modest surroundings. There appears to be something rudimentary and honest about the way he brings images of ordinary life going on with a rough and steady animation. 

His streets, packed with modest houses and auto-rickshaws, dotted with busy labourers, cluttered roofs, home and bus interiors are densely hatched in a basic black and mixed with simple other colours to suggest their physical tissue translating into structure and inner pulse of things. Along the occasional dizzy angles and sharp perspectives, a feel of progression and speed becomes also recognised and the artist’s presence as a participant and observer. Even if admitting a degree of naivety, the straight approach should constitute a solid foundation for the maybe more complex future.