Art Talk

Art Talk

Casual duality

 A photograph by Annu Palakunnathu Matthew.

If one recalls Annu Palakunnathu Matthew's previous works - small, intimate photographs in sepia questioning and comparing colonial and contemporary perceptions of ethnicity, her current exhibition (Tasveer, August 29 to September 19) surprises at first in somewhat negative way, but gradually proves its appropriateness to the continuing theme of layered identity and reveals formal sophistication.

The large lenticular prints in colour appear to be casual photographs of ordinary people, their technique allowing for a loose fusion of double portraits which, depending on the view angle, present them wearing Indian and Western clothes.  The optical trick effect and the shimmering, glossy surface make the spectator think of commercial imagery and once popular postcards.

The prints with simple, frontal and direct takes in two versions momentarily remain clear only to turn fluid, while partly invading and being invaded by their alter egos, and then become those lucid opposites. The images play on the simultaneous sameness of the individuals with their repeated poses and the charming, matter-of-fact yet eventually disquieting duality. Their condition, familiar from the multiplicity of the urban and not only urban reality here, intensifies in the situation of "The Virtual Immigrant", the BPO and call centre employees who adopt the American accent and cultural behaviour at the office and shed it at home, this inevitably generating seepages in both directions.

The technology-based snapshot aesthetic of the works serves well to capture the ethos with its natural immediacy, artificiality and tentative changes, in the end becoming a flexible tool capable of suggesting both personal dilemmas or resolutions and broader processes in the shaping. In many, young models being Indian and global seems to come easily as something normal. Some, especially older ones, experience discomfort, and some dramatise the duality with enjoyment. The artist offers just soft hints through postures, gestures and facial expressions that let one sense that the meeting of cultures, although introducing confusion and strain, may help a woman's confidence or bridge communities.

The straightforward presentation yielding complexity is complemented and fleshed out by the recorded conversations with people in the photographs. Their stories and comments thread the concrete and the personal towards an evocation of a tentatively shaping phenomenon of diverse potential and moods.

Lyrical, literal

Lauren Portada's installation "Sun Rise/ Sun Set?" at 1 Shanthi Road Studio/Gallery (September 22), like the previous works of this young American artist, through elements of abstracting and geometry probe the structure, colours and atmosphere of landscape. The composition pieced together lightly of flat, triangular sheets of paper on the walls and floor evoked a carefully thought out relationship between hue, space, illumination and dynamism. Its lyricism relied on the mutual enhancement between the delicate tactility of the hand made paper cut to suggest rays and the cool luminosity of the metallic pastel colours over smooth textures. Very aesthetic, the work may not have been yet much more than that. The large installation for which Portada collaborated with Matthew Kebbekus was an intensified Indian bazaar stall holding all kind of low end utilitarian and educational objects. The sheer crowding of things and their combination of kitsch and naivety with raw beauty, colour brightness and ingenuity can be an attractive phenomenon when it is shown and its items sold at the Brooklyn flea market, as planned. However, in the Indian context it remained merely literal offering hardly interpreted what we encounter in daily fife.

Ambiguous ordinariness

The "Monologues" exhibition by Biju Kumar G (1 Shanthi Road, September 4 to 8) had a profusion of installations using prosaic, mostly utilitarian objects often taken apart and reconstituted in strange relationships with fragments of other objects. Fascinated by nostalgic kerosene stoves and lamps, the artist constructed a variety of tentative, mischievously playful and sometimes disquieting new entities from a peacock feather broom to "thought devices" in the shape of mosquito coils. Accompanied by witty but somewhat forced literary titles, the works appeared to be largely spent on compulsive inventiveness for its own sake. Although one appreciated Biju's energy, the excess of unexpected combinations of materials and things did not really translate into a strong impact formwise without also being innovative.  

Cultured easy

The Kolkata painters in "Rhythms of Life" (CKP, August 23 to 31) offered a range of consummately executed but conventional idioms. More finesse had Nikhil Ranjan Pal's drawings with atmospheric ladies of girlish innocence and sensuous mystery. The mosaics of Egyptian motifs (Tarun Chakraborty), decorative compositions with realistic figures (Biraj Kumar Paul), blurred ones (Anup Kumar Karar) and abstracted sceneries (Malay Chandan Saha) aimed only at pleasantness.

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