Honouring life in death

Honouring life in death

One recalls Anup Mathew Tomas’s straight, non-aesthetising photographs that indifferently document ordinary sights of his native Kerala that from within the character of those sights offer an intuition of broder, vital and complex phenomena from around present-day reality inextricably connected to history.

“Hereinafter”, his current exhibition at Galleryske (August 15 to September 22), rather than focussing on another specific area and issues, deepens the artist’s effort to preserve the sensation and value of mundane yet precious, fleeting moments of life as well as respect the act behind it, while its normalcy bears on art-making.

The aim and the process of materialising become enhanced thanks to the theme of honouring the dead through gestures that in various ways, practical and symbolic or artistic, deal with the fact and preserve the memory of individuals, often with tenderness or through humble enshrinement.

Avoiding anything sanitised, grandiose or sentimental, the shots have dying as part of living, its prosaic character including a matter-of-fact acceptance on par with a desire to make the end possibly nice. Everything remaining on the low-end plane, plenty of commonplace level-headedness, naivety and awkwardness blend with simple humanity, touching warmth, a tinge of humour or bemusement and loftier aspirations.

If earlier Thomas left it to the images to hint at persons, tales and passing time behind them, the new photographs do reveal the basic preoccupation with the dead, commemoration without, however, revealing their concrete circumstances, hence their broader conclusions. Admitting limits here, or, more likely, rooting them in the detail and specific address or issue, the artist has offered a simple, written guide to the show which situates each scene among personalities and situations. Along the mutually contributory images and stories, spectators can also sense  subtler aspects of the whole.

A majority of the photographic takes owing to their direct and frontal, plainly registering look, all the more effectively draw their meaning and evocativeness from inside the appearance and behaviour of the world they document.

After the introductory photograph of an official plaque commemorating the opening of a bridge by a minister who dies one day later, two kinds of images refer to the human need for remembering dear ones and beautifying the rites of their passing, an eerily atmospheric one presenting skeletons and jarred specimens in a private biology museum, the other with a pedestrian literalness showing decorated funeral vans equipped with dirge orchestras.

The allusion to art proper recognisable there continues in the picture of an old but never used film camera, which, however indicates a dead-end quite like an unluckily located crematorium does and the unoccupied mausoleum. As the death of an elephant is treated almost on par with that of people, the striving to grasp the weirdly dramatic grandeur of a gruesome crime scene or a road accident in a police museum nearly equals that to calmly appreciate somebody’s on-going collection of obituary card portraits from church announcements, the show culminating in a man’s pre-staged lying in coffin.

Experiment in collaboration

Naturally, Karnataka-Karnataka residencies at Bar1, by bringing closely together young artists from diverse places, often result in collaboration, the focus of the latest chapter (August 1 to 3) which had four female participants from Shimoga, Mysore and the City. The visitors felt that more than an even level  stimulation towards sincere, involved and sometimes inventive experimentations with materials and methods was important.

The mirror handbag holding personal objects on the glass of a cupboard was intended by Asha Rani and Tejaswani Swamy to evoke their sharing of art experiences, although one needed explanation to understand its meaning. If such information helped understand another collaborative venture of Sindhura D M and Snehal Chordia, the work itself sensitively revealed the mood around joint presence and effort.

The intimate atmosphere triggered by the rain outside was conjured by the loose, two-coloured threads gently coming down a floor mat and by the duet of short strokes drawn in ink and in stitching death and its suggestive of a rhythmic interior.

Even individual pieces in a different manner reached for a connection with others. The performance of Asha Rani against projections of young girls saw the rope-binding motif as a common metaphor for the restricted female. Authentic but somewhat obvious, it was a contrast to Tejaswani Swamy’s interactive installation with a rangoli, jute, a mount of rice and a large rice grain of turmeric which appealed as formally interesting, but did not on its own indicate the intended significance of hunger for life and art or the equation between the rice grain and herself.

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