Art reviews

Art reviews

Art reviews

Life’s striking aesthetics

The second chapter of “Magnum ke Tasveer,” “Magnum’s Vision of India – The last 50 years” (Tasveer at Cinnamon, February 8 to March 1), includes work by eight accomplished, mostly senior members of the famous international photographic cooperative.

Being a visual pleasure in itself as well as often an existential experience, the selection appears to reflect western interests, notions and tastes and hence it offers at the same time insights into certain both persistent and changing strands of this country’s perception elsewhere.

Whilst older layers of responding to India as an exotic place of regal splendour and spirituality are marked, the now familiar accent on colourful vitality and overwhelming poverty prevails.

These qualities being surely expected of the photographers by their sponsors and audiences do not however overshadow the artists’ own empathetic focus on the humanity of their subjects.

The closer to today the clearer becomes that the exotic allure of the local, while encompassing the ethos of the people and its optically attractive manifestations, is intuitively felt and consciously interpreted along strikingly aesthetic, rather than purely exotic, lines, frequently through references to forms of art to which the Western eye is used.

The contemporary viewer is most appreciative when such sensitivities touch on the kind of visual properties and spirit that inherently belong to what is photographed, whether that pertains to faraway periods or the present.

The earliest strata come from Marilyn Silverstone whose subtlety captures the elites, equally evident in the refined ranis among bejewelled glitter and diaphanous fabrics, sporadically shown with a twist – vanishing into the rich décor of the palace, and in the aware simplicity of politicians and culture heroes.

The occasional working-class scene, like in the oeuvre of her contemporary Werner Bischof, combines nuanced yet emphatic rhythms that bind the human body in labour or play with the light and shade permeating the surroundings. The latter artist oscillates between respect for the natural way of the poor and the specific observation of the beauty of their wretched state.

The recent images by Abbas, although centering on the predictable themes of grassroots spiritual activities and Kashmir’s landscape charms, conjure a warm and gentle sort of pervasive lyricism around the rough immediacy of the modest plane, his black and white frames quietly stirring horizontals and diagonals along with atmospherically tremulous grades of illumination, shadow, lucidity and mist or translucency.

Deliberately employed, strong colour starts to dominate with Steve McCurry whose shots, in contrast to the previous position of a fairly detached observer, engages directly with the gaze of the subject, his eyes looking into the camera and eventually the spectator allowing for real life to impregnate the otherwise highly aesthetised compositions, those remaining so despite the fact that the electrically intense reds, greens and white of their Holi and other ritual hues and flowers, rustic turbans and clothes come form the actual.

Thanks to the recurrence of black and white in Ferdinando Scianna, the relationship between the sculpture-resembling human figure in its normal look during oil massage, sleep or burqa-clad status and its art-related versions as mannequins or formal statues gains much evidence, but without obscuring the feel of raw life underneath.

Once more in colour, Bruno Barbey follows this approach individually and in a manner that appeals to the spectator today, his scenes of religious immersions of idols, of saints’ monuments and of rustics in colourful attire posing against naively painted bazaar photo studios shock and endear mediating the natural and the artificial, almost surreal, the sculptural and the painterly, the artistic and the ordinary.

In his own way, Raghu Rai carries similar elements either positioning them in a heightened togetherness, as in the real and painted wrestlers, or subtly merging both in larger groups. One may respond best to the youngest participant Olivia Arthur whose portraits of Ramnami Dalits with faces and bodies covered with tattoos of social protest bring out the unassumingly dignified and moving condition from within their appearance as a gesture and nature.

Mannered vivacity

The rural sceneries with animals displayed last week at iART at Bella Vista, Lavelle Road were done by Naga Reddy. They offered only a hardly distinguishable variant of a somewhat overused thematic and aesthetic formula that continues to be popular as a quick buy.

His several mighty bulls with enlarged and well rounded body parts, muscles, hooves and horns are shown as forceful creatures animated by energy, joyous as well as dark urges and coarse dynamism which the artist perhaps naively suggests by dense and highly stylised hatchings and entangled squiggles in black pen and ink drawings. The animalistic charge is more effective there nonetheless than in the instances with somewhat garish colours.

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