Probing art

Probing art

Giridhar Khasnis acquaints us with two passionate artists, Narendra Yadav and George K, who have stayed true to their practice despite the market. 

You are invited to enter a small, dark room. And place your feet on the two white marks on the ground. Slowly a small bulb lights up above your head, and in a moment, a faint image of yourself appears in the mirror in front of you. As you watch the life-size reflection, it multiplies into two, and in a moment, the two images start moving away from each other in a semi-circular motion. The movements are slow but steady. As you stand perplexed wondering at the multiple reflections of yourself, the two images have reached opposite ends and staring at each other. After a while, they start their reverse journey and before long, have come together and merged into a single image. The show is over!

Narendra Yadav’s intriguing installation is titled That Original may also be a Reflection and is apparently made up of moving mirrors and motor. It is, according to Yadav, an attempt to create a space for the viewer to engage himself/herself with. “The way one engages with my work, that for me is art,” says the artist, who studied applied art at the JJ School of Arts, Mumbai.

Yadav is known for his subtly provocative works. A couple of years ago, his evocative piece titled Why Do You Look like Me (circular video projection, black FX sticker /2012/) was brought alive on the walls of Gallery Maskara, Mumbai. Charged with political overtones, the work showed an inverted skyline made up of silhouettes of minarets and other specimens of Islamic architecture mounted spaciously on the gallery wall. 

As the visitor engaged with the upturned and intriguing architecture, a shadow of a slow-moving plane appeared in one corner and made its way slowly and menacingly through the buildings. No mishaps or building bursts happened, but the echoes of September 11 attacks inevitably crept in the viewer’s mind. 

The tension was palpable even as the moving plane — a silently moving drone — glided its way against a pink sky. Adding to the delicate drama was the placement of a pink neon Arabic sign on the opposite wall; when translated it read: Trust Me.

Looking beyond the obvious

Mumbai-based Yadav (who also doubles up as creative director of an advertising firm) is among the contemporary Indian artists who look beyond the obvious practices of drawing and painting. His object and video-based works successfully straddle multiple genres such as conceptual art, kinetic sculpture and site-specific installation and seldom fail to surprise, intrigue, amuse and provoke. In his works, the 49-year-old artist raises questions about personal identity, forgotten memories, social conditioning, subliminal desires and fears. Beneath the simple façade, there is an urge to examine one’s own assumptions, aspirations and conditioned responses in a structured social order. Yadav’s works have been shown in India and abroad, including Nuit Blanche Festival (New York), Venice Biennale and International Fair of Commercial Art, Torino, Italy.

“What I appreciate and enjoy most about Yadav’s works is that they are open to myriad emotional and intellectual interpretations,” says Abhay Maskara, creative director of Gallery Maskara, which has hosted the artist’s two solo shows. “His works grapple with esoteric ideas of time, memory, faith and human conditioning.”

Maskara feels that as a sure and committed voice, Yadav stands out in the contemporary art scene. “He is among the few conceptually driven artists who have stayed true to their practice despite the market. He enjoys a very good reputation amongst his peers and is loved by all who come into contact with his altogether humble and down-to-earth disposition.”

Man of many talents

Like Yadav, Chennai-based George K too is a mid-career artist who produces innovatively constructed works that take on a range of contemporary issues. A businessman and finance professional, George wears many hats in the creative field — as a photographer, painter, sculptor and poet, who has tried his hand at installations as well.

A tsunami survivor, George has often placed the human body as central to many of his works. While the Dance of Life series was made up of large fibreglass sculptures covered with fragments of newspaper; the Aravani (Hijra) series struck a chord with the viewers for the way transgenders were seen, perceived and presented. Similarly, his photographic work showing dilapidated buildings in Kashmir and Freedom Calls, based on the Madras Jail (a colonial monument later converted to house political prisoners and freedom fighters in transit to cellular jails or Kalapani in the Andamans and Nicobar Islands) were critically admired for being evocative, poignant and emotionally touching.
 His series Playing Fields / In Search Of Escape was an ode to nature through colour, shapes and abstract imagery.

One of George’s recent works, curiously titled Still life and joie de vivre, an adjunct memory, combined a large photograph of abandoned furniture in front of which stood a skeletal neon chair. The surprise element of the installation came from the placement of mirror which multiplied the image of the neon chair invoking varied emotions and feelings relating to memory, melancholy, modernity, and mystery. “The abandoned furniture and its alter ego — the neon sculpture — are metaphors of memories past and current, fantasies and myths, of grandeur, of different times and places, halls and palaces, brightly light rooms and chandeliers, colours and smell, passions aroused and satiated, beautiful women in ornate clothes, dandy men and chivalry.” George feels that memory is in itself a landscape of all our perceptions, and the design that we make is evolved from the memory and culture of what we have learned to accept.

“George, who is a self-taught artist, has an artistic eye, social sensitivity, sharp perception, incisive intellect, and draws not only with pigments and charcoal but also with light,” observes critic Ashrafi S Bhagat. “The artist looks at the human mind as an abstraction that essentially abstracts the experiences of the perceived reality with capacity to transcend to a higher plane. George in his experiments and expressions has always stepped over boundaries to find out what lies beyond.”

Role of art promoter

While conceiving and constructing conceptual and innovative works could be an exciting prospect, how challenging is it to actually exhibit and find collectors for them? Sharan Apparao, gallerist and art promoter provides some important clues. “Artists like George like doing different things, many things to find their right course. They are well read, educated and exposed to international trends. I too like innovation, but I am also practical on what will work commercially and that is when we have to make choices. And that is where the challenge is. It is not always easy to work with artists and get involved in their ideas. Doing shows and presenting them is the easy part. Guiding them in their choices and converting ideas into specific projects is very tough. I like new media, and if it is practical and collectable, then I would like to support it... I feel all art has to stand the test of time; I understand that as a gallery but that’s the part sometimes artists veer away from.”

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