Between layers of time

Art review

Between layers of time

Prabuddha Dasgupta’s  ‘Katina D'Mello, Anjuna’

“Edge of Faith” at Tasveer (December 10 to January 2) brought Prabuddha Dasgupta’s photographs from the book co-authored with the writer William Darlymple. The images portray the environment of Goan Catholics with atmospheric authenticity rather than a documentary aim conjuring nevertheless a sharp and warm evocation of people both immersed in their specific culture of the Portuguese past and somewhat disconnected from the so different current world. At first glance the prints seem to be subtly aesthetic sites of tender but sad nostalgia composed along a classic paradigm much anchored in a sensitivity shaped by painting.

The equally loving frankness of the artist and his embracing of rough, awkward or strange aspects of that life impart on it unusual expressiveness that oscillates between attuned directness and pure mood imbued with metaphoric potential. The impact relies on Dasgupta’s knowing but respectful intimacy with which he shoots his subjects and their immediate surroundings in great proximity, an intimacy, though, that allows for distanced reflection. With formal mastery he sees through the layers of time to make them both separate and permeate, as he alternates and blends clear realities and elusive sensations over black and white surfaces structured and nuanced by solid shapes emerging from, sinking into the background and hesitating in illumination, shadows and translucence.

His often simultaneous engagement of natural and artificial light is steered with lucidity and intuitiveness, especially when letting it pass through a flight of rooms or lit a canopied bed from outside and within. A feel of self-contained reality is generated then. The single portrait busts of older persons register the intensity of character moulded and wrinkled by devotion to private pleasure drink and pious prayer. The endurance in practicing their ways in conviction, sometimes a touch of defiance, contains loneliness, melancholy and accepted resignation. Dasgupta pictures them also among their domestic interiors.

Through a merger of unaffected behaviour, instinctive and guided posing, he is able to capture the essence of human relationships with their spaces, be it a disjoint between the arduous care given to preserving the ornate splendour of period furniture and the old-fashioned ordinariness of its present owners, the formal dress of a woman and feeble bodies of old men in once grand mansion perspectives now almost laid bare or the contradictorily young girls and boys full of energy, otherwise brooding discomfort.

Several takes on interior fragments with worn out walls, holy pictures and shabby appliances or exterior nooks are framed like still-lifes but breathe an eerie, muted animation. Some instances of blurred, though suffused painterliness in sheer poetry become contrasted-complemented by a more artful view of the unsettling drama embodied by the church ambiance. The aura around the remoteness of the old life and the temporal gap it survives in is finely indicated in the two images where the decayed opulence of a house is seen reflected in mirrors.

Aesthetically pleasing

It is certainly a very fortunate thing that Tangerine Art Space tries its best to showcase in Bangalore interesting contemporary artists, both established ones and younger, promising faces. The gallery, though, plays fairly safe and chooses almost only painters, in particular ones with a capacity to sell, which predominantly results in the presence of cultured but somewhat aesthetically pleasing work.

The latest exhibition “Vicissitudes of the Constructed Image” (CKP, December 19 to 23) followed this profile ambitiously, and spectators could relish originals by several well-known and some talented new names which otherwise are hard to come by here. One was, however, rather surprised to find out that the exhibition was a curated event. Surushi Khubchandani behind it seems to have taken random choices, since the individually often engrossing pieces did not fall into a whole, nor did they interact even partially among groups in terms of subject, concept or form.
This way one could mix anything with anything else. Until recently galleries used to put up more cogent shows without claiming curatorial expertise. The vaguely convoluted commentary in the catalogue enhanced the impact further, while the visitor may have wondered how Manish Pushkale’s abstracts connected to the fantasy of Dhruvi Acharya, the compassionate realism of T V Santosh or the playful irony of Farhad Hussain.

Such remarks notwithstanding, it was rewarding  to encounter amid the 26 participants a number of good paintings, photographic images and drawings by George Martin, Kazi Nasir, Lokesh Khodke, Minal Damani, Mithu Sen, Pooja Iranna, Pratul Dash, Pranati Panda, M Pravat, Rajesh Ram, Rajan Krishnan, Sudhanshu Sutar and Nikhileshwar Barua.

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