A well-known exponent of politically charged and captivatingly structured sculptural practice, Valay Shende (born 1980, Nagpur) seeks to explore the underbelly of a harsh and burgeoning society.
Made of thousands of shiny metal discs, his works are striking representation of objects and situations. Through them the young artist tries to address some of the complex issues and hidden contradictions of our troubled times.
Whether it is the angst and agony of debt-ridden farmers, or the tough and tedious subsistence of labourers, delivery boys, milkmen, or the security guards in a heartless city, Valay raises them to an iconic scale, always treating them with respect, regard and understanding.
Valay also meaningfully re-creates everyday objects — an antiquated iron box, tiffin carrier, pistol, car, scooter, cement mixer, currency note and so on — adding his own subtle meaning and substance to their rather inert existence.
Not to be missed in his oeuvre is the lumbering buffalo that roams on the streets with gay abandon; for the viewer, the ubiquitous animal stands out not only as a mute onlooker of the seemingly pointless goings-on all around, but also as a witty visual marker on an exasperating landscape.
Facts of life
Although easy on the eye, Valay’s work reveals a serious reading of various socio-political issues affecting the society — be it labour, poverty, gender abuse, exploitation, violence, globalisation, or exclusion. The soft-spoken artist holds strong views on how and why contemporary art should mirror modern-day reality in all its rawness and actuality.
“I believe in the facts of life, and reality as it exists,” says Valay, whose mother was a social worker and father, a dealer in metal scrap in Nagpur. “My work seeks to unearth hidden facets of human behaviour, condition and relationship... It’s also about examining aspects of our living culture, not those written in theoretical tomes or philosophical discourses.
How can a society be splintered and the entire cultural narrative usurped by one group or community or ideology? Such questions trouble me, because before being an artist, I am first a human being, a concerned citizen. And I want my art to reflect the fate of the modern man, along with the ideas and objects he creates... and destroys.”
Valay is equally scathing when it comes to religious beliefs and dogmas. “All our religious texts and school textbooks give us the illusion that truth always triumphs. If that was so, why is there so much suffering all around? There are so many gods, so many religions, but why have they not eliminated human misery, conflict and hypocrisy? Even our epics say that Sita was not trusted and had to face trial by fire.
On the other side, people think that by putting women under the veil, all problems will be solved or swept away. All these point towards continuing suppression and exploitation of the worst kind. Man has physically matured, lengthened his life span, but going by his actions, he is becoming increasingly cruel, and even perverse. As an artist, I want to depict these facts and everyday truths.”
Valay agrees that in his own artistic journey, childhood memories could have played a part. “But when it comes to my work, it is not just about nostalgia. I am interested in what is going on today, here and now. I am inspired by everyday incidents, accidents and catastrophes; and things that happen on the streets, by-lanes and farmlands.”
On the extensive use of metal discs in his work, Valay explains: “Even a high-school boy knows that the the entire material world is made up of tiny molecules, and that these molecules are present in all states — solid, liquid and gaseous. My metal discs represent these omnipresent molecules. In a more subtle sense, these shiny discs are also ‘reflections’ on human lust and greed in an increasingly materialistic world.”
Valay’s recent exhibit titled Migrating Histories of Molecular Identities was, by all accounts, an engrossing exhibit. Curated by Veeranganakumari Solanki and co-ordinated by Sakshi gallery, the show at Dr Bhau Daji Lad Museum, Mumbai, marked an important milestone in the young artist’s career, which, in fact, had begun with a residency programme in Paris in 2006 and was followed by a string of solo/group shows in India and outside.
The BDLM exhibit featured a small but careful selection of his works with Transit, showing a life-size truck being the real showstopper. Almost entirely made of thousands of small metal discs, the piece (reportedly weighing more than five tonnes) was designed and built by Valay over a period of 18 months. The truck was on the move for four years, making stops at galleries in Lyon and Rome, before reaching Mumbai for the showing at BDLM.
Spectacular in size and structure but poignant in its implication, Transit had the rugged automobile carrying a group of migrant workers whose form, poise and gestures indicated continuing insecurity, helplessness and uncertain future.
Videos played on a loop on the truck’s rear-view mirrors further highlighted their hard work and unappreciated contribution in the construction of urban infrastructure; the paradoxical implication was that the same city which they have helped build and prosper would later cast them aside.
Not surprisingly, Valay’s mammoth piece has attracted both critical and popular attention wherever it has been put on display.
Other works in the BDLM show confirmed the immense promise and potential of this unassuming artist, who is preparing for his next show in London in the coming months. The head of a bull (farmer’s friend) mounted as a trophy, an ornate silver dining table set, with salt-and-pepper shakers holding the cremated ashes of a debt-ridden farmer, and the kerosene cart trailed by a line of jerrycans outside ration shops in Mumbai — all had their own poignant stories to tell, and bore the trademark of Valay’s work: metal discs. The surprise package of the show was the hyper-realist bronze sculpture of a sliced onion whose outer peel cheekily resembled the map of the world!