Art review

Art review

Archana Hande, performance photograph from ‘Choudhuri Bari Archana Devi's Chamber’.Assimilating the victim

“Choudhuri Bari Archana Devi’s Chamber” (Samuha, May 3 to 5) was a very interesting variant in Archana Hande’s larger project where, with a gently subversive mockery that bites nonetheless, she enacts her imaginative venture to appropriate a distinguished Kolkata family along with its properties. By internalising the process in an almost matter-of-fact, graceful and intimate manner as well as by revealing the sham behind it, she parallels, denudes and perhaps accuses the all too familiar practice of the urban land mafia whose methods are not only well-entrenched in and accepted by the broader family behaviour but also reverberate of the processes of colonialism and generally of the essential human rapacity.

Throughout, there runs the thread of stage-managed, artificial cultural assimilation with a twist of the predator-aspirant to the superior prospective victim through which personal aggrandisement and imposition on the original of a partly new culture is enabled. The very Anglicisation of colonial time elites must have had been part of the phenomenon too.
Having first offered a visual atmosphere that revolves around a period feminine domestic interior with abundant, white curtains of lace, with dainty furniture and an old radio playing tunes contemporary with its age, the artist blends in elements of a museum and an office with archives. Inducing the viewer to move slowly along and read the smallish objects, photographs, plans and documents along with their verbal descriptions, she makes one think critically with the sensations. This is constantly stimulated by the overt fake-ness recognised in the proofs of ownership and identity.

On entering one faces a performance photograph of Hande seated in front of a massive, carved bed with an expression of proprietorial pride, dressed in an Anglicised frock but of the kind popular today and wearing incongruous rubber slippers, all this completed by a shiny brass plaque. The walls display tampered papers stating Archana Devi’s adoption of the Choudhuri clan, photographed and painted views of its colonial-time house together with plans for the future Choudhuri township including Archana Devi’s English school, a railway station, the great grandfather’s monument and the family temple. The carpet dotted by Victorian-style plastic doilies, framed by sights of Mumbai’s rising sky-line and slum huts makes the reference clear. The documentary plane shifts to its complementary – a mood of female domesticity and familiar ties where intimate elegance gradually betrays an assimilated and uncertain superimposition of sources, time layers and aesthetics.

 A new, ornately floral rug carries an antique table and chest with Victorian laces, art materials belonging to the inhabitant who was possibility an amateur artist and actual tiny art works. The images of false facial features there link with the family photographs which were found in the bazaar, while their endearingly garish, hand-painted hues strangely echo in the rich splendour of the classic miniature motifs mounting the old-fashioned married couple shots in the calendars.

The pensive Hande in a recent photograph placed somewhat aside seems to be considering the fluid pervasiveness of the factors that add to and result from the conscious construction of our material grabbing as well as from the more ambiguous cultural and personal image-making, a making that eventually acquires its own life and dynamism.


To migrant labour

The exhibition by Sunil Sigdel from Nepal and Bangalore’s Umesh Kumar P N at 1Shanthi Road Studio/Gallery (April 30 to May 3) was one of the few truly collaborative efforts there. Triggered perhaps by Sigdal’s empathy for the plight of Gurkha watchmen in the city, it paid homage to migrant labour, while Umesh Kumar both responded to his colleague’s specific artwork and extended the concern to issues and emotions of rural people misplaced in urban circumstances.

The less positive aspect of the show was its lack of compact evocativeness, the whole instead oscillating between fairly literal presentation and a rebus-like vagueness which necessitated verbal explanation. Sigdel’s multiple portrait of a Gurkha trapped in a cramped space accompanied by a gauze-wrapped pedestal for his shirt belonged to the former kind. His vast sine-garland threaded of worn out protective gloves was spectacular but, especially in its performance video part, derivative.

One liked Umesh Kumar’s pillows of sleepless discomfort with cotton spilling out and turning into wicks. On the other hand, his complicated construction with rustic materials, cardboard roof and sand intended to suggest bonds and thoughts of a migrant labourer and his family at home was sincere but on its own rather enigmatic. Similarly, it was difficult to guess camouflage patterns in the dainty and clear-cut, flat forms on the floor covered by earth as alluding to villagers who went away as soldiers.

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