Heritage in distress

Art review

Heritage in distress

Reappearance of Sakshi

“Roots”, the vast display by Sakshi at The Lalit Ashok (September 17 to 19), brought back the memory of this gallery which, now based in Mumbai, for years was a part of Bangalore’s landscape.

The collection which intended to highlight the institution’s profile, indeed, offered an array of works from the oeuvres of several artists long-familiar from Sakshi exhibitions as well as a number of new and often very interesting faces.

The contributions by several modern classics, besides giving an infrequent opportunity to see their works together, reminded one that this gallery has been projecting serious, if not always experimental, art from its inception.

Among the seniors, like M F Husain, S H Raza, Jehangir Sabavala, Akbar Padamsee, Manjit Bawa and Jogen Chowdhury, one admired the irreverent passion of K G Subramanyan, the rare instances from F N Souza’s sensual embodiment of ethnicity and Krishen Khanna’s indulgently sarcastic take on colonialism.

The show has some accomplished images from studios of the middle generations, including Nilima Sheikh’s lyrical narrative in scenery, Sudhir Patwardhan’s contemplative interiors with figures, Ranbir Kaleka’s enigmatically realistic canvas, Vasudha Thozhur’s photographs about a disturbing festival, Surendran Nair’s mischievous-mysterious hybrid, N S Harsha’s critical empathy and Rekha Rodwittiya’s subversive exuberance.

Among the younger participants, one could respond well to the minor but many and intense drawing-based works of Mithu Sen, Reji Arackal, Jagannath Panda, to the performance stills by Shilpa Gupta, the expansive canvases by Gurusiddappa G E and Chintan Upadhyay, to Gigi Scaria’s quiet but unsettling vision of the contemporary city, to Manjunath Kamath’s concerned humour, also to the muted subtlety of Remen Chopra.

The less known exciting names belong to Anirban Mitra and Shine Sivan, in particular Nandini Valli Mutthiah.

The show had an impressive sculptural ingredient. Although the immense, glimmering cows by Valay Shende were spectacular but not so original, one appreciated the sensuous disquiet of Sunil Gawde’s enlarged seeds and allegorical morality figure of Karl Antao.

The smooth precision of Riyas Lomu’s installation-resembling, carefully calculated metaphor in wood contrasted with instinctive, calm intensity of Ravi Shah’s figures sensed through the rawness of the material.

Heritage in distress

“Re-Vision”, Birendra Pani’s painting exhibition at Sumukha (September 3 to 17), addressed the discomfort in which the country’s cultural heritage finds itself today. Sourcing from the treasure trove of his native Orissa, the artist, on the one hand, refers to the grandeur of ancient monuments and statuary which remain deeply ingrained even in everyday consciousness, and brings images of a still practiced sacred dance.

On the other hand yet, he reveals the fragile state of old art forms and their ethos endangered by the ruthlessness of modern development as well as by the smugglers of exotic antiquities. To convey all this, Pani accumulates numerous motifs which function as carriers of meaning, fragments of stone carvings and outlined details coinciding with geometric elements where old symbolism is superimposed by and tentatively merged with contemporary design. Evocativeness is expected to emerge from their proximity mediated by an abundance of smooth-graded hues and free-flowing textures.

As much as one empathises with the intensions, the often expansive acrylics do not always convince because of their excessive focus on bright attractiveness. Pani can be rather effective with precise, elaborate contouring, like in the canvas with a Buddha head surrounded by ornate swords, but he allows himself easy shortcuts in broader areas of pigmentation.

The “Evening Raga” canvases hold a gentle mood of nostalgia, the linear silhouettes of divine statues letting in dusky blues of the sky against desolate, barren landscapes with rocks and shrines, while the medallions around them allude to the moon and the passage of time.

The presence of hooked cranes lifting ancient statues and signs of urban intrusion intensifies in the paintings which foreground plastic classical sculptures. The rendering here partly portrays specific icons and the look of stone carving but partly endows the mythic figures with an amusingly animated quality and a touch of the popular, thus in a not entirely successful way suggesting a life of their own. The images of boy dancers as
feminine characters, from the opposite direction, stylise live bodies towards a somewhat
sculptural impact.

This blending duality becomes enhanced and complemented by the fact that the dancers simultaneously display graceful and schematic stances, sensuality and strained yogic postures, perhaps meant to denote the splendid but uncomfortable crossroads of tradition and the real world now. What can make the viewer uncomfortable is the apparent ingredient of contradictory self-exoticism behind the stated critique of the reasons that imperil the heritage.

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