Celebrated Goan artist Viraj Naik does not believe in feeding his audience with a narrative or a dialogue. His philosophy is to make people look and understand art and draw their meaning and express it to him. “Art is something personal. To understand my art, one has to understand me first. But people don’t have the time. I don’t mind. I am asking people for a response,” says Naik sitting at the Sunaparanta Goa Centre for the Arts Gallery at Panaji, Goa, where he showcased his works titled Ordinary Superheroes: Tales from the AniMan Kingdom.
This collection has six years of his works presented in 95 ink drawings, etchings, woodcuts, pictographs, and sculptures. They present the hybridised subjects, part of Naik’s long-term study of the physiognomy and behaviour of human beings.
Throughout his career of more than 15 years, he has played with this theme of hybridisation. In his paintings, there is fluidity between man and animal. One may wonder where the animal starts and the human form begins and vice versa in his
For a first-time onlooker, these images may look like monsters and grotesque creatures. But, as Naik states, if you give these images your time, they may reveal more than that to you. The empathetic eyes of these creatures and their surroundings will speak about a larger picture. Naik’s work does play on your mind and will force you to think unconventional.
“Hybridisation is not a new topic as it has been around for centuries. There is immense power in the way the form is used to express concepts,” says Naik who thought of working on this theme when he was studying post-graduation at the University of Hyderabad. It was here that he came across a teacher who was using this theme. “I used to observe his work and picked up the nuances. Also, ecology always impacts my mind as I love animals and the Western Ghats in Goa,” adds Naik.
Naik, who draws inspiration from mythology, especially gods with animal features, cave art and Greek sculptures, believes in working on his skills. His specialisation in print-making does give him an edge and makes his art evolve. Speaking of mythology, he says that these images of god were also created by an artist. “Sometimes, I feel like worshiping my images because I have created them. If I do that, my family may think that I am crazy and have gone mad,” quips Naik.
Naik’s work may get inspired from mythology but they also reflect and comment on the times we live. But, he is not interested in telling the obvious. “There are social and political issues but I don’t want to depict it directly. So it becomes hybridised and the whole subject becomes metamorphosed,” he says.
That’s the reason why his exhibition at Sunaparanta did not have a title or a note for any of his works. This, according to him, is becoming the norm in contemporary times. “Art lovers have their way of understanding art but write-ups force people to look at the work in a particular fashion. The whole world is following that trend, but I am going the opposite direction. I am focusing on the skill and technical part which nobody is interested in. Since today’s contemporary artists are not into this form, I get an opportunity to evolve in it. Since it creates an impact on audiences, it is successful,” states Naik, whose works have been shown widely across the world in New York, Hong Kong, Bangkok, Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata.
Leandre D’Souza, who helped Viraj curate his show in Sunaparanta, maintains that Naik combines skill and concept. “He (Naik) manages to use his skill to convey very complex ideas and questions in a beautiful, dark way. I believe that for Naik, his works are never fully complete. This approach of his gets him to keep returning to it. And the questions and stories keep changing depending on the time when you are looking at his work. The concerns he is voicing are always evolving. For me, that is just amazing,” says D’Souza.
Naik, whose work is followed by many artists in the country, believes that today’s artists should explore the concept of their art within. He alludes that technology and the internet have changed the study of art completely. Remembering his college days in the 1990s, he mentions that he used to wait for months to get a copy of a book from a library. But today, thanks to the internet, everything is just a click away. “Now we get everything with one click, which is a very good thing. But how do we use it? And we need to see whether the computer is taking us away or are we taking that information inside,” observes Naik.
The one issue that bothers every artist is the curb on freedom of expression. Naik feels that the artist is freer now as compared to times when he had to work for his patrons. He opines that it is the responsibility of the artist to make people understand art as a whole. “An artist should give a new identity for their art and new vision to the society,” says Naik.
Naik is clear about continuing his tryst with the theme of hybridisation. “This theme is comforting for me because it doesn’t bring any
controversies and it challenges the skill. As I want to be very skillful and unique, it can’t be copied. One cannot do a copy of a work in three days which originally may take 10 years to do. This means that I have to work hard. That is my mission,” concludes Naik.