Constructing Narratives: Art in the New Normal
by Aakshat Sinha
As Covid-appropriate behaviour, restrictions and requirements receding from public spaces, artists and art galleries in Delhi are becoming emboldened to reinstate the ‘Old Normal’ of staging open-to-public art exhibitions preceded by Vernissage (Grand Openings) with wine and cheese for a select audience. One such exhibition at Gallery Art Positive in Lado Sarai, in south Delhi, opened on 25th March. Lado Sarai, not so long back, in fact till the pandemic broke the back of economies across the world, was fast becoming a hub for art with many galleries occupying major spaces in the locality. During the Covid period (has it gone now?) all art engagements, be they talks, shows or sales moved online, which were curiously termed as the New Normal. Here, on the heels of an opening world and emerging from travel ban and stressed-out businesses and minds, comes a show that includes the term ‘New Normal’ as a subheading to the title of the show. The show is offline, i.e. the works can be viewed in person, so then why is it referred to as the ‘New Normal’?
The show is curated by Georgina Maddox and I was looking forward to checking out her reasons for naming the show in the way that it is. The list of the seven participating artists was really promising with Bose Krishnamachari, George Martin, Farhad Husain, Murali Cheeroth, Mukesh Sharma, Om Soorya and Vijay Sharma. Anu Bajaj leads the Art Positive Gallery which is an extension of Bajaj Capital Art House with the in-house expertise of Bajaj Capital Ltd (with a 50-year legacy of wealth management) for support. Once at the show preview, I understood the relevance of the term ‘New Normal’ in the context of the show.
As Georgina told me, “Over the approaching hot summer days we have been busy putting together this exhibition that looks at the tragic and the comic of our human existence where seven artists contemplate the future as it lies ahead with its challenges and the pressing need to change our patterns of 'use and throw' to one of ‘preserve and recycle’ so that we are able to help our planet sustain and come through the hard times . . .
“. . . Constructing Narratives, art in the new normal, is an exhibition that takes into consideration our re-alignment with the forces of nature and marks down in direct and indirect, the metaphoric and the literal, in artistic terms the momentum for transformative action to address the major crises of our planet by maintaining nature and ecosystems.”
Of the works of the seven artists those that were most impactful and really stood out for me were Murali Cheeroth’s small format works with urban spaces and metaphors of urban existence placed on the wings of a bird, supporting the burden of urbanization at the cost of natural resources. The use of a heavy ornate frame around his work, tries to fetishize the entire discourse around climate change and human-made ecological situations of concern. The colours are bright and the general visual mood of the paintings is happy but the subject is of despair at the price paid to achieve this urban, comfortable lifestyle. The visual aesthetics of the works invite the viewer to draw closer and then allow for the interested ones to get the underlying message of nature bearing the burden.
Ecosophical Notes I-IV by Murali Cheeroth
Bose Krishnamachari’s four works – two monochrome or black-and-white works, flanked by his colourful signature works, have an alcove, deservedly of their own. These are recent works, specially created for the show and by Bose’s standards quite small. The Press Release by the gallery speaks about Bose’s use of graphite to create the black circles on white sheets with white space around in one and with black around in the other. According to the release, the four works are supposed to reflect the coming together of the artist’s emotions and associations during the pandemic, as per the release. As a viewer with no knowledge of the release featuring the artist’s explanation, I felt the works in the middle centring me (the viewer) while the coloured ones on the side seem to be revolving around a fictional fixed centre. As I stood in front of the works, the entire composition seemed to be on the verge of starting to move in an anti-clockwise direction. Unaware of the artist’s intent in the creation of the works and that of the curator for the exhibition design and layout, I had my own moment with the section that housed Bose’s works. It wasn’t as if they were in a completely different space, but just the niche that they occupied with columns on both sides helped to isolate the group, and together they formed a more spiritual, meditative zone. It seemed like I stood on the moment just before the action, just before all hell broke loose. The pandemic did lend such moments to the lucky ones who didn’t exactly have to stress it out with the isolation, without any physical or monetary challenges.
Bose Krishnamachari's works
I’ve always believed that an artwork has at least two lifecycles broadly – one when the artist creates it and that is generally a private dialogue between the two, and the other when the work is on display and in the presence of the viewer which is influenced by the state of the mind of the viewer, their background and the present situation/atmosphere of the display. My analysis of art that I observe is more often guided by this mantra.
I’ve been following Mukesh Sharma’s works for quite some time now and am aware of his use of old keyboards, screens and other computer paraphernalia in his art while juxtaposing them with elements of nature. I distinctly remember the show that he had in his studio behind sector D-2, Vasant Kunj, where he’d installed potted plants growing out of computers, old screens, etc. His large work embodying the compass with the four directions – North, South, East and West – marked explicitly in the work is full of computer keys pasted on fabric. There are four small print works to the right of it which carry the keyboard pattern in the form of buildings, roads, etc. A black curtain hanging on the same curtain rod as the large fabric work hints at hiding the small works on the wall if pulled. Mukesh's constant quest to work with challenging man versus nature, digital versus reality in his artworks is well channelized in the works on display.
Mukesh Sharma's works
The subjects in Farhad Husain’s satirical colourful works on display range from the obvious imagery of mythology to the mundane reclined nude with a fish on leash in a flowery bed, to a dancing duo of a man and a woman, with the man holding a ketchup bottle out of the woman’s reach. The works are with embroidery stitched onto textile and printing on fabric. I’ve always found that his dark, almost black, backgrounds, enhances the main subjects and keeps the discerning viewer’s focus on them with subtle humour and subtext. The playful use of colours and drawing style adds to the witty work.
Farhad Husain's works
George Martin’s works use the line and coloured forms, as his subjects seem to converse with each other across multiple dialogues on the same frame. The use of visually recognizable human and animal forms makes it easier for the viewer to interact with them. And then one realizes that there is so much more to them than just the obvious shapes of dolphins, gorilla, camel, men, women, among others. It is the coexistence of all to form the world that we inhabit and the various tell-tale conversations that exist within the larger context is far more important.
Inlaid Anecdotes I-IV by George Martin
Om Soorya’s works bring the world in a shell but then suggests the existence of multiple worlds through the depiction of multiple shells in the same frame. Vijay Sharma’s miniature styled royal portraits present a larger-than-life format, executed in full detail and colours of royal splendour. Both these artists question the coexistence of classes and class divides as fractions of the complete picture but never the whole.
Om Soorya's works
Georgina Maddox has ably designed the show in such a way that multiple questions are raised regarding the New Normal in the present day and age where digital and real coexists interchangeably. This interactive exhibition at Gallery Art Positive raises pertinent questions of class and gender divide and human versus nature.
The show will remain open to the public till 3 May 2022.
(All images are courtesy of the Gallery Art Positive)
Aakshat Sinha is an artist and curator. He also writes poetry and has created and published comics. He is the Founding Partner of artamour.