Imaginings: Of Humans and the Natural Order

Updated: Feb 22


by Ranjan Kaul


An exhibition by eleven established artist members of the alumni of the prestigious Faculty of Fine Arts, MS University of Baroda, held last month was always going to be worth viewing. Apart from the fact that the Faculty has given India many acclaimed artists – Gulammohammed Sheikh, Jyoti Bhatt, Rekha Rodwittiya and the late Haku Shah, to name a few – the faculty has retained its tradition of producing innovative and meaningful art.



Standing from left to right: Sarika Goswami, Malabika Barman, Namrata Sneha, Ritesh Ajmeri, Ajay Sharma, Kodanda Rao, Santa Rakshit and Dishakha Yadav; seated on the chair, Jyoti Bhatt


Ajay Sharma’s Urban Comfort (Feathers of Pride) in mixed media shows a black crow atop a towering, four-partitioned building whose feathers metamorphose into the majestic plume of a peacock. The work is a sharp commentary on the unending human appetite for acquisitions and exclusive brands (like the red Ferrari in the work) which are seen as providers of happiness and pride, making us feel as the artist says, “like a crow wearing feathers of the peacock.” The metaphorical imagery of birds in the central motif extends to other parts of the building as well, such as birds pecking at a gilded pear to denote how humans feed on material wants.


Urban Comfort (Feathers of Pride) by Ajay Sharma, Watercolour and mixed media, 5’ x 8’


This is the House that Jack Built (props for a family drama) by Ajay Sharma, Mixed media, 84” x 66”


His eleven-panelled work, This the House that Jack Built (props for a family drama), is more personal, with the central panel portraying the artist’s mother with his daughter surrounded by discarded and broken toys of his daughter (teddy bear, puppy, birthday crown, and so on). While at one level the work speaks of generations and bonding between a grandmother and her grandchild, at the deeper level the work speaks of the aging body and mind (in this case the artist’s mother). The artist explains, “My mother was witness to unpleasant family dramas that we never shared with others.” Like the moth-eaten leaves, the artist says his mother’s body and mind too has been “eaten by moths,” while the carpet on the floor below is shown swarmed by creepy-crawly insects.


His mother has been afflicted by age and disease, and what has worsened matters has been the fact that his mother has become an invalid: “Though she may be sitting comfortably with a faint happy smile on her face, wearing a Van Gogh’s ‘Irises’ painting printed shawl,” the artist remarks, “she is an invalid, with a broken waist, fractured hand and swollen feet.”

Dishakha Yadav’s art too delves deep into human emotion and deals with the self and human desire. Combining watercolour, thread and pen work, Bubbles and Emotion speaks eloquently of the fragility of emotion, while the nine-part composite titled Society and Me portrays the distancing between the complex inner being and urban society represented by the towering structures, a subject experienced more recently owing to the pandemic where people were pushed into living in bubbles.


Bubble and Emotion by Dishakha Yadav, Watercolour and thread on paper, 9.5” x 28” each


Society and Me by Dishakha Yadav, Mixed media on paper, 5” x 5” each


Though the alumni exhibition does not bear a title, I do think the artists could have attempted to find one, given that there are quite a few common threads that weave the works together. For instance, besides works dealing with human emotion as in the case of Sharma and Yadav, metaphorical imageries of birds, insects and flowers have been employed by a few other artists in the show. Inspired by the life of insects, Gayathri K. explores different facets of formative elements of insect bodies, as in her untitled sombre work of distinct wings and the thorax of a butterfly. In her etching titled Fragrance she again uses abstracted simplification of form to capture the essence of fragrance, as it were. While Laksmi Kiran Kumar Kasireddy’s wistful etchings titled Nostalgia use the flower motif, Malabika Barman employs extinct birds in her poignant watercolours, Life(?) in a Barren Land to moan the plight of a small bird finding itself lost in a desert owing to human encroachment; at another level the work can be interpreted as the loneliness and helplessness one feels when deserted by loved ones.


Untitled by Gayathri K., Etching, 22” x 30”, 2020


Fragrance by Gayathri K., Etching, 22” x 30”, 2019


Nostalgia by Kiran Kasireddy, Etching, 38 cm x 50 cm, 2020


Nostalgia - 1 by Kiran Kasireddy, Etching, 38 cm x 50 cm, 2020


Life (?) in a barren land (18) by Malabika Barman, Watercolour on Canson paper, 8 inches x 9.5 inches, 2019


Life (?) in a barren land (20) by Malabika Barman, Watercolour on Canson paper, 8 inches x 9.5 inches, 2019


A more compelling resonance of the callous attitude of humans towards birds can be seen in the work of Sarika Goswami, who dwells on the hapless birds who suffer when humans invade their space to indulge themselves in small joys like flying kites. Her powerfully poignant series of works titled “What Life?” alludes to the Uttaryan Festival in Gujarat where on the day of Makar Sankranti people come out in flocks to fly kites, unmindful of the fact that birds get entangled and die in the razor-sharp threads used to fly them. The black-and-white dramatic contrasts accentuates the tragedy. In another of her work with the same title, kites and threads dangle outside a wooden door of a ramshackle dwelling with pealing plaster.


What Life??? by Sarika Goswami, Etching, aquatint and dry point, 31 cm x 30 cm

What Life??? by Sarika Goswami, Woodcut and thread, 58 cm x 37 cm

What Life??? by Sarika Goswami, Etching and aquatint, 35 cm x 25 cm


Namrata Sneha, on the other hand, views the world differently, from the human perspective, and celebrates the joy of living in harmony with nature. Her wind-swept works, Whirling Around, combine abstracted elements from nature, moving blissfully in soft hues. Kodanda Rao's work, The Creative Joy of Living (Winter Flowers), uses a brighter palette with the flowers floating in an ocean of green; his painting titled Bouquet of Hope is bolder in terms of exploration, with hanging red boughs of trees and a path on the ground leading to hope and discovery.


Painting by Namrata Sneha


Whirling Around by Namrata Sneha, painting, Oil on canvas, 48” x 60”, 2020


The Creative Joy of Living (Winter Flowers) - 2, by Kondanda Rao, Oil on canvas, 24” x 24", 2021


The Creative Joy of Living (Bouquet of Hopes) by Kodanda Rao, Acrylic on canvas, 84” x 60”, 2021


Using a mix of detailed wood engraving and oil inlay on wood, Prathap Modi’s work around the overarching theme of ‘Terrestrial Water Bodies’ is evocative and surreal. While he refers to the water bodies as “terrestrial” there is an astronomical dimension to his works, where the objects are adrift in the spatial universe. As the title indicates, the natural bodies floating in space represents life’s experience of just being and the interdependence of humans with nature. Bird Saving Tree from Earth shows the bird motif as a saviour carrying nourishment to save a hollowed out, devastated earth, while a tortoise (appropriated from the mythological story of the Vishnu avatar) strives to provide harmony and stability. Floating Waterfall extends the same thematic to represent the essence of being, where the artist reverses the idea of fall in an unreal, astronomical world.


Terrestrial Water Bodies / Floating Waterfall, Wood engraving, oil colour inlay on wood, 45” x 79”, 2019


Terrestial Water Bodies / Bird Saving Tree from Earth, Wood engraving, oil colour inlay on wood, 45” x 45”, 2020


Two sculptural works of Ritesh Ajmeri’s are part of his series titled “Winding Time”, based on his experience of standing in the sun with his shadow for 13 long hours during a residency in Korea. While one has two human figures, one upside down atop the other, another sculpture, Eqilibrium I, depicts an inverted brain sitting over another that is rust-stained, evoking metaphoric landscapes of recording time and the process of thinking. Ajmeri explains that through the works, he would like to draw “meaningful time of maturity” inside of himself, and hopes the viewer will discover and reflect upon the “dimensional moments while moving”. Another of the artist’s metaphorical work, Garland, portraying a man wearing a gilded garland around his neck, is a reflection on how society elevates ordinary human mortals with all their frailties and failings (and at times even with criminal records) to a god-like status and worships them.


Equilibrium I by Ritesh Ajmeri, mild steel, bronze, gear box motor, 15” x15” x 56”, 2020


Gallery view of Equilibrium I


Garland by Ritesh Ajmeri


Santa Rakshit’s mixed-media installation, Now I hold the half-inch Himalayas in my hand (see the bottom two images at the beginning of this review) seen from a distance are seemingly abstract and distinct separate works, dominated with the colour red, but on closer viewing we quickly discover hidden layers of images suffused with meaning.



Details from Now I hold the half-inch Himalayas in my hand by Santa Rakshit, Installation


Despite the different individual styles, treatment and expression, each of the eleven artists live up to the reputation of the Faculty in terms of producing mature and creative works. What is heartening is that that quite a few of the works have a contemporariness ring to them in terms of self-expression, concerns and innovative exploration of materials and mediums. At the same time, as mentioned earlier, the interconnecting strands hold the exhibition together and to a large extent it does achieve a broad thematic unity and connectivity. Going forward, I would like to see at least some of these talented artists not shying away from addressing more pressing issues facing contemporary society.


(All the images are courtesy of the respective artists.)



 

Ranjan Kaul is an artist, art writer, author and Founding Partner of artamour.

His art can be viewed on www.ranjankaul.com


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