The Migrant Winds of Change
by Georgina Maddox
Transit— an exhibition at Bikaner House hosted by Apre Art House and curated by Lina Vincent – brings together artists for whom the idea of migration is a lived reality
Entering the Bikaner House downstairs gallery, one cannot help but be drawn first to Assam-based Victor Hazra’s tribute to Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man. The circle that fits within a square is made up of many image transfers of land and nature wrestling with the un-planned invasion of pillars and concrete which have rapidly and surely entered the verdant North-East. One is also drawn to the diaphanous wall hangings of bird feathers mounted on jute by artist Sarika Bajaj, then to the curvaceous wooden sculptures by Harsha Durugadda, and later to quieter painted works by the likes of Manisha Agrawal and Anoop Panicker, Ashish Kushwaha, Bhartti Verma, Nilesh Shilkar, Samir Mohanty and Venugopal V.G.
Viktor Hazra's tribute to Leonardo Da Vinci's Vitruvian Man
Viktor Hazra's work (In)Coherence, a display of 30 small works together
Sarika Bajaj's jute work
Sarika Bajaj's wall hanging with bird feathers
Transit (Where do we go from here?) is writer-curator Lina Vincent’s creative nod to ‘land’ and its notions of belonging and ancestry alongside that of displacement and resettling. Hosted by Apre Art House, a contemporary art gallery founded by Prerna Jain, the exhibition brings together artists for whom the idea of migration is a lived reality.
“In a cycle of consumption and neglect, the earth has been intrinsically altered, and all but squeezed off its natural abundance; and as current climate crises demonstrates – we don’t have much time,” says Vincent.
“The exhibition has been developed through the many conversations between the artists and me during studio visits. A lot of artists often spoke about how their lives and practices had changed as they migrated from their respective hometowns to cities, and their practices strongly reflected the same,” says Prerna Jain.
Prerna Jain at the exhibition
Given our current times, climate change is a reality, where the Covid pandemic is yet to loosen its death-like grip on the world and where mother earth is submerged with flood waters, torn up by hurricanes, or dried out by harsh heat. The privileged groups of humankind, which still continue to exploit the earth with its capitalist agenda, can hold itself solely responsible for the state of the planet.
It is common news that the storms that have hit countries across the globe have displaced over half a million people, buried houses under mud, and destroyed 40 to 60 percent of their crops. Many people have lost homes, access to clean water, and their livelihoods. The governments in each case, do not offer much help. Given this lived reality, whether it is Mexico, Africa, India or other developing nations, the issues of forced migration are important to address.
Alex de Sherbinin, associate director for Science Applications and a senior research scientist at the Earth Institute’s Center for International Earth Science Information Network, writes, “Climate change, if it’s not currently the main driver of migration, tends to operate indirectly, and will continue to do that. But as the number of severe and extreme weather events or climate-related disasters increases, we’re going to see more migration and more of that may be directly triggered by it.”
Vincent puts out a bunch of her concerns that the show addresses: “How do artists navigate these questions, personally and collectively; how do they take responsibility, for a fragile and crumbling ecosystem?” These questions become even more important given that we are operating in a time, when the very possibility of movement is truncated, and we are all restricted. “What does transit mean, and where do we go from here? Is it possible to heal and grow?”
If we look at artist Hazra’s own story, he tells us that since he migrated from the North-East his work process changed significantly. “The contextual and structural changes of work are expressed in parallel with how closely I feel and try to know and understand the metropolis,” says the artist. In his negotiations with the city his artistic language expanded to include the bleak reality of the claustrophobic city and the adversity of a ‘hustled lifestyle’.
Samir Mohanty’s sculptural painting, Transcendence, created out of plywood, fiberglass, wood dust and acrylic paint works at many visual levels. The circular structure acts as a metaphor for the city as well as the world at large, the rusted feel around conveys the sense of decay and the wooden buildings the raw beauty of the city, and yet it has its phantom moments in the shadows.
Samir Mohanty's work Transcendence
Meanwhile Anoop Panicker’s body of acrylic and phototransfer work titled Aerial Encounters and Ensemble of Stillness are a set of four works which emerge from world situations and an ongoing state of flux. All four works are of images of flight machines, war-planes, helicopters and even birds, either airborne or awaiting flight. This becomes a larger metaphor for the act of transit that the artist addresses, “When nothing makes sense, then everything rushing for nothing also gains sense.”
Anoop Panicker's works
Interestingly, Bhartti Varma’s flying machines are hot-air balloons, blips and fictitious time machines! She also brings in old-fashioned objects like pocket-watches, typewriters and compasses that all float in this world of fantasy. We learn the objects are exhumed from memory the stories her mother and grandmother told her about her grandfather’s collections of these curios, which have a vintage value.
“I contemplate with wonder about the return of these objects in current times,” says the artist who mixes the real and the imaginary to bring about interesting questions about our ‘future’.
Bhartti Verma's works
An artist like Ashish Kushwaha addresses directly the concrete jungle and its impact on the environment, while creating paintings that capture the nostalgia of the past and his life, rural exodus, rapid urbanization and the overcrowding cities. Harsha Durugadda’s wooden sculptures celebrate the simplicity of indigenous folks: the enlarged top covered in triangles indicates the city, while the curvaceous drops of rain-water and leaves speak poetically of the rural. Manisha Agrawal rejoices her relationship with nature through her paintings of playful deer, antelope and the more solid wild-boar, all munching on beautiful flowers, indicating the circle of life, but Agrawal also points to the destruction of animal’s natural habitat.
Ashish Kushwaha's work
Harsh Durugadda's wooden sculpture
Manisha Agrawal's watercolour painting
Overall, the timely exhibition brings together several important points to the fore in a visual manner that is enriching, innovative and extremely engaging. To sum it up, one could quote Jain’s observation: “To gauge the exhibition in the binaries of green abundance and a deplorable barrenness would be unjust to the journey of the artists. One way to experience this exhibition would be to experience it as a state of in-between, that of being in Transit.”
The exhibition continues until 17 October 2021.
The works will be available online on Apre Art House.
(All images taken by Prateek Chandra, Dipak Studios are courtesy of the gallery Apre Art House and the respective artists)
Georgina Maddox is an independent critic-curator with almost two decades of experience in the field of Indian art and culture. She was assistant editor at India Today’s Mail Today and senior arts writer for the Indian Express and the Times of India. She is currently working in the media as an independent critic for various publications and has published articles in Open Magazine, India Today, Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue and also in Elle Magazine, The Hindu and Business Line, Sunday Magazine BLINK, TAKE on Art, Time Out, and online with US based E-magazine, Studio International, STIR world and MASH Mag.