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Unlocking the World: The Beautiful Chaos

by Shujaat Mirza

An outdoor photograph of the 079 Stories gallery

Photo credit: Shujaat Mirza

The Covid-19 outbreak has been both a moment for reflection as well as a serendipitous gift of unlimited time for artists. As we frantically navigate the human precondition of the crater-like hiatus, it is up to us to either see it as a rupture or an opportunity. While the abrupt stoppage of our daily routine questions all our preconceived notions, at the same time it pushes us towards making a meaningful difference.

Taking place as it did on the cusp of the slowly opening-up world, experiencing The Beautiful Chaos at 079 Stories, Ahmedabad (1-15 October) was like viewing a calm oasis of artful endeavours with an underlying message of hope. From the textural to the tonal, from the natural to the abstracted are all on display and so also our human longing to go back and forth from the primordial to the present. The show is a testimony to the indomitable and indefatigable human urge to stay steadfast even amidst uncertainty. With an array of marquee names and extremely talented artists, the exhibition was a reopening that justified the long period of wait that a physical viewing of art alone satisfies an aesthete.

Vipul Prajapati has been extremely prolific during the lockdown; he effortlessly flits from depiction of clouds to flamingoes to his core thematic concerns of marginal workers and the urban sprawl. Weaving magic onto the canvas with technical finesse, his detailed and faithful reproductions of real-life images adhere to the strongest roots of photorealism. He achieves this with a supple and balanced dexterity and a compositional sense, making best use of the mediums and materials he works with. A storehouse of fidelity to the observed forms, his immediate concerns are people living on the margins and how they intertwine with the world around them, which he depicts in all its starkness and unintentional irony. His other works minutely bring out the elements of nature and landscapes in all their brilliance. In all of this, his marked preference for a monochromatic representation is evident in abundance, while his sparing use of colour is his signature element.

Amidst the Concrete Jungle - A City Dwells by Vipul Prajapati

Watercolour, graphite dust and pencil, 50 inches × 72 inches

Photo credit: Shujaat Mirza

Paper Bags by Vipul Prajapati

Charcoal and pencil on wood panel on paper, 9 inches × 5.5 inches

Photo credit: Shujaat Mirza

Pradeep Ahirwar's recent series of three works, almost a triptych, is an exposition of the concept of time and duration within the confines of which we become understudies of our own experiences. At the core of his works is the realization that we haven't yet tackled the most pressing concerns of our lives, the relationships that bind us – be it to a person, our family or nature – and our attempts to fill that hollowness with substance are ongoing. In each of these works the stages of progress towards an attempt to facilitate interpersonal communication are charted with a clear division running across each canvas. The random scribbling that he chalks across the acrylic background – like a Morse code or a new SOS vocabulary –are a plea to reconnect the lost connections.

Between Us by Pradeep Ahirwar

Mix media on canvas, 36 inches × 48 inches

Image courtesy the artist

We Know Each Other by Pradeep Ahirwar

Mix media on canvas, 36 inches × 48 inches

Image courtesy the artist

Music of Soil by Pradeep Ahirwar

Mix media on canvas, 36 inches × 48 inches

Image courtesy the artist

A deep, inner dialogic underpinning and his connection to the abandonment of divine music in his art practice are reflected in Shahanshah Mittal's works. A seeker in quest of self-knowledge, the defining ethos of his art is to be in touch with the authenticity of oneself as he prefigures it. To know oneself is to find oneself through one's art. As he comes close to the stillness that emanates from a place of inner harmony, the works speak to us similarly. Through his meditations his art acquires a certain minimalism that is shorn of figurations and images. As we stand in front, a compelling stillness and calm descends on us and we find ourselves enveloped in an aura of self-awareness. The subdued palette is almost similar to some works of Egon Schiele. To enable his transition from the figurative to the abstract, Shahanshah was guided by his mentor Anwar who introduced himself to Sufism, who himself was honed under the tutelage of J.S. Swaminathan.

Language of Existence by Shahanshah Mittal

Oil and pencil of canvas and pencil 72 inches × 72 inches

Photo credit: Shujaat Mirza

Nabibakhsh Mansoori is a dreamweaver; in his imagined space of a remembered sylvan and rural idyll he creates an aura of a place that removes us from the present and transports us into its enchanted world. It is a world of frolicking nature, dancing to the tunes of vibrant colours, smooth textures and tonality to depict the perfection of this lost Eden. In lesser hands these strong colours would look out of place and seem like poster art; however, Mansoori’s manifested creative authority keeps them in steady control.

Beyond Oblivion by Nabibakhsh Mansoori

Oil of canvas, 15 inches × 15 inches

Photo credit: Shujaat Mirza

A Call to the Primitive is Vyom's standalone art project which plays with archaic, ancient forms that refer back to his earlier Asura series. In the sheer energetic scaling of ideas, which at times leap out of the spatial boundaries, it is hard to pinpoint the particularities as the entirety of the experience turns from claustrophobic to liberating. It seems as if one is at once trapped in a time warp and as soon as the door opens out to the works outside, one also leaves that civilizational womb. We see a process of birth and rebirth, generation and regeneration connected closely to the ancient motifs of the mother goddess that unboxes the world from its cages of sophistication. It's a transitional sweep of forms that transmutes and transmits us towards a cathartic awakening. The procreative process from mating flies to figures of ancient goddesses foreshadows the fallout of disease, decay, death and destruction. The Venus flytrap lying in wait for the housefly buzzing near it or the vultures waiting for carrion on the ground is like a life cycle unfolding, placing our transience starkly before us. Side by side the first sprouting of a nascent civilization are terracotta horse images: sacrificial for our essentially unfulfilled wishes.

A Call to the Primitive by Vyom

Photo credit: Shujaat Mirza

In Mausham Manglla's work Enigma we see a mob of humans while as a counterpoint on the other far side of the canvas a pack of street dogs stand prowling – a familiar scene in the crisscrossing geometry of an urban cityscape. The image is like an enforced grid placed upon living objects that makes them at once static, caught in a freeze frame, as it were, to suggest that the negotiations of the city and its streets and the lives that interact with them halts us and throws out the native understanding of life as we once lived it. We surrender the carefree abandon that we basked in with no certainty of escape. The enigma of being free yet caught in a place and its systems is something that all of us might identify in these times when daily life has come to a standstill of sorts.

Enigma by Mausham Manglla

Acrylic paint, ink and pencil on canvas, 60 inches × 90 inches

Photo credit: Shujaat Mirza

Satadru Sovan's work reflects on the gaze and the elements that constitute desire as we live constantly in the flux of sensory stimuli, thwarted yearnings and an inability to contextualize them into meaningful completion. And all this takes place within a matrix of physical beauty as a defining feature of fleeting attachments; the round frame is in a way both a trap as well as presentation to the outside world.

Body swayed to the music will be brightening glance by Satadru Sovan

Acrylic on paper, 10 inches × 12 inches

Photo credit: Shujaat Mirza

In Nayana Soparkar's installation Lock, Unlock, Confusion, Chaos! the daily commuter vehicle, the auto-rickshaw, becomes symbolic of the shambolic and uneven navigation of life itself, as it pans out in a post-Covid world. The rickshaws in a way become manifestations of our inner disquiet and adjustments, suggestive of both movement and the restrictions of mobility. With partial normalcy, as we once again venture out with baby steps we take a calculated risk. The upturned auto-rickshaws at one end and the skeletal white frames of a few others depict life’s fragility. While the rickshaws in front are ready for a ride and suggest a glimmer of hope, others that are moving in odd directions mimic our journey in the new normal.

Lock, unlock, confusion, chaos! by Nayana Soparkar

Installation (mixed media)

Image courtesy 079 Stories

Finally, in an exhibition that befitted its claim to the beautiful around us, even if it's broken, flawed and a work in process, Harshil Patel's paintings were a source of pleasure. The works that are reminiscent of Ram Kumar and suggest continuity with the past into the present are a fitting end to this review.

Untitled by Harshil Patel

Acrylic on paper, 5 inches × 7 inches

Photo credit: Shujaat Mirza


Shujaat Mirza is an intrepid art aficionado, curator and critic, with a passion for

multidisciplinary art. His primary area of interest is art at the intersection of visual aesthetics and verbal semantics. He is also a poet and writer and his work has been published online as well as in literary magazines.

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