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Visual Encounters: Hope Amidst Helplessness

by Aakshat Sinha

The virtual exhibition Visual Encounters, hosted by Visual Arts Gallery, India Habitat Centre, New Delhi, opened on 19 November containing drawings, paintings, prints and mixed media works, the online show features artworks by five artists of the Multiple Encounters group: Anandamoy Banerji, Dattatreya Apte, Kavita Nayar, Moti Zharotia, and Sushanta Guha. The group, Multiple Encounters, has been organizing and participating in international printmaking exhibitions since 2004. Their previous exhibition at the Visual Art Gallery earlier this year before the pandemic broke out was very well received. This edition of their exhibition is in an online avatar because of the pandemic.

The Group of Multiple Encounters

(Image courtesy of the Multiple Encounters group)

Since the first lockdown was announced in March this year all public engagement activities, including art exhibitions have had to realign and find alternatives to reach out to the audience. The restrictions brought about because of the pandemic have pushed organizers to fast-track the use of technology to continue reaching out to the art lovers. There have been many online shows in various forms of experimentation both in terms of the technology used and the aesthetic parameters. Ease of access and navigation for the viewer have largely governed the way the virtual experiences have been designed. There have been walk-throughs, online static galleries, and even 3D shows involving hi-tech AR (Augmented Reality) and VR (Virtual Reality) technologies. It’s not as if these haven’t been in use for some time. These have been around for a while but their use was limited because of financial implications and the resistance to retain the physical nature of engagement with art.

This particular show is uncomplicated: a slideshow of images that can be viewed in a preset order. The attempt is to showcase the works as they are without trying to overwhelm the viewer with the glitz of technology. Because of the larger screen, the show is aesthetically more satisfying to view on a computer/laptop.

Anandamoy Banerji is well known in the field of art and is the Founding Member of the Indian Printmaker Guild and Multiple Encounters. His works are part of collections across the world with galleries, museums and in private collections. Striking a hopeful note about his contribution to the online show, he said,

“Every day is a challenge for all. Challenges of various kinds to which the outcome can be happy as well as sad. In this period of pandemic, a sudden change of lifestyle did leave an impact on all; impact certainly framed with fear for most. For me, overcoming this was probably a concern too, which gets subconsciously reflected in my works. There is a definite change in the drawing in my works but not necessarily framed with fear, rather framed with hope. Hope might subconsciously be speaking of fear but on the other hand fear might be speaking of hope!”

Included in this exhibition are ten of his works from the Human Landscape series (2020) made using Acrylic and Black Glass Liner and five Serigraphs from the Multiple Encounters series (2018). Limbs and human outlines intersperse in multiple layers to create a sense of contemplative existence. There is a kind of an indeterminate state of limbo in the works. In the more recent Human Landscapes series, despite the abundance of form and color, one can feel a sense of loss and longing, a search for something that has gone missing. The artist has expert command over the technique using crisp strokes and interesting color compositions.

Human Landscape I, Acrylic and black glass liner, 24 inches × 24 inches, 2020

(Image courtesy of Anandamoy Banerji)

Human Landscape VII, Acrylic and black glass liner, 24 inches × 24 inches, 2020

Image courtesy of Anandamoy Banerji

Multiple Encounters III, Serigraph, 40 inches × 28 inches, 2020

(Image courtesy of Anandamoy Banerji)

Dattatreya Apte has held ten one-man shows and participated in many national and international shows and workshops. He is the Founding member of Indian Print Guild (1990-2000) and Multiple Encounters (since 2008). He is a visiting faculty at the College of Art, Delhi.

There are ten works on display in the show. His works resemble abstract landscapes but could also reflect commonplace objects of use and wear. The work Untitled 1 (2018) uses unique handmade paper with dyed and hand-colored paper pulp cast. The abstract nature of the composition gives it a mysterious ambiguity. Viewers could perhaps inadvertently imagine seeing a bird’s eye-view of a building or topographical layout but could at once as easily interpret the work as kitchen objects or even tiled flooring patterns. Because of the arrangement, the work prompts one to wish to reach out and feel the texture. The Apron (2017) looks like the artist’s worktable with a red apron spread across it. Made of paper pulp it seems almost like a fabric with flowing threads. Drifting Away (2017) has considerable depth and dynamism with suggestive placement of colours, shapes and textures igniting the impression that the paper pulp is capturing a drifting human figure as it were. The artist explained his works with the following words:

“The works displayed in this show use dyed and hand-colored paper pulp cast done from 2017 to 2020. This medium allows me to play with the tactile surfaces and my intervention is only to arrange them; apply the pulp and after it dries, treat the surface to enhance the qualities it holds. These are everyday objects, at times discarded. When they are put together they are capable enough to evoke a unique experience. This period of the pandemic allowed me to be with myself, to introspect and react. The direct reaction though was not possible as to become an expression it needs time, to sink in and emerge as a natural expression.”

Untitled I, Unique handmade paper and dyed and hand-coloured paper pulp cast, 66 cm × 61 cm, 2018

(Image courtesy of Dattatreya Apte)

The Apron, Dyed and hand-coloured pulp cast, 108 cm × 182 cm, 2017

(Image courtesy of Dattatreya Apte)

Drifting Away, Dyed and hand-coloured paper pulp cast, 108 cm × 182 cm, 2017

(Image courtesy of Dattatreya Apte)

Kavita Nayar has held multiple solo exhibitions in India and abroad and is Visiting Professor at the College of Art, Delhi and a Trustee of the Kala Sakshi Memorial Trust. Her works from the present series are an extension of her emotional experience during these pandemic times. It documents the unfathomable mixed emotions of sorrow and helplessness prevailing among the migrant labourers.

“For me it’s totally an intuitive process,” she says. “I don’t look at my visual practice as a challenge. I tend to respond to my emotional upheavals without thinking of the outcome of my creative pursuits. It’s a continuous process, almost like a daily diary.”

Two works of her Covid Chronicles series (2020) are in an accordion format, woodcuts as pop-ups on archival print while another two as manuscripts in four folds, woodcuts, newspaper clippings stitched on gauzes and Intaglio prints, pasted on mount board, and strung together with rope. They deal with the enormity and scale of the struggles faced by migrant labourers through the juxtaposition of woodcut print, newspaper clippings and color treatment. The four Pathless Path (2020) works use diverse mediums from intaglio prints on rice paper to oil pastels and color pencil on textured paper. These works have more zoomed-in, close up views of the challenges and struggles that the migration and lack of resources have impacted on the individuals and the close-knit families. The works are poignant and a grim reminder of the actions and even inaction during this manufactured catastrophe, coupled with the natural calamity. The colours used are seemingly bright while at the same time grounded, much like the persona of the muse.

Covid Chronicles, Accordion with woodcuts as pop-ups on archival print, 30 cm × 151 cm, 2020

Image courtesy of Kavita Nayar

Covid Chronicles, Manuscripts in 4-folds with woodcuts, newspaper clippings stitched on gauzes and intaglio prints, 30 cm × 151 cm, 2020 Image courtesy of Kavita Nayar

Pathless Path, Oil pastel and pencil colour on textured paper, 38 cm × 58 cm, 2020

(Image courtesy of Kavita Nayar)

Moti Zharotia has exhibited in many national and international shows including Indian Contemporaries at Art Russia 2017, Kibriya Art Festival in Bangladesh, and the Tokyo International Mini Triennale. He has also served as Expert Committee Member at the Annual Arts Exhibition of Lalit Kala Akademi and Visual Art Scholarships to Young Artists for the Ministry of Human Resource Development.

“The only challenge I believe the lockdown has posed for the artists of this group is the restriction of getting together for discussions and exchanging thoughts in person. I’ve continued to work at home at my own regular pace. I am an artist and I prefer to take life as it comes to me. . . . My serigraph works exhibited in this virtual exhibition are variation prints that provoked me to create different semblances by using varied colors and tones in the same image. To create a single serigraph having different tones and gradation is challenging work but I persist till I am satisfied.”

Ten serigraphy prints are part of this exhibition. Some of them have similar elements used repetitively and they capture the diversity of human emotion and relationship. Multilayered images present Consoling (2017) as a pure human trait while Luminescence (2018) shelters the reflection of the human kind stretching to reach the original reflector, the moon. Three can be a crowd but many together can be Abundant (2018) too. Overlapping human figures replicate the human tendency to seek solitude and individuality even when in a crowd. The works are harmonious, soothing and positive.

Consoling, Serigraph, 19.5 inches × 14.5 inches, 2017

(Image courtesy of Moti Zharotia)

Luminescence, Serigraph, 19.5 inches × 14 inches, 2018

(Image courtesy of Moti Zharotia)

Abundant, Serigraph, 18 inches × 14.5 inches, 2018

(Image courtesy of Moti Zharotia)

Sushanta Guha has exhibited extensively in India and abroad and participated in the 4th International Biennale Caixa-Ourense Spain, Bapha Varna 97 Bulgaria, VII Biennale Internationale de la Gravure d’lle –d-France among others. Talking about his works he said,

“All my works in this exhibition are drawings that are based on the prevailing situation, created from April to July 2020. The situation is still the same but the human response and psyche has changed due to the passage of time. Initially, the world was affected with a lot of anxiety and depression. The death of the close persons led to the frustration as if there is no future anymore. No one knew who will be the next one to be infected; no clue if any cure or vaccine will be developed. The uncertainty haunted each mind, especially when we don’t know how to fight this invisible enemy. This raised thousands of questions, multitude of mixed reactions in this inexplicable situation.”

He added, “My generation hasn’t faced a catastrophic situation like this one where a large number of people have lost their lives. I don’t know how else to express the pain but to share hope to overcome such a situation. For this one has to be patient and stay positive. Not corona positive! Rather be corona negative while you push your thoughts towards positivity. I believe that every individual has a responsibility towards society and what I’m doing is my honest contribution."

All the drawings on display are in black and white except for Laborer Stranded (2020) which is made with crayons and coloured oil pastels. The artist has used pen, pencil, crayons and ink to draw on paper to depict nature and humans in different stages of interaction and activity. The figurative works occupy not just space but the viewer’s thought. They are like snapshots of life in motion but the capture is rather dynamic; as if the figures will start moving at any moment. The Grip of Pandemic (2020) made with pencil and felt pen depict about a stifling existence in the grip of the fear that the pandemic has brought. The masked and the unmasked coexist while the threat of infection looms large. The Hunger Game (2020) has a common man with listless eyes and a void where the mouth should be. A plant grows behind the face but one wonders if it is accessible for the individual to satiate his hunger. Is it even edible, one wonders. Soon, there will be wars fought for The Valuable Mask (2020). The future is dystopian and divisive. The scissors poised; ready to cut the umbilical cord of friendship, humanity and existence. Who shall the mask save? The wearer or the other, one wonders. The lines are bold, the narrative unambiguous. The strength of the works is in the context and the artist’s prowess.

The Grip of Pandemic, Pencil and felt pen drawing, 21 cm × 29.5 cm, 2020

Image courtesy of Sushanta Guha

The Hunger Game, Pencil drawing, 21 cm × 29.5 cm, 2020

(Image courtesy of Sushanta Guha)

The Valuable Mask, Pencil drawing, 21 cm × 29.5 cm, 2020

(Image courtesy of Sushanta Guha)

While the treatment, expression and materials vary in the works of each artist, there is a commonality of themes – hopefulness in spite of human suffering, loss and foreboding. In this period of cynicism and negativity, the artists have put together a show that speaks of the indefatigable human spirit. The art is rooted in reality and the challenges are apparent, and yet there is a streak of optimism. The key to moving forward is to believe in change and following it up with action. The online show can be viewed till 31 December 2020.

Also read other reviews by Aakshat Sinha:


Aakshat Sinha is an artist and curator. He also writes poetry and has created and published comics. He is the Founding Partner of artamour.

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3 comentarios

30 nov 2020

@adiabatic thanks for your response. The five panels behind the artists were their own five works blown up to occupy the gallery wall. Works from left: Anandamoy Banerji, Dattatreya Apte, Kavita Nayar, Moti Zharotia, and Sushanta Guha

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Thanks, interesting collection of artists. Who is the artist who created the five panels behind the group photo?

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Great efforts, amazing collections!

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