Artist Ashna Singh says that her exhibition This & That is an amalgamation of options that humanity has been gifted with. By Team Viva
Just a few days before gallerist and art curator Ashna Singh could announce the opening of her new gallery in March last year, the entire country went into lockdown.
Singh, also a musician with a spiritual bent of mind, used this opportunity to turn her gaze inwards and curate a show that reflects the sense of quietude and self-examination that all of us have experienced in some measure over the last year. Dealing with mixed emotions of isolation and introspection during this time, artists have used various mediums to express themselves. Featuring new works by Baiju Parthan, Khalil Chishtee, Megha Joshi, Pooja Iranna, Ranbir Kaleka, Remen Chopra W. Van Der Vaart, Shivani Aggarwal, Sharmi Chowdhury, TV Santosh and Veer Munshi, the group show titled This & That includes paintings, videos, sculptures and photographs.
Says Singh, Director, Studio Art, “The pre-COVID world was of immense exposure and collaboration, yet the emphasis on success, competition and the desire to be visible may have depleted the self emotionally. This was ‘That’ time. Then there was social media that percolated lives and didn’t make it easier. One was visible but not present in the moment. Constant comparisons and possibly an assessment of one’s worth in the eyes of the world may have impacted inner peace and personal spaces. This was ‘That’ time. Last year forced corrections upon the world, compelling many to face their inadequacies. This time was all factual where peace was being restored, not through compromises, adjustments or filling voids but by simplifying the unnecessary and understanding the essentials. This time brought about strength, a sense of freedom and a reintroduction to oneself. That is ‘This’ time. Our inaugural show This & That is an amalgamation of choices that humanity has been gifted with. A choice to choose how to proceed forward. A choice to repeal what doesn’t serve a purpose anymore.”
Aptly then, Megha Joshi’s ink and watercolour titled Wavering Faith is about the need to prioritise our choices. The mental act of making a choice to believe and to convert those into action has never been more important. In a fractured society, where one’s belief (in socio-religious and eco-political terms) is shattered daily and seldom restored, believing in anything firmly becomes even more difficult. “I have explored this concept through the abstracted metaphor of the rudraksha bead. The bead is the divided self, oscillating, rotating, trying to find order in chaos... in a perpetual motion of finding and losing faith.”
Veer Munshi’s How Green Is My Valley is a grid of 14 photographs and a video that captures moments from one lockdown (post the scrapping of Article 370) to another (post-COVID). It is Munshi’s experience of being in Kashmir on August 5, 2019, when Article 370 was scrapped and the communication blockade was imposed. “This led to mass migration to other states and reminded me of my youth when I had left the valley three decades ago,” says Munshi.
Pooja Iranna’s installation in staple pins titled The Meltdown represents man-made structures, but there is a twist to all the tales she expresses. Everything is not to be seen at the surface level. The not so straight partitions and the visible curvatures all denote a concealed part of life. This could be beautiful for some or even complex for others but all these structures are about conflicting emotions and stories. “During the lockdown, I saw the cities become like ghost towns, leading me to the question — is all the construction in the name of development really necessary?”
Ranbir Kaleka’s video installation with digital collage on canvas titled Turbulence, Veiled, Un-veiled is about the relentless cycle of losing and reclaiming calm in our complex lives.
Khalil Chishtee uses trash bags in sculptural works titled Unbearable Lightness of Being & Bedtime Ritual to speak about the transience of life. “Our smartphones are so efficient that information is just a click away. And yet most of the truths are hidden. For instance, we failed to see obvious signs of an impending pandemic. We live in the age of plastic and trash bags are the lowest form of it. My trash bags have the ability to hold the content of my work with so much love and care that it bends themselves for me like clay or any other traditional modelling material. My work is an attempt to connect two worlds together; the world of reality and fiction, the world that we live in and the world that lives within ourselves.”
TV Santhosh’s sculpture in bronze is titled Obsolete Objects. Society is undergoing an enormous structural change forced by technological advancement and even though it has made hardships of manual jobs much easier to execute, on the flip side it has made people more and more dependent on it. Industrialisation and urbanisation have brought in a sense of alienation, making society more fragmented. Technology is fast progressing in a way, upgrading the existing systems, and in some cases even replacing the old one with a completely new system. In the process, the world is becoming more and more like a wasteland of obsolete electronic items.
Says Santosh, “Today, we live in a world of use and throw culture. My generation has lived through a period of transition, from the era of the radio to the iPod, revolutionising our approach to listening to music. These two sculptures are a kind of re-imagined documentation of obsolete objects that have become part of nostalgia today.”
Shivani Aggarwal sculptural work titled Hangers is an extension of the series of dysfunctional objects she has been creating for a long now. The work questions how our state of being is compromised by situations and circumstances. A simple wooden hanger is pushed beyond its limits so that it changes its shape and purpose to become dysfunctional. The fragility of the object further adds to its loss of purpose. These hangers echo the ethos of the times we are living in where anything and everything loses its defined purpose due to situational intervention, whether economic or ecological or man-made.
Sharmi Choudhury’s sculptural work titled Inner Conversation (Korean Hanji paper & painted wood) is a manifestation of intimate dialogue and confrontation with the self. A self, which is an assemblage of numerous identities and complex, interlinked personal histories. “Material always gives me support to build the images. My work is a metaphor for our life experiences.”
The painting (acrylic on canvas) titled Logos & Mythos (Soul’s Sacrifice) by Baiju Parthan depicts a collision between two mutually exclusive world views presented as patterns that overlap each other. Using Charles Darwin and Alan Turing as the main protagonists, the work is a comment about the old and the new, about the world of poiesis and mythos versus the world that is arranged and perceived through reasoning and logic.
(The show is on till May 15 from 11 am to 7 pm at Studio Art, W-16, Okhla Phase 2, New Delhi.)