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Works and Curations

Friday, May 8, 2020

Between Thakur and Tagore - Exploring the Gaps

Between Thakur and Tagore - Exploring the Gaps - Image creation courtesy Abhrojit Boral

There is a possible valid perception that Bengali ( which can sometimes be Bangali or Bong)  culture cannot get out of its fixation on Rabindranath Tagore. One can read this sentence in two ways. The first reading is simply unfolds as 'a significant section of the population of Bengal iconise Rabindranath, his life and his works possibly at the cost of other important cultural icons. The other reading could be that 'though we refer to him as Thakur, we always choose to iconise him as Tagore and this reimagination is crucial for how the Bengali bhadralok imagines itself. It is this second reading that I would like to explore further in this piece.

Why do we call him Tagore? Is it because in mass culture Thakur  is more associated with a god or a Bollywood stereotype of the rapist zamindar? 'Thakur' the sound and it's resultant cultural reflections are in fact all symbols of what the modern Bengali bhadralok has been trying to move away from. In fact, with the Tagore family ( called the Thakur Poribar and their Jorashakho residence referred to as  Thakur Bari)  moving into Calcutta and choosing to officialese the Anglicization of their surname  ( technically not a surname but a zamindari title)   into Tagore, is an early marking of the cultural formation of this 'new' bhadralok elite. Tagore also helps to gloss over the realities of the opium trade and large zamindaries which were the source of wealth for the family.  Strangely this leads us to realise that the name is actually Rabindranath Tagore and Bengalis (and Bangali) referring to him as Robindronath Thakur are to be taken as authentic sources of pronunciation just like one would if a certain man was referred to as Aomitabho Bochon. (The same man in the same culture is referred to as Amitabh Bachan on more formal moments). So when Bengalis formally present Rabindranath to the world (which of course includes us too), there is a preference to call him Tagore? I don't really know.

This could bring us to consider how M.K. Gandhi is widely respected and celebrated as Bapu. It proves that if a culture has political faith in a nickname, then it can become dominant and popular. Even in Gujarat where there are so many 'Bapus', if one says Bapu, then Gandhi with his smile, daandi and bald head comes to our mind. It is quite possible that the modernist distancing from the politics of Thakur resulted in modern Bengali culture having more cultural faith in Tagore.  Of course in all this, there is also a story of the modernist Bengali identity formation heavily borrowing its algorithm from British cultural coding.  (with more influence from the alleged school of romanticism.) (Also, one can go on to observe that the formation of Gujarati middle-class identity owes much less to the British colonial culture.)

In all this one cannot forget that as Rabindranath began his leap into the domain of the 'universal mind' (a journey for which a clear direction begins to shape up from the 1910s). the poet was very disturbed by how the urban bhadralok culture of Calcutta was shaping itself.  In fact, towards the end of his life, this had become one of his deepest source of sadness. He tried and planned everything he could lay an alternative path to the colonial-style elitism and cultural parochialism and urbanism that was becoming central to the class identity of the Bengali bhadralok. He was worried that this Calcutta centric Bengali culture was colonising Shantiniketan and damaging the essential cultural fabric of his alternative path. Especially Tagore's lineage within the eastern bhakti tradition and his affiliation with fakirs like Lalon Fakir have been disappearing from both history and memory.

Since those years the path taken by the Bengali bhadralok has been further and further away from the paths explored by Tagore. If one had to draw an exaggerated caricature, then the contemporary  Tagore worshipping Bengali will find parallels in gambling drunk Punjabis worshipping Nanak. Maybe we do not want to acknowledge that we have made Tagore into a god (Thakur) or a .....(I should not utter), and every time we say Tagore we mask Thakur.

Suddenly it seems that though I started this piece will be focused on the second reading of the first sentence, the focus came back to the first reading.  It feels that one was 'drawing a line' and then sees a circle appearing. What is a circle? but a line that loves itself with bliss.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Ode to Dr Lorna Breen

Just a minutes silence 
And the world moves on
They are calling you a hero
So that they can sleep at night
They make heroes out of sensitive souls
So that they can sleep at night
'She was truly in the trenches of the frontline'
Your father said
But he might not be able to sleep tonight

You saw too much death they say
You worked too hard they say
That's why you harmed yourself they say
That for me is taking your strength away
But they need words
And then
Just a minute's silence 
Just a minute's silence 
And the world moves on

Were you dying for a hug?
Your hands to be held in a loving touch?
Did it pain when you felt all alone?
They make heroes out of sensitive souls
So that they can sleep at night
They are calling you a hero
They are calling you a hero
So that they can sleep at night
I hope you are sleeping alright 

We know by now
Frontline workers are left to die
Like the hapless infantry
Sent into the enemy lines
To die in the frontlines
Or to die many deaths within
Each gets a minute's silence
Or a gold plated tin medal
And the world sleeps on

You loved Salsa they say
And skiing through the snow
You loved your father I know
Like him, you became a doctor too
You loved Life I know
For you saved so many lives 
I hope you can love yourself now
For, I have fallen in love with you. 

Written in pain and in love for Dr Lorna Breen,  (ex) chair of the Department of Emergency Medicine at the New York-Presbyterian Allen Hospital. 

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Coronavirus India | Has Kajodi Reached Home? | Our South Sudan Moment

Photographer - Salik Ahmad -
Captioned: 90-year-old Kajodi trudges home 400 km away amid coronavirus lockdown.
Published in - https://www.outlookindia.com/website/story/india-news-90-year-old-kajodi-trudges-home-400-km-away-amid-coronavirus-lockdown/349525

Many years ago, the Wanted Series initiated the dialogue on ethics in photography. A seminar was organised at Max Muller Bhavan Delhi in collaboration with Goa-Cap and Askar. Subsequently, the Goethe Institute at New Delhi tried to formulate a working group which would explore the question of Ethics in photographic practices. A large seminar was followed by a couple of close think-thank meeting, and then we all disappeared. Going back to the conversation that we generated, I remember being numbed by the impossibility of it all. Yet, ethics as praxis and as a concept metaphor has always remained important to me as a critical tool while looking at (looking through) any cultural act or artefact. In today's world, we can no longer hold on to the notion of a 'Universal Good'. Over the years my notions of ethics have been shaped by moral negotiation processes, red-flagging arbitrariness or manipulation.

 Kevin Carter, 'The vulture and the Little Girl',  first appeared in The New York Times on 26 March 1993. Image taken from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_vulture_and_the_little_girl 

'The Vulture and the Little Girl' is perhaps one of the earliest instances in recent memory which threw up grave questions regarding ethics in photojournalist practices.  Initially, Carter claimed to have come upon the scene, snapped a few photos, and then chased the bird away. 

 "You won't believe what I've just shot! … I was shooting this kid on her knees, and then changed my angle, and suddenly there was this vulture right behind her! … And I just kept shooting – shot lots of films.  Silva asked him where he shot the picture and was looking around to take a photo as well. Carter pointed to a place 50 m (160 ft) away. Then Carter told him that he had chased the vulture away. He told Silva he was shocked by the situation he had just photographed, saying, "I see all this, and all I can think of is Megan", his young daughter. "   (https://joesackcom.wordpress.com/2019/08/01/the-vulture-and-the-child-what-happened-next/

These were Carter's immediate words to his colleague João Silva, (a part of the Bang- Bang Club specialising in reporting from conflict areas). However, Carter eventually admitted that he watched the scene for about twenty minutes, waiting for the vulture to get closer to the boy and hoping that it would spread its wings for a more dramatic photo. After the vulture refused to move, Carter finally chased the bird away

Salik Ahmad's ' 90-year-old Kajodi trudges home 400 km away amid coronavirus lockdown' succeeded in spotlighting the effect of CONVID lockdown on the migrant labourers of India, apart from photo narrating plights of victims during the conflict, it also bears similarity to Carter's image in the use of dramatic foreshortening and depth-of-field. There is one crucial difference and this perhaps reflects the culture of consumption in our times. The readers of Outlook and the online viewers of the image raised no question regarding the fate of Kajodi. How did the photographer intervene in a human capacity? Did he (even) offer her some water to drink? Has Kajodi reached home?

 Many years ago…in the early 90’s Cater and New York times had to face these questions and these questions made the photographer and publication realise that lines between being a photographer and being a human being could not be blurred beyond a point. Carter’s eventual suicide about 5 years after taking the photograph should not be directly linked to the psyco-emotional impact of 'The Vulture and the Little Girl'.  He had seen enough morbid violence and death in South Africa and Sudan for any sensitive soul to be deeply affected.

Contrary to perception, photojournalism has an uneasy relationship with ‘truth’. The ‘girl’ from South Sudan turned out to be a boy, and Carter framed the shot to maximise the impression that this disaster was taking place in the ‘middle of nowhere’ where in reality it was on a runway with her parents just a few minutes away in a place surrounded by UN workers and journalists. In Salik Ahmad's work, I do not know if her name is really Kajodi, is she really 90 years old? Is her village really 400 km away? Such details get lost in the spectacle of a tragedy and conflict generates. In a way, way beyond truth, this is a work in the politics of representation. 

Photographers easily forget that their subject matter is (at least) an equal collaborator in the economic and cultural capital a picture produces. They also (always) forget that they are very much a part of the frame, that they exist within the photograph and not outside it. If political photography and photojournalism want to break through the structures they critique, these realisations are important.

Saturday, April 4, 2020

It is not Coronavirus it is your Desire

Many of us do not understand this lock down, we don't know what is beyond the plateau of a flattened curve. Right now we are like clockwork. When pushed to work for the sake of our and social survival we do so till be collapse -  then when told to stop work for the sake of our and social survival, we are trying to do so until we collapse. This is my  take - 1 in my personal attempt to understand this code.

When I was in class 8 (?), I understood what a virus is. Clearly it cannot be Chinese or Muslim, cause virus is not even a living cell. In fact like it is more conceptual; like religion and nationalism, viruses are not free-living; i.e., they cannot reproduce and carry on metabolic processes without a hosting on living creatures, but once they do find hosts then they can manipulate host behaviors to create environments in which to thrive and spread. My biology teacher had explained that viruses were not 'living beings' thus they cannot be killed, that's why we still had flu...explaining how vaccination and building anti bodies were the only hope. (Right now I will avoid looking at this as a political metaphor).

Since then a lot of water has flown under many bridges that I have crossed. HIV came, made the word virus a household name. I understood the danger, yet felt safe in my middle class cocoon. Safe sex was doable, and the media made me feel that HIV happened to either the rich or the poor...the middle class were to be worried about cancer...which was not a virus (though I was scared for my friends who pushed sugar). Many years later, SARS came in. My partner and I were thrilled! Chicken prices came crashing down we feasted for a whole month! Of course misplaced nationalism had a role to play in this act of bravado, as Indians our immunity was supposed to much higher, one of the great perks of living in one of the dirtiest nations. On a more serious note, I did begin (re) looking at the research around viruses, specially because governments and corporate started investing in cures.

Then one by one these cure/vaccine research projects began to shut down. Suddenly an old frustration, (which I felt heavily in my class 8 but never really expressed) began to rear its head. How come humans have made so much scientific  progress taking us from moon to Mars and beyond, to make nuclear weapon and power plants, to do pretty much anything...but could not cure us of common flu. Slowly it became clear that the answer to this lay in the priorities of funding. The pharmaceutical industry would actually lose money if some commonly available cheap drug was produced which could cure the flu.

Cut to the season on 2019-20, the times of COVID-19. The initial reaction was almost similar to SARS...and then like an avalanche it began to spread and take over. Before we knew it, February was over and by March, the world was entering into its lock down phase. Initially, my mind went numb. Much energy was spent in checking into my resources. Checking up on relatives, friends, students. Then the emotional stress of the lock down, coupled with the stress of 'work from home'.

The first trigger for me was the crisis of the immigrant contractual laborers being homeless, stateless and criminalised. The brutality that is unfolding in lockdown  situations globally and the normalisation of it all is unparalleled in civil society in the post WW-2 period. It slowly began to dawn that  COVID-19 had scared even the capitalists in power. Which seemed strange and confusing. After all we had seen so many epidemics. Also, contagious diseases like tuberculosis had also affected and killed the rich but there was never such a panic in such a large scale. Then of course in India we have had dengue for years now, so may people die every year post monsoon...but even in the most dengue ravaged, mosquito infected zones there has never been a lockdown.  What exactly was happening now? How is COVID-19 different ?

The clues (unsurprisingly) came in from the USA and (once) Great Britain. Led by Donald Duck and Boris Jonson, these two countries (along with Brazil and Turkey) have resisted the lockdown mode the most. Choosing the normal flu containing technique of evolving herd immunity and treating only  the severely ill and  quarantining the known infected were the measures taken up...and this turned out to be a severe misjudgment and is today costing many lives. But why did these measures fail so drastically? What pose does COVID-19 contain that it continues to overwhelm all our social structures?

The answer blows not in the winds of COVID-19, but in the winds of our Desire. Or rather on how our desires and our capitalist social structures have co-produced each other. After the WW 2, and the wave of decolonisations we had the space and time to imagine a new world order. We ended up voting for governments and policies which has led us to stick pile so much nuclear weapons that the world can be destroyed many times over. We have dreamt of taking vacations on Mars, designing all kinds of cosmetic makeovers, dreamt of destroying Pakistan, invested in Formula 1 technology...bullet trains, statues....

So we created a world with excess capacity of nuclear and non-nuclear ammunition, but a world where ventilators are scarce. Yes, it is that simple...we are under a lockdown, medical and para medical personnel putting their lives at risk, contractual workers are being left to die...because the world has a shortage of ventilators.

COVID-19 is mimics the commonest flu in the manner in which it spreads, making it highly contagious.  At the same time about 20 percent of infected people would need intensive medical attention and among them a sizeable portion would need ventilator support. So what COVID-19 essentially does is to expose a deep glitch in the system which is just not geared for community health crisis, or any kind of health crisis which outside the sphere of the pharmaceutical industry and its profit making. Most of us will survive the COVID-19 even if we catch it...but clearly the system will not. This lockdown, is an attempt by the existing capitalist machinery to save itself from collapse.  It is never your health that they are worried about.

also, do read -

  • https://www.marxist.com/italy-the-coronavirus-epidemic-is-an-emergency-but-capitalism-is-the-real-disaster.htm
  • https://www.quantamagazine.org/viruses-have-a-secret-altruistic-social-life-20190415/
  • https://www.britannica.com/science/virus  

Sunday, May 26, 2019

A Magician and his offerings | Notes on Tambulam

Still, I Love You  -  Exhibition View 

I have been visiting Shridhar Iyer's studio over some years now, and every time I realise that it a very different kind of space, a kind we are not used to these days.  Most established artists have a very clear home studio distinction, and in this distinction, their homes have become much-sanitised spaces. However, every time I visit Shridhar Iyer's studio, I feel as if I have walked into a magician's house where life, art and spiritualism come into one melting pot, and a spell is being cooked or being imagined. The studio is an intrinsic part of his practice and his exploration of abstraction.  Over the years, the artist has taken up studios, built them from scratch, lived in them, produced shows, and then just let it all go...moving into a new place with just a suitcase and starting all over again. This reflects an artistic philosophy exploring the journey  between the possibilities of assimilation and letting go.  Over the last decade, Iyer has been working around the disconnect between nature and civilization, a disconnect which for the artist symbolises our inability to understand the forces of the universe and our place inside it. Tambulam, his new body of works is his offering to nature, as well as healing touch to the bonds which are on the verge of being lost forever.  

Shridhar Iyer is one of the rare modern masters whose works have been trendsetters for postmodern and contemporary art practices in India. Known to be one of the greatest living abstractionists in India, Iyer's art practice has always gone beyond pictorial abstraction and he is one of the earliest artists from the subcontinent to embrace installation and video as an integral part of his practice.  The artist explores pure contemplation on a spiritual level, almost as a window to the unknown energy and force of the universe.  His ability to rasp philosophical abstraction is extraordinary and his works show his painterly deftness as he juxtaposes strong and fragile colours in complete harmony.

"The lines and forms of tribal art always play with the idea of meaning and reality; the forms invent their own geometry based on their context, play and rhythm.  I realised that to be an artist, one has to go beyond mirroring reality and only through developing an extremely personal language, and one can generate new forms and meanings for the world.... what tribal art taught me is that through spontaneity and rhythm, lines could be transformed into something magical.  You could say that since then, the 'line' has become key to my artistic practice; it helps me to explore and understand my own imagination. Over the years I have grown to realise that possibilities of new forms and ideas are deeply embedded in the exploration of 'line'."
Shridhar Iyer

In Iyer’s artistic practice, there has always been an attempt to propose an alternative to the contemporary fascination with the spectacular image. Since his early days at Bharat Bhawan, though his paintings, drawings, videos and installations, Iyer has been a part of aesthetic trajectories which nurtured painterly abstraction as a mode to develope languages different from the figurative, data dense visual culture with images that are designed to jump at you, craving for that attention that bounces off into the recesses of your overfed conscious. His works have explored between chaos and calmness with an emphasis on tactility and playfulness.  This life lived in an overdose of spectacles has numbed our senses forever. When we travel we are busy clicking and hardly ever just seeing. Our eyes cannot rest and are constantly bored. In these times Iyer's works have offered us a different mode of seeing. This mode of seeing is not only operational in the viewer, but has had to be first digested by the artist.  The painted surface is not just a residue of pictorial mark making and rendering, it is also a reflection of the artist own gaze, the way he engages with the world, and how images form inside our head.  

                The manner in which he mixes his media, the self-consciousness about the aesthetic values of Form and possibilities of play, and the manner in which he appropriates the spiritual and the political into the ‘painterly’; speak of a deep entrenchment into the history of visual vocabularies. Deeply influenced by modernism and tribal art Iyer extends awareness of the historical/aesthetic frameworks of social consciousness and the subversion of the spectacular. This consciousness is significant it a time when aesthetic consciousness become marginal in the globalised imaginations and desires. The works celebrate a resistance to the homogenization of the human condition. It is this postmodern critique of contemporary, which strongly marks Tambulam as an artistic intervention.
The installations in the show are layered with prayer, wishes, nostalgia and love.  'Still, I Love You' and Ámia and Champa Trees are steeped in a sense of deep loss and endless hope.  This dialogue between hope and loss is a layering of Iyer's relationship with assimilating and letting go. Wood becomes an important metaphor and so do shadows. It is difficult to understand whether they stand in anticipation or in defeat, but both contain prayer and a song.  They are attempts of the artist to remind himself, stretch the envelope of his spirituality to be able to retain hope even as one remains a witness to the Anthropocene.  Yet, for the artist, there are no gaps between the personal, the spiritual and the political, he seeks to negotiate the space through beauty, balance and hope.

Tambulam is a complex body of work, a lot of it is in continuation of the artist's explorations over last five to six years, yet in this body, there are also seeds of the new directions where Iyer's practice is heading towards. His art is becoming more conceptual and one can see a conscious attempt to experiment with pushing the boundaries of drawing and painting as separate forms.  In his paintings, leisure and hints of boredom become fundamental to the experience of time and problems of meaning, creating that hint of tension between notions of existence, consumption and taste. The artist is able to arrive at the visual language that goes beyond exploring the self with the paint and the line as the primary tools, here we see artist trying to communicate the thin, almost invisible state of interdependence and order that guides all transitions of life.

Abstraction, for Iyer is not just a visual language, but a strategy that initiates dialogue compassion and understanding. In this respect, 'Tambulam' is not just a body of works, but a space which the artist offers, pushing us to rethink our relationship with the Anthropocene. The show presents drawings, paintings and installations stylistically ranging from gestural to minimal.  Iyer has always made art as a way of connecting to the cosmos, as an endeavour to expand his spiritual self. Yet nature is an integral part of the cosmos, and as the artist realises how fragile it has become, it brings out of Iyer a mellow, tender reaction, almost like singing a song to an ill parent, sad yet hopeful.  A large set of very fine drawings, largely monochromatic, aesthetically anchor the show. They are like gentle drifting, the marks on paper become a residue of the artist's process of seeing, hiding, masking, and preserving. The exhibition is carefully constructed through interplay of form, colour and media centered on the conceptual metaphors of nature and hope.  

Rahul Bhattacharya
Spring 2019
New Delhi

Saturday, February 23, 2019

A Young Girl and the Moth Eaten Fakirs

A young girl, stood under a tree admiring the splendour, as a droopy battalion with an inflated phallus walked past the forest of moth-eaten fakirs. 
The moth-eaten fakirs stayed in the forests to be safe from the golden priests. 
Keeping the phallus on the spirit of the moth-eaten fakirs, the battalion wanted to march on.
The phallus needed to be kept safe as the battalion could not carry it anymore
The moth-eaten fakirs knew that this was the army of the golden priests. but they knew no anger, jealousy or fear. 
Yet, the battalion marched on, the neighbouring villagers feared that they need to learn how to make doors. 

The wars went on for long, raging high, especially on the nights when rains stroked the inflated phallus.
The battalion returned, with slaves and riches, they lost many men but those they will forget 
They wanted to reward the moth-eaten fakirs for keeping the phallus safe and inflated.
But the silken ceremonial shawls pricked their moth-eaten skin; this reward they could not take. 
Trained never to loose, the battalion lost control; 
The fearless moth-eaten fakirs were massacred. 
The forest wilted in shame and in rage, the phallus was swollen and ready to burst

A droopy battalion with an inflated phallus walked away from the forest of moth eating fakirs. 
The phallus had to be carried back home, it had become heavier with all the slaves and riches. 
Carrying the phallus proudly on their backs they marched towards the land of golden priests.
Carelessly plundering on the way, men, women, animals even children
Such stories go far and old, as gold lives longer than moth-eaten skin
But the land and the forest could take it no more
A young girl realized that she needed to learn how to make doors.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Carving a New Language : Indira Purakayastha Ghosh in Conversation with Rahul Bhattacharya

Publised in Art & Deal Magazine, Jan -  Feb 2019 

Over the last twenty years Indira Purkayastha has been practicing and evolving a sculptural language deeply engaged with nostalgia, materials and narration. Through these engagements she has developed a personal articulation of contemporaneity which is alternate to the neoliberal aesthetics which largely defines it. Purkayastha brings into focus our continuing engagement with modernism and its dialouge with the evolving contemporaneity in visual culture. Her works carry a memory of our folk cultures and their visual language without being overtly derivative if those traditions. There seems to be inherent connect with folk traditions and their idea of sympathetic magic. Purkayastha’s forms and their silence speak of an artist who is aware of the forces and memories that inform her work..... Rahul Bhattacharya speaks to her, mapping her practice, artistic journey and future directions.

R B: Could you please share with us your experience of practicing sculpture in the period of first five years after your completing your masters.

I P: After completing my Master from Benaras Hindu University, I moved to Kolkata and joined the Lalit Kala Regional Centre. I got the National scholarship (1994-96), then Junior Fellowship (1997-99) from Minis. of HRD. That helped me to stay and work form Kolkata for five years. These years were very important for me. Limitation of life – in bondages of space and time, of nature, of morality, of society, of tradition, of custom and religion – become imminent, which found a vent through my sculpture For a Place.

These five years was the fore step to shaping my experiences. My focus was towards experiments and learnings. I experimented with mediums. I visited villages of Kolkata & Chhattisgarh and arranged small camps. Fenced In & Cage were two of my works made that time.
In 1997-98, I worked with Vivan Sundaram in his large installation, Journey Towards Freedom at the Victoria Memorial, Kolkata.

R B: What were your early artistic inspirations?

I P: As a child I grew up in the foothills of Chhattisgarh playing with adivasi children.
This the experience grew seeds inside me, which grew to always connect me with the notion of purity and a beautiful sustainable relationship with the environment that comes to as an almost primordial language. My love for the subconscious innocence, the playful, and the narrative took roots within me during my childhood.

When I was fourteen I made my first collage and since then my works continues to be inspired by what I find around me. A defunct piece of furniture in my house was the starting point for my imagination in my quest to give visual form to my life experiences.

R B: Could you elaborate on the effect Banaras Hindu University had on shaping you as an artist.

I P: My ideas of outdoor large scale sculptures focused on skill and craftsmanship are inspired from the time I spent in the Faculty of Visual Arts at the Banaras Hindu University. My constant urge to improvise and narrate deep social stories coupled with the ability to conceptualize and craft the images, which manifest through my sculptures, have been imbibed by my guru, the legendary Balbir Singh Katt. My initial creations Gathering, Mob, Queue and Fenced In have been profoundly influenced by the lanes and the ghats of the mythological river Ganges, where I spent years doing sketches and indulging in addas.

R B: This year you have won the first prize at the Lalit Kala Nationals, sometime before that you had a large solo show – can you tell us a bit about your artistic expression in this period of your journey? Especially in terms of you working as a teacher and based in Raipur.

I P: The show Epiphany is a large body of work produced over seven years after I become an art teacher. Teaching exposed me to the power hierarchies of the knowledge industry, but also to the great power of the sub conscious mind and the vast power in children to explore fantasies, and create narratives, which are sincere and playful at the same time. The works showcased in Epiphany contain many such explorations and stories of power, play, inspirations and fantasies. The show is rich container of an adult’s struggle to imbibe to experience and articulate the emotions of children in a representational form.

Being based out of Raipur gives me an edge; it gives me a new imagination of contemporary life which is difficult to access from the centers of Delhi, Mumbai or Kolkata. Chhattisgarh being a tribal state, has its own aesthetic tradition and visual culture, as a sculptor, I feel anchored by it. Being a teacher keeps me connected with children, playfulness and fantasies. The sculpture on which I got the National award this year is Assembly of Angels shows a factory like building representing an institution. One conveyor belt is goes through the building, on which baby ants are entering into the building from one door and coming out from another door of the building like grown up robotic ants.

The sculpture is a manifestation of my involvement with children. Ants have been used as a metaphor for the future denizens. Each one is endowed with differential abilities, but the education system fails to recognize the same. The result is assembly like production. The wheel with the handle is a depiction of systematic control driven by ideology.

R B: You seem to have a special relation with wood.

I P: When I was in my master some defunct pieces of old furniture brought uniqueness to my work. Wood has been preferred over other mediums because of its different colors, textural quality, monochromic impression and its amenability of space division. I started making shapes with wood pieces, pasting it according to the texture and different colors together, which make me very appealing. Still, I feel there are lot of possibility to work with wood, both as a concept and as a medium.

R B: In terms of how you blend your use of medium and concepts...

I P: In my works, medium and concept develope simultaneously, each exploring the other. I have always been interested in giving aesthetic forms to abandoned objects. I work with wood scraps of different colors and different textured, pasting together according to the shapes and concepts, in playful manner. I use metal scraps, wires, metal dust in many of my works. I blend metal to show strong sentiments and assert my feelings. These are the manifestations of the inherent strengths within all of us, which mostly lie dormant. I depicted the character of bird through Bamboo roots. Sometimes neglected parts of woods arouse in me significant thoughts. With gourd somewhere I tried to show lightness and sometimes i have used it to show heaviness too.

R B: Your works seem to have connection with folk and tribal elements.

I P: As a child I grew up in the hills of Chhattisgarh playing with adivasi children. The pure and fresh environment in all its phase took roots in my sensibilities and perceptions were naturalistic. This experience grew seeds inside me, which grew to always connect me with notion of purity and a beautiful and sustainable relationship with the environment that’s come to as an almost primordial language. Thus my works carry a memory of our folk cultures and their visual language.
The travails of pursuing my work in an alienated rural setting give a tribal impression to my sculpture.

Most of the tribal and folk art forms have been confined locally.I envisage spreading my works of art deep into Chhattisgarh in a contemporary manner. My vision is that, through my sculptures the folk art and tribal art forms of Chhattisgarhmay live ina global phenomena.

Interview Publised in Art & Deal Magazine, Jan -  Feb 2019 

Monday, October 1, 2018


SCULPTURE AS EPIPHANY: In this world of contemporary art, when factory-produced sculptures are dominating gallery space and mediatic realism is almost unchallenged in our imagination, Indira Purkayastha’s ‘Epiphany’ is a very important body of work to be showcased. Her works show us tangible alternative ways to imagine and articulate our world, our contemporary life, our anxieties and our nostalgia.  

Will as a Catalyst,  Gourd & Wood

At a time when cold conceptualism almost dominates mainstream imagination of visual arts, Indira Purkayastha’s sculptures show engagement with materials and narration. These engagements make these artworks important articulation of a different kind of contemporaneity, bringing into focus our continuing engagement with modernism. Her works carry a memory of our folk cultures and their visual language without being overtly derivative if those traditions. There seems to be inherent connect with folk traditions and their idea of sympathetic magic. Purkayastha’s forms and their silence speak of an artist who is aware of the forces and memories that inform her work and more importantly is in sync with their conscious altering possibilities in the face of contemporaneity.

 ‘Epiphany’ is a large body of work produced over seven years after she became an art teacher; it has been a long journey for the artist. Teaching exposed her to the power hierarchies of the knowledge industry, but also to the great power of the subconscious mind and the vast power in children to explore fantasies and create narratives, which are sincere and playful at the same time. ‘Epiphany’ contains many such explorations and stories of power, play, inspiration and fantasies. The show is a rich container of an adult’s struggle to imbibe to experience and articulate the emotions of children in a representational form.

Purkayastha’s works not only are a response to her relatively new life experience as a teacher, but it also connects her to the nostalgia of her bygone days. As a child, she grew up in the hills of Chhattisgarh playing with adivasi children. This experience grew seeds inside her, which grew to always connect her with notions of purity and a beautiful sustainable relationship with the environment that comes to as an almost primordial language.  Possibly, her love for the subconscious innocence, the playful, the narrative took roots within her during her childhood and her experience in teaching art to children re instigated her memories buried deep within the pressures of a grown-up urban life and art school education. This enables her to develop a critic of contemporary culture.

Picassos words “It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.” is something Purkayastha identifies with deeply. Her relationship with Picasso goes beyond their delight at the strong, emotive, pure forms of ‘child art’. One can see a certain knack for geometric formalism in her works, her incorporation of the visual language of tribal masks, paintings and woodwork. Like Picasso, she goes into the world of tribal art and child art in search of a language that will enable her to articulate her critique of the present. 

As an artist, she has always been interested in giving aesthetic forms to abandoned objects and accidents.  She began doing collage at the age of fourteen and since then her works continue to be inspired by what she finds around her. Slowly as a sculptor, she began to use abandoned wood, furniture using them as starting points for her imagination in her quest to give visual form to her life experiences.
Detail from 'Fantasy'
Working from a far away rural setting, her connection with primitivism is very strong and it deeply informs the installation oriented, simple, geometrical and bold sculptural language she works with. The work ‘Fantasy’ (2016, Gourd, wood & metal scrap, approx. 50 x 95 x 135 cm  & 50 X 82 x 115 cm each; reflects an artist who is immersed in trying to articulate the intersubjective response through which modernity classifies humans and enforces subjecthood onto them. The sculptures thus form a deliberate alignment with elements in the adivasi imagination, which is at the same time a tool for pushing the constructed boundaries of reality enabling her to create fantasies of altered contemporanity. 

‘Assembly of Angels

Though storytelling, play and improvisation are important to her art practice, yet, that does not limit her worldview and imagination.  She is capable of carefully crafted Kafkaesqe nightmares. ‘Assembly of Angels, (2016, wood & metal scrap, 15 x 3.5 x 3 ft.), shows a factory-like building possibly representing an institution. One conveyor belt goes through the building, on which baby ants are entering into the building from one door and coming out from another door of the building like grown-up robotic ants. The work is deeply disturbing even as it is beautiful forcing us to be engaged in this startling critique of the education system. The work Untitled (2016, wood scrap metal & fibreglass, 33.5 X 4.5 X 8.3 ft.), too is a grim take on how power operates inside education systems, the temptations how power and how it tarnishes young souls that go through its structure. 

The scale and execution of the body of works that show in ‘Epiphany’ speak not just of life experiences, imaginations and deep inspirations, they also contain a deep engagement with skill and sculpture making. The eastern part of India has a long history of working with discarded wood, entering the fantasyland of children; it is a land of wooden dolls and adivasi totems.  Yet, through all this her deep training in sculpture at the Banaras Hindu University comes through the idea of outdoor, the idea of large-scale, focus on skill, execution and craftsmanship all carry the inspiration of the legendary Balbir Singh Katt and the values he instilled in his students. What makes Purkayastha special is her constant urge to improvise and narrate deeply social stories and concerns. Her ability to form her own language of feelings, the ability to conceptualize and craft the images that come out from within, and her constant struggle to manifest into sculpture what is often incomprehensible are the facets that form the cornerstone of her practice.

Rahul Bhattacharya
New Delhi

Monday, July 23, 2018

another night and then another dawn

the greed for their story went on and on
another night and then another dawn

the journey that was up in the air
a monk who could not sit without a chair

remembering faces that knew no fear
i thought of the sheep we always shear

passions ebb as seasons flow
the seeds would live if we would sow

another night and another dawn
the things unknown had begun to spawn 

the curtains burnt in the cigarette fire 
the factory announced that they would not hire

morning prayers and a sleepy meal
weeping for the bread that he did not steal

so many desires and no place to die
had to presume that someone could fly

so many friends love cats so much
and trees are scared of the human touch

on every inch i love to dwell
so many things to always tell

another night and then another dawn
the greed for their story will go on and on

Sunday, January 14, 2018

some salt for you

Have sugar with a pinch of salt
Take loneliness with a pinch of salt
Take praise with a pinch of salt
Have your heartbreak with a pinch of salt
Take your friends with a pinch of salt
Have your birthday cake with a pinch of salt
Have a pineapple with a pinch of salt
Take your salary with a pinch of salt

Have your tea with a pinch of salt
Take your lover with a pinch of salt
Take your mother with a pinch of salt
Have your yogurt with a pinch of salt
Take history with a pinch of salt
Have caramel with a pinch of salt
Have your peace with a pinch of salt
Take your nation with a pinch of salt
Have your dinner with a pinch of salt
Take advise with a pinch of salt
Take your teacher with a pinch of salt
Have your revenge with a pinch of salt
Take truth with a pinch of salt
Have your dreams with a pinch of salt
Have your beer with a pinch of salt
Take yourself with a pinch of salt

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Mansi Trivedi’s solo ‘Before Crashing To Earth’

Images from the show at Lalit Kala , New Delhi

For a full documentation, see

'Before Crashing to Earth' can be seen as a proposition by Mansi Trivedi to escape the personal and spatial entrapment of urbanity. We see her stopping by and reworking fragile moments inspired from fungi, insect nests, forgotten barks and such unnoticed marks. One can feel the artist stopping by, watching, composing and preserving these fragile moments of beauty in a personal exploration of the picturesque; possibly an intimate antidote to the contemporary celebration of the spectacular. This body of works can be seen as a collection of moments between such utopias and dystopias. There is a deeply private, sensual exploration that one sees, privacy and sensuality become visual metaphors hinting of her need to find fleeting zones of solace, rooting her own journey. This engagement with organic, fragile beauty that surrounds our everyday life, unnoticed, as we live our urban alienated lives, also capture moments of tension, like pockets of utopia, threatened and on the brink of destruction.

“My works are inventories of found objects and surfaces I stumble upon. For these chosen works inspiration was chiefly drawn from the abstract sense of nature, its unpredictability and the lurking chaos, both of which seem very inviting. Almost as if it is nothing short of a visual poetry screaming to be heard. Entwined in the multitude of scar's and scales, dead cells, pores and scratches, there lies a fascinating story awaiting to be told in the endless cycle of bloom and decay.”
 – Mansi Trivedi

Trivedi, has been dwelling on the connection between humans and their environment, the thin, almost invisible state of interdependence and order that guides all transitions of life. She feels that, these are important symbiotic interconnections that are easily ignored today. In Before Crashing to Earth, she draws on that very perception of the extraordinary in the ordinary, to come up with art that is as reflective, as it is raw.

'Escape' can be a multi edged concept metaphor. It carries meanings of finding alternatives, flying away, looking away, trying to protect one, and finding space. This space is essential not just in the visuality of the moments felt and rendered, but is essential for the studio process of the artist. She likes to construct surfaces slowly, laboriously, sometimes in the same way destroy them. The works in a way become a residue of this process of seeing, hiding, masking, preserving, and destroying. Her interactions with the fragile picturesque, before the world comes crashing to earth.