Art News & Views

Contemporary, Unusual and Thought Provoking


by Uma Prakash

Cutting edge art not only involves using photography, video etc, it involves diverse elements. As a matter of fact anything can be used as mediums. Because of this diversity the ways of expression also change. The four Delhi based artists react to their immediate social issues and that is the factor that binds them. However, the materials they use are unique and unusual. Uma Prakash discusses.

Cutting Edge art is a unique explosion of modern expression that can be seen in installations, sculptures and paintings. Artists use unusual mediums; found objects to represent issues that are close to them. Delhi based artists Mithu Sen. Sheba Chhachhi, Ranbir Kaleka and Anita Dube have created art works that are contemporary, unusual and thought provoking.

Sen (b 1971) inventively represents issues of identity, feminism, interiority, sexuality, race and social structure though her drawings, sculpture, collage, videos and installations. Her ingenuous and completely uninhibited approach is laced with satire and a playful morbidity. She exposes life’s paradox of the beautiful and the ugly with a penchant for drama creating the exciting and the bizarre.

In Dance After Depression she took an image of herself, added deer horns on the head, and wrapped a tiger skin sari, creating a tension that is always there between a deer and a tiger. Her Utopian idealism seems simplistic when one considers the might of the tiger over the vulnerability of the deer.

In Working Class Woman she is portrayed as an impish spirit with the mythological four arms. The tiger is placed between her legs while on pair of hands holds its tail opening a visual debate as she scintillates the viewer’s senses.

In another digitally manipulated photograph the face of the artist bears the body of a young man. “When I travel I ask strangers to use my camera and take images of me. For them I am just somebody, not a particular identity called Mithu Sen. I can see myself through their eyes. Then I use my fantasy. I take my face and put it on the body of a Brazilian boy” -Sen.

In one of her works MOU (Museum Of Unbelongings), the objects displayed in a circular glass cabinet which has become a museum of things that appear inane yet familiar, common yet precious because of their association with our past. They rekindle memories of things that were….There are piles of ordinary, unnoticed, unnecessary, abandoned, impermanent toys and unusual belongings … drawn together at a single point of time and entangled with each other and personalized by individual names.

It serves as a popular archive of cultural memory beyond the objects historical identity… an unidentified deity who cannot be historicized. A record of a life, a history of a vernacular culture and a symbolic archive of impermanence…

After all this years possession now she is setting them free…. from familial obligations and controls, and depriving them of more prosaic lives. It is a detachment but with a strong empathy… playing both the protagonist and audience… they are UNBELONGINGS today!

They are homeless and in transit now, being exposed without protection from familiar laws, friends and family looking for a new home announcing a sense of liberation for the artist  and themselves.

Sheba Chhachhi (b. 1958) is another sensitive artist who falls in this genre, as she tackles issues of marginality, environment and violence in an arresting manner. She has used her skill in photography and sophisticated technology to put across her views.

In another work, When the Gun is Raised, Dialogue Stops...., August 2000, women’s voices from the Kashmir Valley 1, a photo installation- a collaborative work with Sonia Jabbar focuses on Kashmir dominated by sets of men with guns for years. The installation sought to create a third place of the unheard voices of the ordinary women of Kashmir. These testimonies have been gathered over a period of a decade from women in the Kashmir Valley, and refugee camps in Jammu and Delhi. There are Shia, Sunni, Pandits who have stayed on in Kashmir, Pandits in camps, Sikhs, college students, peasants, housewives, women whose husbands, sons, and/or brothers are or have been militants, women who have suffered violence at the hands of security forces and/or militants....They have one overwhelming thing in common – a rejection of the gun as a solution to political problems, asserts the artist.

As one enters a Kashmiri carved wooden screen which has been plastered with fragments of black and white news reports on Kashmir from 1942 to the present day meets the eye. The viewer is startled to see the private space of war. Hands greet you (photographic images) – some supplicant, some resigned, some touching, comforting, some open, empty, spent, each circumscribed by a tight circle of barbed wire.

A barbed wire divides the 50-foot long narrow bed of dark earth. On both sides, a procession of brick platforms, 36 in number, 18 on each side, each bearing a rihal carrying two iron leaves, as of a book. Humble and domestic materials like earth, bricks, rice, and rusty iron are used along with wooden rihals which are carriers of the Koran, the Gita, and the Guru Granth Sahib. Each book has a photograph and a testimony of a woman.

Disturbed by the environment Chhachhi has came up with a utopian installation, Neelkanth (Bluethroat): poison/ nectar executed in 2003/2008. With the aid of photographs, translites, and video she designed a city in the form of a Mandala. Significantly, photographs of human organs denoting the five senses like ears, eyes, mouth and nose were placed on top of the buildings. Within this body/cityscape, the high-rise building becomes a unit of geometric precision; videos of garbage dumps on all four sides were rendered as romantic landscape.

In the ancient story, Shiva swallows the flaming mass of poison which threatened to destroy the universe, keeping it in his throat, becoming the blue-throated, Neelkanth. Using this concept Chhachhi dramatically displays a moving image of a throat swallowing.

This work relocates the archetypal/mythological figure of Neelkanth in the contemporary Indian city/infoscape where each of the five elements (earth, fire, water, air, and ether), the five senses (smell, sight, taste, touch, and hearing), and the power of the word itself is poisoned.

Can nature completely change a person’s outlook? Does the tranquility of nature get transferred to human beings? These are questions Chhachhi seems to be answering in her in Bhogi / Rogi (Consumption / Disease) an interactive video sculpture created in technical collaboration with Thomas Eichhorn. On a hot late afternoon the artist steps out of an auto, aggravated by the auto driver who demands an extra 10 for hobbling through the Khirkee village, swarmed with goats and men: lazing, smoking, eating, wedging one thing into another. She relents. The whitewashed walls and green drooping trees of Khoj calms her down and then she encounters a video of a field of golden daffodils, with a few blooming and traveling up the screen slowly as they grow, as though they are in a bottle of honey.

Forgetting the cacophony of the outside world she merges with nature, as a little camera in the centre stares up at her, and suddenly, she is watching herself float amongst the daffodils. The video comments on greed and destruction, on body and image, on finding yourself outside of yourself, of seeing yourself as another, distinct human being, and internalizing this compassion. The auto driver is still outside; the light is more slanted now. The artist agrees to take a ride back home only after she has watched the washerwoman and her goats nearby and dunk a cup of chai. She feels the energy of that which she watches; she feels empathy towards a being outside of her body, within her body; She connect with everything around her, and as the world outside subside, She re-enters the field of daffodils, smiling.

Indian artist Sheba Chhachhi’s large-scale public art installation, The Water Diviner, is among the finalists, short listed by The Singapore Art Museum (SAM) and Asia Pacific Breweries (APB) Foundation for 2011. Drawing on the symbolism and the importance of water in the Indian culture, this beautiful installation is complemented with a video that uses projections of still images and transparencies to create an immersive environment.

Ranbir Kaleka’s (b 1953) works have achieved significant international recognition. He has produced a major body of paintings, which have had a vibrant and surreal impact revealing both sophistication and brilliance.

In He Was a Good Man (2008) Ranbir Kaleka has combined painting with a video. In his work the time and light of the moving image and materiality of the painted image unite. The installation shows a middle-aged man threading a needle. Most of the time the man is still, focusing on the needle which he sometimes tries to thread. The artist uses jerks to create a fantasy sequence where the past and the present flow into each. He plays with light in a creative manner by lighting the painting and switching off the video. On another occasion he manages to remove the depth of the painting and expose the silhouetted flat Kettle on a wooden easel.

Is a fascinating journey of a kettle from a shop to a good kitchen in India where tea-drinking is an obsession. It also touches on the fact that in India everything is recycled. The artist’s skill in story telling comes to the fore here. After serving the first owner, the kettle is abandoned, claimed, abandoned again and reclaimed.
The silhouetted shadow of a hand blocking the videoed image of the kettle at intervals destroys the illusionary depth of the painting only to confirm the flatness of the canvas. The installation is only an artifact and the loop begins again.

Anita Dube (b 1958), an art historian and critic turned into an artist addresses issues such as mortality, desire, pain, and joy. Dube’s aesthetics enables her to employ sculptural fragments made out of foam, plastic, pearls, prostheses, and glass eyes used for religious sculpture in Asia. Through this variety of found objects she explores a range of themes from autobiographical losses affecting society.

The Anti- Moslem riots deeply impacted Dube and through her artistic experiments she has been able to offer an incisive analysis and criticism of the social and political situation in India. Dube's work investigates the human body, its tactile properties, and its resilience.

In the work Ah (A Sigh), 2008 Dube shows a blow-up of a black-and-white newspaper photograph featuring protesting Indians of all ages. Then a row of tree roots covered in velvet is placed on top of the photograph. In Dube’s work, the people are protesting through the roots urging the spectators to hear. They are complaining about decisions made by powerful political leaders who appear to be ruthlessly pursuing their own interests. The roots also symbolize human loss. The artist is pleading with all to remove these evils and allow India to survive as a dynamic democratic power or else it will wither and die like a tree ripped from the ground by its roots. The work exposes the complex socio-political struggle being fought within Indian society.

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