Profile / Mangesh Kapse / Sushma Sabnis
Presenting a cross-section of humanity, while portraying the psychological migration of an individual from their animal descent towards refinement and sophistication, artist and printmaker Mangesh Kapse exercises his line of control through his drawings, etchings and wood cut works, observes Sushma Sabnis.
Oftentimes, the first thing one would hear in the wee hours of a reluctant morning is the relentless sputtering sound of a pneumatic drill; a jolting reminder of a dawn in a metropolis. Like a catchy film song, this sound could now be heard reverberating in quaint villages and towns too. The din lullabies of the night coupled with ominously descending smog, as the city groans to sleep with swinging arms of overhead cranes with lights appearing like landing signals of UFO’s set to invade an already overpopulated earth. Only that this is a city, Any city.
Artist and print maker Mangesh Kapse, hones his keen eyes and sensitivity on one such city, Mumbai and reads sharply between the edifices of this glass and concrete jungle. Mangesh completed his diploma in Drawing and Painting from SPCM, Nagpur and later on earned his BFA and MFA from the Sir J J School of Art, Mumbai in Drawing and Painting and Printmaking. While an understanding of line and form seems second nature to this artist, his prints, etchings and wood cuts often exude a sense of complete control of the medium he chooses to express himself in.
One is instantly drawn to the visual language which centres around the theme of metropolitan, environmental pollution, migration and dislocation. Dichotomies surface, chaos dominates the pictorial surface precariously balanced with order, migration with settlement, motion with the stationary. However, in today’s times, when one talks about migration or displacement, one is confronted with the numerous cliched responses, done-to-death in every possible medium working as sign boards for anointing forced meaning for interpreting art work.
When one talks about migration as a backdrop of an art work, one has to move beyond the basic definitions of a physical movement from one place to another in search of better prospects and possibly look at the migrations that occur internally in the individual. A person moves with a set of memories, experiences, sensorial stimulants and a whole set of other ingrained ephemeral baggage along with the tangible. Mangesh’s work often depicts this kind migration, for example in some of his works, he shows distorted human faces, which appear wild, untamed or uncontrolled by any kind culture or sophistication, reflecting the migration of human race from their ancient evolutionary animal ancestors. The fragments of a genetic passages reflect in their primal fight for survival albeit in contemporary times.
In the case of Mangesh, he does not appear to be pining for his town life, though that would be a fair assumption, that the artist constantly compares the home town and the city he inhabits now. In fact he seems to be creating a visual critique of how life in a city ‘adjusts’, like the unsightly smoke emanating from a chimney of a factory mixing with the ambient air and people breathing it effortlessly. In his depictions one could see this as the triumph of the urban dwellers, but the complete sense of adaptability is further accentuated, when the chimney or exhaust fan is shown substituted as a lung, an oxygenating apparatus for an asphyxiating city driven by its own ambitions. Take away this metaphor and the portrayal could seem pessimistic and hopeless. Mangesh through his works, speaks the truth as he sees it.
One is often confronted by the portrayals of a city like Mumbai using the classic markers of progress as juxtaposed with that which is the underbelly of this city. A keen balance present yet seldom visible, exists in the minds of the urban dweller, is seen mirrored in Mangesh’s works while he depicts humanoid animals and anthropomorphic forms. This liberal morphing of forms can be compared to the animal nature of human race and the humane nature in animals. Crow-heads with human figures populate some works as a harbinger of tides. This tide could be of any odd substance, but mostly shows the adaptability of a city dweller to natural catastrophes, terrorist attacks, scarcity of basic amenities. Interestingly in his series ‘Self with Metro City’ Mangesh depicts human forms with a fish tail. Mermen/ women are shown enacting out the mundane life of a city dweller. This work titled, ‘Myself and Metro City’ has deep autobiographical tinges, apart from the obvious title, and it could be seen resonating in many minds. It is not often that an autobiographical portrayal could resonate so well with so many.
The depiction of the fish tail of the figures possibly has a two pronged reference. One is the swiftness and adaptability of a fish to evade being captured, the other possibly is the obvious irony of having limbs which are of no use on land, restricting the very movement of the individual. The artist subtly portrays how most people in dead end jobs and lives would feel, unable to move, yet cope with some sense of purpose, being fully aware of their inability to fit in.
Mangesh depicts scrawny dogs and animals as a reminder of the state of the urban dweller. Human beings could be seen as scavengers here in this work titled, ‘My self’, where the artist depicts himself as a ‘self’ which is invisible to the viewer, cloaked in a smog, with only a grotesque face outlined. This work depicts the self which most of humanity suppresses under the classifications of culture, sophisticated upbringing and other such socially accepted cloaks.
The quintessential distillation of the city has been precisely captured in the works titled, ‘Pigeon Home’ and ‘Ration Card’. For a Mumbai dweller, the prime concern is of a space to call their own and the right to claim the food that the space entitled one to. A home, however small and confined, is seen as a property in this ever shrinking island and the proof of one’s ownership is further asserted with the procurement of a ration card. The one document which is proof that one ever existed or owned anything of value. For the poor this document entitles them to certain subsidized food grains, but by and large a ration card is the document of one’s existence in a city like Mumbai. Mangesh uses these two motifs, intermingles them with his own observations of the famous BDD Chawl in Lower Parel and creates the work ‘Pigeon Home’, which takes the viewer into a subterranean realm of the minds of the people who live in these spaces. A cross section of a chawl/ living quarters of humanity. Rooms built unforgivingly, almost screaming about the sacrilege of wastage of space, depicted in the related works, show two-wheelers, potted plants, tv sets, small kitchen platforms, ceiling fans, bed, cupboards arranged in a tiny room. People move about the common corridors and within the single room with minimum privacy and forms the intersecting flavor of their lives. Mangesh captures this using the metaphor of pigeon holes. People like pigeons stuck in their claustrophobic pigeon holes, live their entire life cycles, and leave behind a legacy of ultimate tolerance and adaptability of human kind. Mangesh captures the two protagonists, male and female human-pigeon forms, acting like humans crouched up in the desolate single rooms of the chawl.
The work titled, ‘Ration Card’ is in book form and the pages unlike a regular ration card are illustrated by the artist with text and drawings. They narrate a story of a person struggling to survive in a city and his struggle is accentuated by showing his activities, going to work, by local trains, which often makes one feel as if half their life was spent in the travel to and fro. The artists shows an umbilical cord connected to the train and a human figure. A nondescript human face encloses a drawing of an entire chawl, portraying the small homes/ communities within as one entity struggling to keep their dreams alive. Water pipes dominate one such visage, as water supply/ scarcity forms the basic need.
In one of the pages of the ‘Ration Card’, the artist shows a man watering many potted plants bearing currency notes as fruits, while the owner of the plants sits comfortably and supervises. The irony is that these fruits are eaten by the rich and privileged, while the nurturing is done by the underprivileged. The penultimate page of the ‘Ration Card’ depicts the three basic necessities of survival, food, shelter and clothing and asks the clincher of a question, ‘Is this all I need to survive?’ The fragments of the artist’s observations, come together to form a narrative linked at various levels of visual, experiential and aesthetic levels.
Mangesh draws from the ambient surroundings bringing forth a medley of moving and stationary images. In most of his works, the lines of the specific form occupy spaces slightly away from the main form which he depicts as unmoving. When viewed in that context the form is moving, like one could see images ‘move’ in a flip book where images blend into one continuous motion. In his work titled, ‘At CST Street’, he depicts the figure of a beggar, holding a begging bowl, surrounded by cats. The etched work, portrays the movement of the hands of the figure, while the head and mouth move in different directions, begging for alms. One could be gently reminded of the ‘mad man’ figure in the Sudhir Patwardhan painting titled, ‘Station Road’ (1996) not so much for the movement as in the theme.
While this unique frenzy of lines give the very movement to the figure, the emotional balance or imbalance is brought out through the tormented faces. Most of the time they seem to be in a traumatic stressful state of coping with a situation or silent screams reminiscent of Edvard Munch’s ‘Scream’, as in the work shown here below, where the face of the human figure is denoted only by the open mouth, the head morphs into a machine, with a memory dongle plug-in. The hands flailing about depict loss of control, while the merman like lower torso depicts struggle of the acceptance. Memory, like gulped screams, permanently scars the surface of the skin, as a small hourglass of time depicts the ‘buffering’ icon as on a computer screen as the figure writhes in pain to endure the loaded burden it has been carrying within.
Mangesh uses small motifs like the buffering icon, a data transfer icon, an exhaust fan, a traffic signal, leafless barren trees, potted plants with currency notes, as distinct markers of a metropolitan space and as emblems that drive the city. The artist believes these icons get ingrained in our very systems and code the mind differently. In other words these markers dictate the mind and take over the very language of expression and survival.
Mangesh Kapse’s works though stark in their portrayals of the proletarian struggles and ways of life in a city, could also be seen as a subtle revelation of a unique substance exclusive to Mumbai. The substance of unparalleled levels of endurance that the people of this city are endowed with. The artist through his observations of the city, has highlighted the silent resistance to the dampening of the human spirit in his works.
Mangesh Kapse lives and works in Mumbai.