Profile: Artist Prasad Nikumbh / A Stitch in Time / Sushma Sabnis
From fig leaves of Adam and Eve and the shroud of Christ, to Khadi in our own context, the Cloth often signifies the wearer. Artist Prasad Nikumbh addresses the importance of the Dress, through careful weaves of his fine drawings and etchings, observes Sushma Sabnis..
Be it posh labels like Savile Row or the unbranded rejects sold on Fashion street or clothes bazaars of any city, the human mind is driven by a taste for clothing. The art of dressing oneself and others is what builds the every spreading branches of this unique business. The need to portray the correct image/impression using one’s attire has always been of prime importance to humankind. One is reminded of numerous idioms related to dressing used in daily parlance, ‘Power dressing’, ‘Friday dressing’, ‘the little black dress’, ‘Dressed to kill’, ‘a card up one’s sleeve’, ‘hitting below the belt’, ‘put on a thinking cap’, ‘wolf in sheep’s clothing’ and many such. This does indicate the human preoccupation with clothes and clothing.
The cloth that covers a body, does not merely protect the wearer, it has numerous connotations in every field of the world today. Depending on the kind of clothes you wear, one is judged and classified. Khadi cloth moved the soul of a nation towards a unified non violent revolt. The red garment of a bride’s trousseau depicts the welcoming of a new life as the black attire indicates a death. From the fig leaves covering Adam and Eve to the shroud which Christ was rested in, the cloth often signifies the wearer and vice versa. Shakespeare rightly said ‘..For the apparel oft proclaims the man..’ So do these apparel makers ever dream of becoming part of the elite brands of the fashion industry? Or do they live quietly spinning life’s yarns and unknowingly even embroidering this rich fabric of life?
Artist Prasad Nikumbh from Mumbai has a few answers to such questions as he comes from a lineage of clothiers and garment makers and what he spins up in his art works would ascertain the depth of this unique elegant profession. Prasad is a MFA graduate from the Sir J J School of Art, in Printmaking and his work revolves around leitmotifs culled from the lives of garment and clothes makers.
Prasad’s observations of his family’s occupation have led him to create unique drawings and etched prints about clothes. In most of his work, he uses a shirt as a symbolic protagonist of the compositions. This shirt carries within itself the essence and movement of a ghostly absent human form. The hands and body seems to be in constant motion or movement and the surrounding tends to be kept intentionally subdued. The prime focus, the shirt, is often positioned in such a way that the viewer is left with a depth and a contrasting hollowness all at once.
For example in Prasad’s work titled, ‘Bhujgaona’ (Scarecrow) the artist portrays a shirt draped on a stand, with outstretched arms moving about in the wind. One is instantly reminded of innumerable instances when one has encountered this scene of a headless scarecrow aimed to keep the birds off the ripe harvest. The human presence is supposed to ward off the pecking avians or other animals. Here the artist depicts the shirt as a warning sign to the birds and animals. How many times has one seen such a similar scenario in the cities where lifeless mannequins adorn and display numerous clothes from large shop windows at curious living beings. The artist subtly draws a parallel between the ever hungry village birds and the ever eager compulsive shopper of urban spaces. Though the warnings are different for the birds and humans, the artist mocks at the idea of relentless consumerism.
As winter sets in, malls and departmental stores advertise hefty discounts in their price tags upon donating old clothes. These collected old clothes are donated to the poor to tide over the winter of hopelessness, while many donors bite this juicy wormed hook, in a secret hope to rid their homes of unwanted things and do some charity on the side, the shop owners take back a huge profit with volume sales.
In our country, the rag pickers and scrap paper gatherers, seen as the scavenging class of society are as important a part of the clothes industry as are the celebrated cat walking, model- decorated dress designers. One often compliments the model wearing the designer outfits and the designer while turning a blind eye to the hands which skillfully execute the design – the actual tailors and seamstresses. Laborers in this industry go unnoticed for life, as any large brand of consumer clothes lines, often hide away a dilapidated unit filled to overflowing capacity with laborers, sewing away on a daily wage basis. This unbearable sight could be unearthed in any rundown corner of a developing country as the demand for clothes each season grows in the first world countries.
In his other earlier works, Prasad addresses an issue related to the clothes industry, swiftly brushed under the carpet – child labour. While majority of the developing countries employ adults for manual labour, there are parts in the world where children are exploited for cheap labour. From gathering scraps of left over cloth of tailoring departments, sewing on buttons and sequins or pearls on to the clothes etc. the agile and delicate work often requires nimble fingers. This is where children and their families are exploited with menial wages and other kinds of unholy barters. The work with bottled little hands with cloth pieces, a series titled, ‘Prohibited’ is a tribute to those children suffering this heinous crime in society.
In his artist’s statement, Prasad elucidates the complex journeys of a common middle class family which goes through ups and downs trying to make ends meet. The family’s rejection of a traditional occupation carried down generations to embrace better paying jobs only to realize that those too have limitations. Their struggle to restart and establish respectability in an estranged tailoring business and learn to take pride in it, can be seen in the artist’s quiet but volatile works. The work titled ‘Tradition’ is probably one such reminder of tough times.
While Prasad tries to imprint the tumultuous journey of his family in his work, he also brings to mind the journey human beings embark upon to arrive at their destination in life. The feelings of being lost for a while and then finding one’s self is depicted in his series of recent works, ‘I found my place’ where one sees the artist become comfortable with his family’s business and also to some extent even realizes it in his artistic pursuit. The charcoal on gypsum board works depict several ‘shirts’ hunched over a sewing machine with a table lamp as in a factory, to hint at the night and day working schedules.
In another work titled ‘Mannequin’ the artist brings to the fore the lonely existence of a prop like structure, which is used as a support system to entice and sell objects, but bound to a tripod like stand. A chain of irony holding the stand in place, is contrasted by a bird perched on it. The stagnancy of the mannequin, and the liveliness of the bird poses a complex juxtaposing of opposites.
In some of his earlier series titled ‘Mood’ the artist manipulates and depicts the humble shirt in all possible emotionally charged compositions. The circular shaped etchings on paper reflect a movement and pose which speaks volumes merely by how the shirt holds itself. This is akin to the way human beings droop when sad or seem almost to fly when blissful. The shirt dictates a space of its own, as if it lives and is as emotive as the one who wears it. The hollow spaces within the shirt’s body are the very same dark recesses in the viewer’s mind aptly reflected. This series holds a lot of potential as it ironically emulates the living human being.
Prasad Nikumbh addresses the cloaked concepts of ‘Dressing’, in turn subtly urging the viewers to unveil their own layers of self deception.
Prasad Nikumbh lives and works in Mumbai.