Profile : Ranjeet Singh / Finding refuge in Art / Sushma Sabnis
Artist Ranjeet Singh is a refugee finding refuge in his art works, what he seeks is the mirroring of this sensitivity in like minded asylum seekers in today’s world.. observes Sushma Sabnis.
In these contemporary times, managing the challenges life throws up each day could be mentally and physically taxing. It is in such times when one finds it unbearable that one chooses to seek solace in different ways in different avenues. Nostalgia is one such realm one could withdraw into and find solace in a multitude of memories. Day dreaming or reveries are other such modes of assuagement. However, it becomes evident that one defers reality or living in the present; and in this context it can be seen that art acts as a refuge rater than an expression. If art were to be a refuge, then the artist is a refugee, where the creation of a work of art itself becomes asylum seeking.
In this sense, artist Ranjeet Kumar is an asylum seeker in his own land and in his own imagination and in his own works of art. What one would notice is that he is all alone in his refugee camp, and if one were to look around one would be aware that we are surrounded by millions of such single people refugee camps in today’s difficult times, growing into a new interstitial nation itself.
When a leopard runs amok in a school on the outskirts of a city, attacking the people trying to subdue it, it has not merely lost its way into a zone it is prohibited from entering; it is an indication that its own territory has been encroached upon, rendering it homeless. People also, like the lost leopard, have been pushed further and further away to the fringes of their natural habitats and seek consolation in metros and urban spaces but in essence they too are asylum seekers. While the social media and press mull over the European refugee crisis one fails to acknowledge or even perceive the painful little stories of migrant laborers closer to home, be they IT executives, rickshaw pullers or the lonely chaiwala selling tea outside the railway station at midnight. How often does one actually engage with these individuals to know what their personal histories constitute? The work ‘Jal Jangal aur Jameen’ is a sharp reminder of this predicament.
These are the rare truths which Ranjeet sees and brings to light through his perspective and his art works. He shares a camaraderie as much with the blue collar as the white collar workers while relating to their displaced lonely existences in his work titled ‘Jangal’. These are his neighbors in a common urban jungle, his compatriots in that new nation created of interstitial spaces, in the mind and on land.
In another series of his works,”A Story of Misfortunes’ Ranjeet becomes the portrait maker, creating watercolour portraits of those who went missing. The works are presented along with a hand written letter about the person. The word missing is symbolic of a loss of a person in a physical sense as well as in an internal personal record of cognizance of the mind. There is a plane on which people cease to ‘be’ themselves and that also could be attributed to being missing. But in the case of the artist he brings in the aspect of people being abducted and traded for nefarious activities by the materialism of an ugly underbelly of a country.
In these works the artist displays the full range of his imaginative powers as he uses metaphors to conjure up seance like imageries which reflect the state of society today. Virtual reality has inadvertently replaced actual reality as social media dictates what and how a successful life ought to be. The work ‘Beware of looking back’ is one such depiction of loss of an environment, and imbibing of a false reality, brought about by technology. While humankind insists on measuring and conquering the heights of melting peaks like Himalayas or Alps, this chess game of life displays the already caused damage where the animals have become habitat-less, air is polluted by the chimneys of greed, and foundations are razed to the ground to build bigger, hollow structures of decadence.
By monumentalizing anxiety, expectation and hope, Ranjeet addresses another sensitive subject of child labour rampant in urban spaces. In his works, ‘Chhappan inch ka seena’ and ‘Railway station ki or’ he brings in the issue of exploitation of children in our society. While one boy stands at a fantastical railway station himself becoming a ‘roti bearing’ tree, another mocks the society with his 56 inch chest, while he claims to own a plant which grows his daily bread.
“In India poverty does not spare the children. In their tender age, instead of getting love, affection, food and education, they enlist them in the army of child labour of the cosmopolitan cities.”the artist says.
In another work titled ‘Most Understood and Misunderstood’, Ranjeet talks about the people who are foundations of society like Gandhiji, upon whose ideals an entire nation was led to freedom, but in today’s times, those very ideologies stand stunted by oppositional ideologies making him look like a broken pillar in the foundation of a society he built.
While JCBs gnaw at the earth’s body, the mountains depicted in the work ‘O Mama look the mountain’ look like school children drawings of peaks. As land is mined and mountains get converted into flat lands, ecosystems and life forms perish to make that pristine highway where nothing by greed runs on wheels of callousness. In this arithmetic, the result gained by the common man is always zero. As art critic and curator Johny ML puts it, “In the passbook of waiting, Available balance is always Zero”
Ranjeet also engages with the medium of photography where he captures intense images of coal miners from his home town, some of whom he knows personally since childhood. The coal miners dig into the wombs of the earth to find fuel for the corporate engines to keep tooting. These people spend their lives in the depths of the earth, like they bury themselves in the moments of living. Their hagiographical features are accentuated by coal dust; reflecting some kind of an antiquity sharply defined by the coal lines and wrinkles. Like the shaft which transports them into the innards of the earth, their life too travels down steadily. Their eyes are old and cold and these people are like Chiranjeevis, the timeless, and eternal, because their beginnings are not known and neither are their endings. Like gods they exist without beginning or ending. These people are like a the dark lightning in the firmament of earth’s womb.
Artist Ranjeet Singh’s works are subtle and sensitive narrations in the form of precise metaphors. He culls his own sensitive soul to portray the pain and the suffering of the dispossessed and the alienated, his compatriots of that derelict in-between nation.