The Animal Within

Profile / Review: Ambiguity / Minal Rajurkar / Sushma Sabnis

For young artist Dr Minal Rajurkar, the world is more like a dystopian zoo, overflowing with animalistic hybrids wearing expensive cloaks of culture and sophistication. In her works on display at the Hirji gallery, Mumbai, she unmasks these impostors with sharp blades of satire and dark humour.. observes Sushma Sabnis.

Work by Minal Rajurkar.

Work by Minal Rajurkar – Split Personality

On the first floor of the Jehangir Art Gallery, Mumbai, an alcove opens out in a horn like shape leading to a gallery space, the Hirji gallery. One is left wondering how such an odd shaped space could be used for displaying art work, but in a city like Mumbai where spaces define existence, actual and imagined, one often encounters coexistences, some cracks, some overlaps, some symbiotic others parasitic. This is often evident in the social ‘pecking order’ so to speak and also in the multifaceted layering of political, social and economical hierarchies.

Combine these very features with a dash of sharp humour and well timed satire and we arrive at the threshold of Dr Minal Rajurkar’s visual language. The show, ‘Ambiguity’ on at the gallery, seems tucked away until one opens a heavy door and is confronted by a large painting of an ageing contemplative rooster at the dusk of its life, as a clock ticks away in the backdrop. This wont be the first time an artist has chosen to depict their observations with a range of leitmotifs of zoomorphic or anthropomorphic forms.

One is reminded instantly of the painting titled ‘Dogs playing Poker’ (1910) by artist Cassius Marcellus Coolidge as part of a series made for the advertisement of cigars, where eleven anthropomorphic dogs seated around a card game table became the transient marker of a nation’s proletariat taste in Pop art. From history to Harry Potter, anthropomorphic forms have always created a much needed mystical aura and acted as catalysts for an otherwise linear narrative. But when Minal opts for a visual language, especially in today’s submissive times of ‘political correctness’ in art and in life at large, it becomes not just plain humorous but stands as a polemic of the compromising temperament required and mandatorily cultivated for survival in an intolerant society, as seen by an astute observer. The layers of dissent seep through slowly but steadily in the works from behind veiled humour.

Work by Minal Rajurkar - Untitled

Work by Minal Rajurkar – Untitled

Minal completed her PhD from the RTM University, Nagpur after her MFA and BFA, and her interest in anthropomorphic forms has been egged on possibly through the subject chosen for the doctorate which dealt with the study of Indian Hindu god and goddess imageries. The influences are seen not just in the rendition of the animal heads attached to human bodies and the apparent dramatic postures in the composition, but with intricate detailing and focus on the expression on the visages of these forms. Angst, despair, corruption, mirth or arrogance, all feature on the faces of these forms, unabashedly.

Zoomorphic forms influence the canvases of the artist and what the world gets to see relays a metaphoric and dystopian realm where reversal of roles and actions dominate, threaten and mock in sharp critique. A group of dog and zebra faced, suited and booted elite beings, glide effortlessly under the cloak of manners and polished appearances, intent on masking their brutal animalistic nature in what appears to be a party of the cultured. The dualities and apparent contrasts in life styles and vast gaping chasm in society between thoughts and actions become the visual script of the work. Minal paints the animal faced humanoid hybrids as metaphors, mocking the fake social engagements and trivial sensibilities developed in the name of human transcendence from the animal world. She unmasks masked visages by revealing their real faces, which could be a dog or a fox or a deer or a hog or a donkey or a tigress with a spilt personality.

In mythologies from all over the world, the concept of zoomorphism, theriocephaly and cyanocephaly and other such human-animal hybrid forms have always been a way of introducing layers to the otherwise lateral, monotonous and passive rendition of a moralistic narrative. While the zoomorphic forms evolve into, as in religions, positive god heads and super human forces, many of them are pitted against the vanity of humanity to highlight and illustrate the binaries of good and evil. In Minal’s works, these binaries surface and dive as per the internal directives and mental registries of the artist, of her surroundings and her fellow humans and situations of varied complexities. Each emotion emphasised on the animal hybrids are replete with allegories and with dark humour often over flowing on the pictorial surface.

Work by Minal Rajurkar - Curiosity

Work by Minal Rajurkar – Curiosity

The artist addresses issues like the race for cultural, political, commercial, spiritual or scientific dominance in some of her works where the forms are shown dissecting a human-animal for research purposes. While this portrays a revolting side of role reversals, another work depicts these beings huddled around a map in an undefined space, planning a revolution against humankind. These imageries of resistance, dominance and subjugation, are quite easy to interpret with the social, political and economical face of today’s world. But apart from the larger and more generic view of animal-kind versus humankind, the narratives hone in on the hierarchies within such systems itself, which either strengthen the system or are like termites gnawing away and hollowing the system inside out.

Some of the works are sensitive and devoid of the crowded depictions, focusing on the individual and intimate turmoil of the beings, where political becomes personal and the personal becomes political, homogenising the categorisation of the inner self and the outer realm. The conflicts are apparent and razor sharp and dealt with boldly by the artist.

Work by Minal Rajurkar - Victory

Work by Minal Rajurkar – Victory

Where the art practice of Minal Rajurkar could flow from here remains to be seen as the journey has just started for the artist. A few more satirical works with social and political undertones pointed at the Indian and international milieu could brand her as a political-activist-artist or should she change her stance to a more intimate addressal of her own self, the works could become remarkably centred and intense. The decision remains in the hands of this young artist and one hopes she chooses wisely.

The works of Dr. Minal Rajurkar are on show till 22nd January 2017.

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