Review: Tanmoy Samanta / The Face of Time / Sushma Sabnis
Would Time pucker and pout for a selfie? asks artist Tanmoy Samanta as he returns with his solo ‘Portraits in Time’ at Tarq Gallery, Mumbai. The show realigns the concepts of traditional portraiture and presents a new and improved profile picture of artistic styles .. observes Sushma Sabnis.
Portraiture is an exteriorising of the artist’s interiority, be it about a human being, a landscape or a given moment in time. This is probably the reason why a single model or object could be depicted in a multitude of ways by different people. Artist Tanmoy Samanta in his second solo, ‘Portraits in Time’ at the Tarq Gallery, Mumbai, curated by Veeranganakumari Solanki Jamwal, exteriorises his perspectives of Time as seen through the lens of unique portraiture.
It is easy for a viewer to misinterpret the word ‘portraiture’ as a mere depiction of the living. Tanmoy opts to make a reversal of focus and tries to highlight the mundane objects which become signifiers of the world of the living and the lived. As objects, people and life are perceived according to the ‘eyes of the beholder’ the interpretations vary. One would wonder if the passage of time has any significant role to play in these perceptions. Another question which comes to mind would be, if the sentient nature of the sitter or model would greatly influence the artist, or could an inanimate or insentient muse also generate equally intense results through this unusual medium.
Portraiture is one of the styles of art making which has never gone out of fashion in any era. From funeral portraits to mobile phone selfies, centuries have seen its mutations from the bejewelled, carpeted splendour of royalty and religious monopolies to the uncompromising portraiture of commoners and proletariat, and even animals. On the other hand another style of art making, the still-life, could also be seen as the chronicling of hidden narratives of objects. One could see this too as a kind portraiture of objects in ‘time’ where the inanimate object becomes as much a prolific muse for portraiture as an animate one.
So when Tanmoy fuses these two strains of art-making into his new art works, his intention becomes quite obvious. If one were to walk through a museum, galleries of visual documentations, one realises that ‘History’ itself is a kind of portraiture in an all encompassing stance. It would be safe to say that the muse / sitter in these instances would be ‘Time’ and the documentation of it and its intrinsic details, is an act of making a portrait, recreating a likeness of that moment long gone, hence making museums the repositories of such vast histories. The artist works on similar lines in this new set of works.
Tanmoy works in his unique hand made paper medium (Nepali paper), where layering, cut-outs, found objects, embossing, water colours, stitching and collage like techniques govern the intricate process of making the works. However, the artist chooses an austere palette, sticking to his subdued, neutral grey tones which often seem to underplay the intensity of the thought. One could see the interplay of light in the translucent layers as forms reveal and conceal themselves on the pictorial surface. One is reminded of how time blurs the memory of a face or a name and renders it at the ‘tip of one’s tongue’, almost reachable, partially recalled.
In the series titled ‘Elusive Portraits’, he uses measuring instruments from a geometry box, like protractors to compose the head of the intended form, alluding the concept of stream of thoughts and consciousness. Some of the semicircular heads are dark and others decorated, yet others have extensions in other semicircular cutouts. One could decipher the artist’s intent to show a variety of traits of human kind. Or these deliberations in veiled forms could be the artist’s own negotiations with the inner and outer realms he inhabits which he chooses as metaphors in these works.
The portraits cannot be strictly classified as traditional forms of portraiture. The forms that the artist depicts in the work are not just created as sign of a kind of people, but he embeds these partial or indicative forms to give just a notion of the ‘individual’ yet, conveying the artist’s perceptions of the figure. What the artist actually brings to the viewer is an apparition of a person, his own associations / relation with that person and the situations or experiences thereof. This becomes a still taken from the pages of the artist’s own life and portrayed in a suggested form. Hence it is easy to believe that the muse depicted could be a tangible or an inanimate or intangible entity, but complete with its own narrative history to relay to the viewer.
In another set of works, he creates the figure with heads made from clock faces, the person implied here could be Time itself, as a muse for the artist or it could be a metaphor for a time spent with a particular person. The series of works titled ‘Scream I – V’ are specific departures from the painting The Scream by Edvard Munch and also a depiction of the chaotic situation of today’s world as the artist sees it. From terrorism to societal and satirical nuances of assumed human superiority over the rest of the animal kingdom, Tanmoy addresses a range of issues where his works at times betray quiet sarcasm and even vociferous outrage.
We see the installation works of the artist in a similar light as he throws open a large book installation, which has stitched lines on it, implying the written word, while a pair of kidneys / lungs like organs are painted on the threaded script. The organs specifically used by the body to dispel the unwanted, become the implied medium to dispel the notion of the authoritative dogmatic ‘written word’ as the ultimate truth from scriptures or a fanatic view. Similarly the work ‘Relic’ shows a merged pile of books, long lost from disuse and misuse, forming an image of rigidity of thought and redundancy. One could also see this as the last surviving portrait of a bygone era where books ensured the spread of knowledge and information in comparison to the globalised gizmos of today. In another book installation, the artist sets a book open to the viewer, titled ‘The Banned Book’, he lines the inner cover of the book with razor blades to portray sharp and cutting literature, or the fact that such a book would be banned in a society today feigning ‘political correctness’ in the name of basic survival instinct.
While the new works of Tanmoy Samanta adhere to his trademark palette, techniques and serious subjects of addressal, there have been some works in this solo which could be explored in-depth further. The blend of portraiture and still life in the works is quite visibly refreshing and it could become a specific style or even a visual language in its own right for the artist. However the installation works, though relevant, fall short of evoking the subtlety, depth and intensity seen in the paintings.
‘Portraits in Time’ is on till 25th February 2017.
Images Courtesy: Tarq Art Gallery, Mumbai.