Feature/Review: Bahuroopta – Polymorphism / Devidas Agase / To Be or Not To Be / Sushma Sabnis
In a world fraught with the deceit of conmen and hustlers with beards, artist Devidas Agase presents his recent works ‘Bahuroopta/ Polymorphism’ as a well timed critique on this dystopian masquerade ball and its aftermath on the lives of the living, observes Sushma Sabnis
The angler fish is a deep sea fish which captures its food using a fishing line. Yes, a fishing line! It preys by dangling a bright little bioluminescent bulb at the tip of a spindly extension of its spine which attracts little fish and shrimps. This ensures the survival of the angler as it continues to live in the dark recesses of the ocean avoiding sun light. Specific mutations in animals, could be life saving transformations in the most hostile of conditions. From basic survival tactics, like avoiding predators or attracting prey, to propagation of species, all living things employ characteristic mutations, camouflages and at times even elaborate masquerades. It is obvious that humankind would also inherit such adaptability and deploy masquerades to cope with life’s situations.
Artist Devidas Agase uses this concept in his recent works and brings to the viewer a critique on Bahuroopta / Polymorphism. The roles people play in their living lives, the adaptations, mutations, elaborate cons, masquerades and camouflages are all part of this vast multifaceted discourse that he addresses. Strictly speaking, ‘Polymorphism’ is an ability to morph or change appearances into something unlike the original, the reasons for which remain varied. We live in a world where each of these deeply engaging concepts move from a very physical plane to a psychological or a philosophical plane. One would be aware that the entire aesthetic of theatre, performing art, and cinema is based on the very fabric of polymorphism, as in acting where the protagonist and the narratives move from the evolution of one character turning into another in an interestingly complex mesh of relationships and events, hence Bahu-Roopi – many – faced.
Here the polymorphism is not just limited to physicality, but also to the layers of the human mind and a humane response. In the immense work titled ‘Need says dance with me’, presented as a scroll on jute cloth, Devidas looks at the internal battles a human being faces as his needs for a livelihood conflict with his wants and deflect him like a puppet on a stand with many hands. He is forced to become many people who he barely identifies with and play a game of chess (depicted by the black and white chequered floor in almost of his works) to win over a situation. The puppet in the work is shown with one eye on the many faces portraying the inability to see or be shown the whole picture. This idea was beautifully articulated in the movie ‘The Truman Show’ where the protagonist lives an entirely made up life and never knows about it till he begins answering his inner calling to break free.
In another work on the same lines, titled ‘The Stage I’ the artist puts up the same puppet figure on a stand somewhere in the centre of a chess board base, where it is rendered immovable and is only granted the grace of movement of its limbs. A pair of scrutinising eyes fix their gaze on the puppet at all times.
On a very psychological plane one could see this as a response to an external or internal stimulus where one would be able to cope better with life’s situations and demands by becoming somebody else temporarily. One could call it role playing or camouflaging. It could be a defence mechanism to protect one’s dignity, a pragmatic approach to handle a very tricky situation. Diplomacy comes into the picture here and so does political correctness and many other such new age terminologies which define and dictate how one behaves in a societal arena.
In today’s times, these very diplomatic approaches are stressful to the core of the free expressive individual. Irrespective of urban or rural scenarios, the human being is subjected to disciplining techniques by social, political, religious and economical agencies. Readjusting their original natures to ‘fit in’ they let go of their basic instincts or what comes naturally to them. We have variations of indoctrination tools like ads, to send us directives for our lives, how our homes should be, how our holidays and weekends should seem, how our family and careers and self-image ought to be. This subliminal messaging comes in through multiple levels and sources and its target is convincing the individual of their own inadequacies. Without even realising it, one continues to live within a system, torn by it’s demands on one’s abilities, completely forsaking their originality for some preconditioned, dictated notion of contentment and success. In the work ‘The Stage II’ and many from this series, the artist dwells upon the way the protagonist, is pulled to different directions by strings which denote the demands in his life. The puppet figure is shown losing its delicate balance nearly falling as one set of strings pulls on harder than the rest; a metaphor for the succumbing to the pressure of conformity.
Devidas in his works brings precisely these dichotomies and dualities to the viewer. He restricts his visual language to one which is easily decipherable and simple. Yet in these simple drawing like paintings, he creates multiple layers using paper pasted on canvas and giving it a texture of gentle relief. He engages with the issues that he culls from the repository of his own experiences and this consistent use of a relief texture on canvas could be a metaphor for the inner realms of his mind.
A young artist, at the brink of beginning his life with his new family could be seen struggling with the concepts of ‘home’. In a city like Mumbai, the home could be just a roof with no walls or a lavish 10 room apartment in the affluent part of the burgeoning city. Anything in between these extremes could be a residence and Devidas brings a simple analogy of a home, (depicted like children do) placed in a human rib cage. The title of this work is ‘Individual Sanctum’ and could be seen as a very direct priority in the life of the artist. Yet, one could glean the ‘home is where the heart is’ undertone of the work. In the same picture, one sees a staircase which could be seen as a symbol of success or climbing up to a stage of success. The pressures of economics and struggles there of, are shown in this work.
There is a distinct addressal of the sensual / sexual response in Devidas’s works. Here the works do not suggest any angle of direct eroticism, instead they aim to bring out the deep rooted power games which exist as undercurrents on an unequal playing field in the world concerning the two genders. The male and female is brought into the visual with a directness and an open critique as seen through the eyes of a male. In the work titled ‘Complexity – II’ this open and often unresolved dialogue culminates into battle of the sexes, as shown on the pictorial surface. A human brain is shown on a circular playing field like background, the lower end of the brain reveals a yoni /vaginal form, depicting on the one hand, the primary purpose of any living organism, a symbol of birth, fertility and the creative mind and also a quiet sensuality. It also questions the power games which often arises with the claim over the female body, using the devices like patriarchal values.
The complexity depicted by the artist in his works do not merely arise from patriarchy, but also power struggles with religious and political undertones. Here in ‘Complexity IV’ the artist builds up an entire earth like formation with empty speech bubbles, interspersed with angular cubicles. One can see a few flowering lotus blooms in this kaleidoscopic view. He tries to relate the empty words which people speak in a life time which create a vacuous life of broken promises, destroyed values and unrequited desires. This according to him is the existential struggle of today’s humankind. Although this work leans towards a dark mood, the hope often gets seen in the flowering blooms which the artist put in as gentle reminders of a beautiful possibility. The cubicles are mind sets which seem open ended and could be depictions of non-conformity.
Devidas brings into his works a very personal narrative, an autobiographical play of duels he fights within himself and the camouflages / adaptations which help him survive the unpredictability and uncontrollability of life’s trials and tribulations. In doing so, the artist ends up opening a dialogue with the world through his works, where probably every person with a few dreams, lives multi-faceted lives , as polymorphs / bahuroopis and battle a thousand headless demons in the course of their entire lives to achieve and leave behind something of value to this world. With his recent works, artist Devidas Agase admits to his own multiplicity and tries to reason with his overwhelming need to morph back to his original self. He also leaves the viewer wondering if that ‘true self’ would be accepted by the world as their own. And this duel continues..