REVIEW: BAREWAN / VIDYA SAGAR SINGH / A Village called Barewan / Sushma Sabnis
In his solo show titled ‘Barewan’ artist Vidya Sagar Singh reminisces about the quintessential village from Uttar Pradesh where he grew up and spent most of his formative years. Using sensitive imageries with metaphors of trees, he conjures up an intimate memoir in his works, observes Sushma Sabnis.
The villages in India are powerful units of energy and life force which fuel the nation as Mahatma Gandhi had rightly said not so long ago. They hold within themselves the inherent natural resources and rustic wisdom to move from one level of progress to another without harming the core of its existence. It requires adopting a way of life which safe guards the interdependencies of its constituting elements and striking the right balance to sustain all life forms. In the third gallery of Jehangir Art Gallery, Mumbai, one such village makes its quiet presence felt through the works of artist Vidya Sagar Singh.
Titled ‘Barewan’, the show is a tribute and a memoir of the village the artist hails from. Located in Uttar Pradesh, this idyllic village is in the artist’s opinion, barely visible on the map of the country. Yet, he believes it has the quintessential qualities that go into making a typical Indian village and in spite of the recent aggressive winds of globalisation flowing over the village, as of now it has still managed to maintain its unique character without giving into a complete overhaul of these dominating influences. Vidya Sagar believes that this quality of incorporating globalisation or modernity only to a relevant extent in a community or a village is what ensures the longevity of its indigenous nature.
Contrary to these thoughts, in urban and many rural spaces, the dominant wave of globalisation has rendered these indigenous societies and landscapes into some kind of homogenous faceless entities. For example, today, a village, town or even an urban landscape from the north of our country and the south of our country would end up looking uncannily similar. The differentiating features of the north and the south are blurred by edifices and structures which have now become markers of ‘progress’. Malls with their huge reflective glass facades defaced the local shops everywhere. So did the multiplexes and ‘Cinemax-es’ which killed the quaint cinema halls. When one looks at all these changes in the landscapes, especially when trees and floras are replaced by sky scrapers and ugly grey toned angular giants, one encounters the merciless pace of the capitalist machinery.
In his concept note, Vidya Sagar talks about his village with a fondness of a person who has seen it in better, happier times. While the Barewan village is not exempted from the threat of globalisation monsters, the people living there have managed to maintain the community and the environment exactly as it has been by sticking to traditional practices of living, farming etc. In an allegorical fashion the artist tries to relive the tender moments of his childhood and his youth in the village.
The artist employs the metaphor of the ‘Tree,’ the quiet witnesses, the life restoring sentinels of patience and memory of a place. He displays three series of works, namely works on paper, canvas and small fibre glass installations on pedestals. In each of these works, the basic theme is of trees, the fauna and humans who rely on them and the correlation between these intricate ecosystems which maintain a precarious balance of life. Vidya Sagar in his fibre glass installations creates miniature cutouts of tree or plant forms, and arranges them in the shape of a tree or according to his imagination. The purpose of this is to hint at the only way to counteract the rapid deforestation happening in the name of building highways and expressways, malls and multiplexes which require ‘clearing’ of richly wooded areas. These installations are more often than not, lit up from within giving an ethereal feel to them. Could this be an apparition of a dead forest, long butchered by the greed of human kind? Or could this be the way to a future? A conscious act of reforestation by all agencies who need a ‘clearing’ of forest areas for sowing seeds of avarice. One also wonders if the choice of using fibre glass as a medium is in itself a silent critique or purposeful irony created of the environmentally ‘(un)friendly’ mediums.
In his canvas works, laid out in rows and columns on the wall of display, one encounters a randomness and angst in the treatment of the works. Acrylic paint layered and torn off or rolled off to a side of the canvas only to reveal bright spots of colour emerging from underneath the neutral blacks and greys, point at a spontaneity and also a futility of the act itself, yet suggesting the way the human kind treats and ill treats the environment to suit their need and greed.But the resilience of Nature is shown in the bright spots which emerge almost miraculously through the buried surfaces.
The rows of paper works are the most interesting in the display as they adhere in every way to an expressiveness of an organic way of life. The medium of vegetable dyes and pigments reflects the temporality of living and non living things and the imageries chosen to paint mirror a quiet yet deep observation of the surrounding. Small animals, insects, birds, animals, humans, and any other living entity which interacts with a living tree are portrayed in a humane way. The plants themselves are portrayed as closeups, of their pine like leaves or the thorns and floral blooms, or the colourful algae or fungal colonies which grow on the barks. These unusual perspectives of the green cover from the village of Barewan bring to mind the diversity of life and the influences of these on the human life there.
The works serve as a reminder of what once was the visage of the villages of our country, with their own unique flora and fauna, their indigenous produce, their seasonal temperaments and their unique gifts. What makes this show relevant is the attempt that Vidya Sagar Singh has made to bring to the viewer a glimpse of what could still be salvaged from the debris of globalisation to rebuild a more sustainable and solid environment without exploitations or manipulations. On a larger scale this could probably restore or reduce the effects of global warming which has brutally tipped the balance in the name of ‘progress’ and bring back a more enduring habitable environment the world over.
The show is on view till 7th May 2018.