REVIEW: Papillon / Saloni Agarwal- Ritesh Bhoi / The Butterfly Effect / Sushma Sabnis
The two persons show ‘Papillon’ held at Artists’ Centre, Mumbai saw the addressal of the hierarchies of society and the human condition by two young artists, Saloni Agarwal and Ritesh Bhoi. Though contrasting in visual lexicons, the artists employed satire and sensitivity to critique the world of today.. writes Sushma Sabnis
In George Orwell’s precognitive novella, ‘Animal Farm’ the story takes the reader on an allegorical roller coaster with a group of farm animals and their fight for freedom from human owners and their continuity of being oppressed due to corruption of power. The book stands as a testament to the shift and abuse of power, conditioning the clueless proletariat, while imparting hard hitting lessons to relearn the truth of the noxious marriage between power and progress. We live in an era of post-truth, where emotional response overrides factual knowledge even as capitalism creeps into one’s psyche to the extent of blurring the bigger picture and greater good for the future of humanity. Everything revolves and evolves around personal gain, balanced by a chameleonesque attitude to integrity and vociferous armchair activism. These internal and external conflicts of existence inform the art of artists Ritesh Bhoi and Saloni Agarwal at their two person show ‘Papillon’ held at Artists’ Centre, Mumbai.
Ritesh’s work employs a decorative style which is visually quite arresting as the works are vibrant and intensely patterned. However, this decorative element could only be seen as a lexicon for a much serious addressal of the subject as he puts forth a critique about the decadence of society around him. Ritesh is a Sir JJ School of Art, Mumbai graduate and his primary education has been in Applied Arts, hence the concept of image making borders on iconographic depictions. Highly patterned and intricately designed while being deeply layered, each of the works are textured. The intent of the artist to employ this language of relief related designs is an attempt to create a mark on the canvas and on the minds of the viewer. The subjects he chooses to address in the works could be an album of keen observations, culled from the repository of his experiences in the chawl that he inhabits and the cross-sections of humanity he encounters on a daily basis in the metropolis. Ritesh addresses the issues of identity and Self in a society falling apart in some of the works while in others, his works delves into satire using animal forms.
In one work like an Orwellian reminder, he paints the portrait of a pig, which stands as a marker of lethargy, while clothing the animal with patches of faux gold, indicating its vanity. He believes there are many people in the world who mirror the pig in essence and literally, physically and mentally. A word of warning comes through in the work titled ‘Alert’ where he paints a black sheep against a black floral background, the only way the animal could save itself is with the gun precariously placed on its back, and the camouflage it employs. The gold again surfaces on the sheep’s body as a reminder of the rare and most coveted goodness of the animal. Ritesh tries to use the body of animals and their presence as a metaphor for humanity. The mockery of the vain and rich and the silent fears of the innocent/ proletariat crop up in the artist’s works. The works exude a kind of richness in the visual while silently placing a scathing critique of the social and economical disparity in society.
Saloni Agarwal’s works are realistic in style while being loaded in multiple metaphors. Saloni too has graduated in Painting from Sir JJ School of Art and her works often deal with the conflicts and turbulent situations faced by humanity in today’s times. Her works almost always have an element of fragility ensconced within the work either by way of the imagery chosen or by the way the work is created, ie, the medium used to bring the work into existence. This innate fragility of her works is probably her way of addressing the transitory quality of life and human nature. The analogies chosen carefully are either of clouds, or ink / paper cutouts of people one would find in their everyday lives; the rickshaw puller, the businessman, the family on the scooter, the corporate officials waiting in line for transportation, etc.
Saloni tries to fathom the ongoing mental conflicts within these individuals she sees on a daily basis, and attempts to portray their tribulations through the game of chess. In the ink/paper cut-out works, each person’s head is replaced by the head of a chess piece. Hence, one would find pawns, a king and queen, bishops, knights, rooks all of these ‘people’ playing their anointed roles in everyday situations deemed by the artist. A pawn dutifully pulls the rickshaw of a queen who sits nonchalantly, a row of formally dressed people with heads which define their role in the organization wait patiently as they all covet the throne/ chair of power. Subtle hierarchies are revealed and hinted at in these works and the undeniable control by an unseen force either social, political or economical.
In her works where she chooses to depict ‘clouds’ as a metaphor for the state of humanity, she tries to create numerous window installations, ‘jharonkhas’ collected from various sources, each with an imagery of a passing cloud within the diversely decorated and gilded frames. These are witnesses to the human condition, windows of time, they seem to uncover memories of bygone eras. The clouds are at times shown as boxed (in vain) in a metal frame and being carried, impossibly, by origami airplanes, and at times like light bulbs attracting various chess-piece-flies of humanity. The cloud becomes the impermanent yet perceptible paradigm of the human condition in Saloni’s works.
While the two artists in their own ways try to portray the tribulations of life faced by today’s society, the way they cope with it seems to be very different. Saloni’s works are silent, yet vocal, and Ritesh’s works choose a rather direct and satirical approach to the ambient situations. The works bring out two very different perspectives to similar situations indicating the diverse ways in which human beings deal with discrimination and subjugation. As the title of the show suggests,’Papillon’ one tries to break free of oppressive conditionings, until then the butterfly wings keep flapping ever so lightly.
( Images courtesy the Artists)