REVIEW: Of Contestations and Survivals /Ratheesh T Solo Show / Sushma Sabnis
Artist Ratheesh T’s solo show, on at the Mirchandani and Steinruecke gallery, Mumbai, is a personal take on his life experiences and observations evoked with sensitivity and satire in the works.. writes Sushma Sabnis.
An unusual quiescence emerges from the works of Ratheesh T, who is presenting a solo show of his recent works at Galerie Mirchandani and Steinruecke, Mumbai. Ironically this dormancy stands completely surrounded by hectic movement and activity. The magnetism eliciting from the visual is not any kind of sexual overture but more of a provocation of a multi layered thought, thought which moves at multiple speeds all at once. One encounters the artist’s persona in some of the large scale works on display at the show, as self portraitures which could be seen as an autobiographical take on his surroundings and experiences.
There seems to be an urgency of articulating his own life experiences, however mundane, from the lush green state of Kerala from where he hails. The state is known for its green cover and the articulation of nature in all its decisive precision be it good or bad, ( some parts of the state are still tottering back to normalcy after the onslaught of the floods a few months ago) is still quite fresh in the memory of the people.
In the works on display, the artist tries to bring about the union of many sensibilities, of nature and human dependency on nature to the point of exploitation and degradation. In doing so he reflects the microcosmic effects of a macrocosmic degeneration. From exploitation of nature in the name of progress, to the innate breakdown of value systems within the individual and society, all of which are shown quite satirically in the works. In the work titled ‘How are you, Who are you?’ the artist is busy cooking a traditional dish in his well stocked modular kitchen while pigeons attempt to claim the space startling him. The momentary theatrics of this visual is quite palpable in todays times especially in urban spaces, where the natural habitats of birds and animals have been sacrificed at the altar of progress and the occupation of any available space to survive is subject to constant contestations by all living species, be it flora or fauna.
A similar thought emerges in the work ‘I see you’ where the artist encounters a wild boar which emerges from a thicket and is alarmed to be caught in the torchlight held by the artist’s niece. A hand reflexively wields a stick in defence, while another shields the girl’s eyes from the seemingly ferocious animal. The random ambling of the wild boar into human territory and the shared sense of mistrust, awe and fear mirrored in the faces of the people and the animal at once, is a response to the mutual encroachment into each other’s territories and an apparent stare down till the reclamation of it.
As in most cases, political winds contribute to uneasy social upheavals which emerge in Ratheesh’s works quite blatantly and at times as a gentle backdrop in the form of logos and placards or presence of party workers of a ruling party in the picture. These elements are not introduced to make covert statements of the restless political tug of war that the state is in today, but more of a crow’s nest view of an impending storm about to hit a ship. This could be a reflection of any place, anywhere in the world and it would still depict similar chaotic compositions literally and metaphorically.
In the work titled ‘Saami’ the satire resurfaces as the artist himself is portrayed as a contributor to the ongoing narrative. An episode which took place when the artist revisited his village and his kin, the villagers joked about his ‘urbanized’ veneer, his possessions and his change in social status while teasing to set his trendy beard alight. This work hints at Ratheesh’s simple beginnings while his work takes him to numerous places and through the higher rungs of social strata and prosperity as is evidenced in the numerous branded clothing and other ‘luxurious necessities’ discarded by him as he stands unclothed and brazen in another work titled ‘I am (Cleaning pond)’.
This work shows the artist dressed merely with a deceptive smile, as he holds a hammer and chisel in his hands, suggesting the effort made in breaking the wall that separates his studio from the landscape outside, that overlooking a pond. Bulldozers and jcbs scoop up dirt and muck from the pond to clean it while the artist stands nude in a room littered with his branded possessions of modernity and progress to unceremoniously reveal the natural human hidden within himself. This revelation comes at a price as a few drops of blood indicate the painful renouncing of a decadent self. The blood on the floor is like a text which talks about his concern about the illusive life style which moved him away from nature towards an intrusive, mesmerising modernity and his struggles to get back to a natural, honest state.
The work ‘Independence Day’ is probably the only work which openly portrays any political, environmental, social and cultural concerns which haunt the artist. At the outset one could draw a line diagonally from the top right corner to the bottom left corner of the pictorial plane and one would instantly notice the contrast of the imageries on either side of the line. The top triangle in the work is replete with the image of an imagined, touristy Kerala as it exists in the minds of the people to this day, a green haven of natural beauty, resources and untouched; God’s own. The lower triangle is filled with the brutal aftereffects of political, religious, social, economical and environmental warfare. A wall with numerous political graffiti scribbled on it, a small grave, with an ominous shadow of a hung woman, waste plastic and metal strewn in the backyard, trees tapped dry of their juices, with toxic waste dumped at their feet; Devil’s own. The punch line of this contrasting imagery is the small national flag, stuck on one of the tree trunks, inconspicuously on a bent staff, as if flying half mast in mourning.
It is often seen that depiction of the self in a cameo role or as a signature within the ongoing narrative is a way that artists register their own presence in the event and the work of art for posterity. We have pre Renaissance artists and later too, who chose to carefully paint themselves as part of the image, sometimes as a person from the crowd or even returning the gaze of the viewer from one corner of the painting to full blown self portraitures. We live in the times of ‘Selfies’ where the Self and the Self alone is of prime importance and it is this body/ mind/ soul machine which interacts, reacts, rejects or responds to the surroundings and this informs the contemporary art practices of today. While we see the persuasive observations and satirical take on the situations in his surroundings by Ratheesh T in his current suite of works, one is left wondering if his actual presence is needed to register within the image. In the works where he does not make a physical appearance, like ‘Independence Day, Allotted Land, May 1 Beverage holiday’ and others, his veiled presence and the intensity of his critique of the world around him seems to be more vociferous. One would wonder if the absence of self portraiture actually revealed the true ‘artist’ in these cases. In the works Ratheesh T paints a picture of today’s society standing at crossroads of choices between modernity and tradition, progress and environment, personal and political; undecided.
The show is on view till 20th November 2018.
( Images Courtesy: Galerie Mirchandani and Steinruecke, Mumbai, Artist Ratheesh T)