REVIEW: Even Odd One / Art Houz/ Surviving Even-Odd Binaries/ Sushma Sabnis
When nine artists from a fairly remote art University dare the urban art jungle for the very first time, the outcome is rather surprising. What shines through at the show ‘Even Odd One’ curated by Johny ML at Art Houz, Bengaluru, is their immense ability to observe, adapt and survive in a turbulent world that these art-fledglings have inherited, writes Sushma Sabnis.
Einstein once said that imagination is more powerful than intelligence. Imagination fuels the possibilities of a future while intellect grounds it with history and current reality. It has been known that the eyes of the young often envision a unique blend of both these factors making them possibly the most potent of creators. When a young mind traverses to and fro from the realm of dreams/imaginations while being rooted in a contemporary reality, it generates a space of fluid perceptions, an estuary of feasibilities. Many such altered perspectives emerge from the show, ‘Even Odd One’ on view at the Art Houz gallery, Bengaluru, where nine young and inspired artists make their way all the way from Khairagarh University (IKSVV), Chhattisgarh to present their works. It is to be expected that there would be a visible blend of the rural and the urban as the milieu these nine artists come from is steeped in the brine of socio-political, economical, environmental and cultural salts, making their visual languages vary in ways that are a rarity today. The show has been curated by renowned art historian, writer, art critic Johny ML, and the participating artists are his students, Benazeer Hashmi, Bhanu Pratap Sahu, Chetanand Pasayat, Hemant Kispotta, Kamlesh Kurre, Kanha Behera, Nikhil Tiwari, Suman Shree, and Bishnu Pada Tewary.
The human (female) body depicted as Nature, in absolute reverence in a work and absolute irreverence in another is seen in the realistically rendered yet fantastical depictions of artist Bhanu Pratap Sahu. At times mother nature is seen as a landscape of a woman draped in the greenery that she exudes, at times as the chipped bark of the tree, vandalised and bound by human greed. Bhanu’s works are his direct understanding of the feminine aspects of nature; endurance, regeneration and beauty with veiled undertones of how she is exploited by one and all. These works could also be a fair warning of what will be annihilated in the years to come, and a clarion call against environmental damage.
A similar approach albeit a more aggressive one is seen in the works of Benazeer Hashmi where the artist creates a contemporary, cubist Durga like figure, sitting on a chair which morphs into a lion / tiger, almost like a reigning queen in anger and ready to announce judgement. Her mount, an aggressive looking lion/chair, seems to have defeated the buffalo/demon(depicted by the single horn), as she sits crosslegged, poised like a contemporary urban woman. Benazeer’s work addresses the gender bias and duality of society where a Durga and a Nirbhaya belonging to the same species, are treated differently by inhuman reactions based on political/religious /patriarchal power abuse. An aggressive red hue dominates most of Benazeer’s works and this could only be indicative of her piercing polemic against misogyny and gender bias.
Power comes into play in different ways in the works of Kamlesh Kurre. The artist depicts the mutilated face of nature, exploited by human greed and farmers’ despair. The artist hails from a farming community and his whole purpose is to paint a realistic picture, not just as a style, but to bring the truth of his life to life. The drought ridden parched lands are a reality for his family, who grow pulses and when the monsoons get moody, the family remains hungry without support from the government agencies and societies which market the grains. The fine cuts and abrasions on the land mirror the deep worry lines on the faces, feet and souls of the farming community in our country today. In his work, Kamlesh hangs a farmer’s turban on a stick hoisted in a nameless scorched field almost like an unmarked soldier’s grave. In a country known for the slogan ‘Jai Jawan, Jai Kisaan’ this image is gut wrenchingly honest.
While one artist portrays the pain of the farmers, another chooses to portray their celebrations and triumphs of rural communities. Artist Chetanand Pasayat, brings to the show his observations of tribals and rural folks from western Odisha. In the works he employs an open, realistic visual language and there is a rhythm to the depictions almost like the dancing men folk in one of the works on display. For the tribals and rural communities, this rhythm is of prime importance especially as it correlates to the circadian rhythms of life. While their urban counterparts struggle with a wrist watch and clock towers, these people seem to be more in tune with the pulse of life as the artist captures in his works. A subtle conflict of the rural and urban is induced into the imageries and it can only be the artist’s own experience of balancing the controlling hold of the known versus the pull of the unknown.
Taking similar folk / tribal traditions as inspiration, artist Kanha Behera who hails from a lineage of Pattachitra painters, creates his own contemporary take of the various festivals and rituals which the community celebrate. The ‘tiger dance’ is one such unique festival event where the artist chooses to change a few things like introducing urban individuals, thereby blending inevitable modernity with convention. What happens then is the creation of a unique visual, unlike what most Pattachitra painters have adhered to. The story becomes new, but the mode of depiction relies on the traditional. This creates a fresh perspective of the festival rituals in the minds of the viewers thereby creating an open dialogue with the viewer.
As the viewer ambles along the display, one is drawn to the proverbial ‘lizard on the wall’ works of artist Suman Shree. There is a metaphorical allusion between the reptilian ancestors and human beings she believes. While Suman brings to mind the obvious feature of reptiles, that of a hard exterior and a soft interior, she decorates her reptile skin in soft peacock feathers. The artist tries to suggest that human beings are equally adept at portraying something quite different from what they are like reptiles. Another aspect of focus is Adaptation, and camouflage in particular, the ability to adapt ‘visually’ to the surrounding goes way up the ladder of the animal evolution, hence, one should also note that an adaptation is a feature to avoid a predator, and also to be a predator. The same set of skills are used in dual ways in the animal kingdom and this is something Suman tries to bring out in her zoomorphic and implied anthropomorphic forms.
As the metaphorical and behavioural aspects of animals inspire some artists, so do the physical aspects of animals for artist Nikhil Tiwari. He could be called the ‘bone collector’ of the group as his interest is in the skeletons of animals. Animal and human bones have been a matter of serious interest for artists for different reasons; yet for Nikhil it becomes more about a foundational structure of a living thing. Animal bones and cartilages form the base structure of a body which functions in unison with muscle and nerve tissue and other systems. The complexity of all these delicate systems rely on the steadiness of the skeletal structure. Imagine a brain with no skull to protect it, it would be squished the first time two animals locked horns. The bones also become the only surviving evidence of a life lived as evolutionary and forensic studies have uncovered eras and civilisations based on bones which survived to tell a tale. Nikhil tries a contemporary approach in his works where the skulls and bones behave like living entities with a life of their own.
While some of the artists delve deeper into a subject looking for answers, some take a detached almost bird’s eye view of the world around them. Bishnu Pada Tewary is one such artist who looks at his surroundings from this birds eye view position, which also becomes a vantage point for him as he can choose to see what he wants and ignore what irks his sensibilities. So when one looks at his works, one is looking through a hazy maze of sorts created on purpose probably, to mask certain areas and to reveal and focus on certain other specific areas. This could be about how the artist looks at the world in a general manner, especially when we live in a world of post-truths and forced beliefs being burdened on young innovative minds. The unplanned collision between abstraction and sudden bits of figuration create interesting visual experiences in the works.
Talking of abstraction one reaches the geometrical abstract works by artist Hemant Kispotta. As an ex-soldier, he laid down his weapons to pick up a far more potent weapon, a paint brush. His works at first appear to be simple geometrical abstractions of shapes, and their interactive nuances. But upon further observing, one would notice the quiet critiques on society that this sharp artist presents in the works. In some of his works, he surreptitiously portrays the ‘eye’. Unlike any of the mythological or religious influences, this eye is that of governance. The watchful ‘big brother’s eye’. The palette that Hemant adheres to is subdued and controlled, without any colour outdoing another. This chosen neutrality in a palette and the covert motifs could also be the quiet voice of the civilian-soldier-artist who hones his vision and expression of the unspoken yet disturbing truths experienced without implying any political or religious allusions.
The show ‘Even Odd One’ has been successful in showing the consolidated yet fragmented image of today’s world and the way the young artists of the country have understood it and cope with it in their own way. The strong arm of tradition is not completely let go of, yet the allure of modernity beckons like sirens at sea. The artists in this show perform unique balancing acts where their rural roots collide on different realms with urban claws of progress. How they take these intricate influences to cement their visual language remains to be witnessed over time.