PREVIEW: Denying is Accepting / Suvanwita Saha / The Visual Barrier, Invisible / Sushma Sabnis
In an era of post-truth and wobbly idealisms, the symbols of prohibition and exclusion act as sharp triggers to unearth the dichotomies of power. Artist Suvanwita Saha, in her fresh suite of works titled, ‘Denying is Accepting’ prods at the insidious veins of double-speak rampant in today’s selectively muted world.. writes Sushma Sabnis
In the critically acclaimed film ‘Elegy’ the dialogue, “Beautiful women are invisible… we never actually see the person.. “ sheds light on the perception of and by human beings. An image, like that of a beautiful woman could be perceived at multiple levels and not all of these perceptions may deem a positive interpretation. The ‘invisibility’ that is referred to in the dialogue is that of a visual barrier, beauty in this case which acts as a deterrent to any further exploration of the persona. While one lingers on the notion of invisibility of an image, it is quite obvious that the very act of looking is far more invasive than it is made out to be.
The interpretations of an object could evoke innumerable responses while in reality, the object could exist devoid of all the meanings anointed to/derived from it. When one regards the universally accepted symbols which are ubiquitous and specifically designed to convey a message or an activity, one is unraveling a unique language within itself. Within abbreviated visual lexicons what needs to be considered are those symbols and signages which are crossed out, or negated to depict a prohibition or disallowance. By crossing off of a particular image, say, a lit cigarette, the ‘No smoking’ signage takes birth. This conscious visual silencing of an act, becomes a familiar marker of a rejection or prohibition, yet, within this symbol a rebellious allowance could also seep through depending upon the human response to it.
Artist Suvanwita Saha dwells on such disallowed utterances, relying on that which is prohibited/excluded/rejected/impermissible, as her muse for the latest suite of her works christened as ‘mute painting’ as a counter-argument to the assumed expressiveness and relatability of any image. For Suvanwita, these symbols are a problematic as far as their specific aim to convey a precise message and evoke a specific response is concerned. An image can be perceived in numerous ways and these works by the artist urge the viewer to address the dichotomies of interpretation and misinterpretation and the outfall of either of these reactions.
In the context of a globalised, consumerist society, while most symbols simply indicate prohibition of some object or action, they may also be surreptitiously promoting other products. For example, the tobacco industry flourished for ages until countries began to levy a ban on smoking in public places. While the advertising industries created awareness campaigns about the ill effects of smoking on lungs and the environment, pharmaceutical industries pumped the markets with anti-smoking drugs and arm patches to remedy dependency on nicotine. The chain of production from the tobacco farmer to the corner bidi shop, collapsed and most of them resorted to nefarious activities to stay afloat or died out. An industry was brought to its knees yet what got overlooked was the massive dent it created in the world economy, the livelihood of the farming communities, the small shops sellers who were further burdened by government taxations on the luxury item while corporates survived with well timed diplomacy. Meanwhile, spirituality and religion peddling outfits flourished taking a long deep healing breath along with the medical cartels, the pharma companies and the new age millennial who believed in clean air, clean environment, a clean bank balance and an unclean conscience. A rupture had happened to an industry simply with one symbol of a crossed out lit cigarette going viral. The epidemic of erasure continues.
The concept of erasure is also about exclusion from a space or deliberately not acknowledging a presence or a shift of focus. Hence the numerous signages of prohibitions, which were initially created to exercise control over a large, varied population, now comes across as a deliberate dismissal and exclusion of specific identities and inclusion of others. The Sabarimala temple controversy stays unresolved to this day due to the prohibition of women of a certain age group from entering the temple premises. There are numerous places of worship where women, children, foreigners, transgenders etc are banned from entry. The burning question ‘why’ emerges from this exclusion, and numerous justifications are stated from religious scriptures including sexist, casteist or even racial parameters. When a particular gender is banned from entry into a place of worship, it goes against the very principle of any and every concept of humanity. It is a human being who is banned for not having certain permissible body parts or worse, a body part that functions, and hence is impermissible. Ironically the very body part which is responsible for creating life itself. Suvanwita creates this erasure in her work using the male/female symbol being struck out unceremoniously, as humanity fails themselves.
Erasure has been a favourite art form practiced by many artists and writers in the past and numerous examples can be seen from Robert Rauschenberg (1953: Erased De Kooning Drawing) to Rabindranath Tagore’s doodle poems where blotting out of words from poems happens to form an image, a case of text being erased to transit into ‘forms’. Artist Jenny Holzer’s ‘Redaction paintings’ are art works created using the declassified US government documents connected to war, national security, politico-economic treaties and foreign relations. In her works, entire paragraphs are cancelled out (as in the original documents) with black marker pens and this act itself is a silencing of strategic parts of historical documents of the world. These images are a dark reminder of the deliberate striking out of proof of any drastic measures taken by governments in the name of ensuring law and order. But these carefully blackened visages of documents only create a forced muting of the subject, not the resolution of it. Suvanwita’s works address the muting of the spoken word, the written word, the thinking brain and the human sensorial apparatuses starkly as a reminder of the current purgatory state of the ‘freely thinking/freely expressing’ individual.
Almost ironic and fearful of a dystopian world, Suvanwita tries to bring the very basic essence of survival of a human being under the purview of prohibitions. An ear is banned from listening to any/every sound, only certain kinds of music find play, a nose is allowed only the approved aromas, a ‘Yes’ is made unutterable while particular types of food items are banned from being consumed. Most of these works open up worlds within themselves which address the subterraneous veins of dissent and angst against the distorted philosophy of control. When one tries to connect the dots of the chain of events that each of these symbols signify, one is left with numerous mushroom clouds of struggle for Power at all levels. It also inadvertently uncovers the insidious veins of intolerance and decimation of diversity.
However, one could throw in an optimistic spanner in this circle of doom as balance plays an important role for anything to sustain itself. An absence is a conspicuous presence when seen from a spatial point of view, hence prohibition could be an anti-social or anti-human act while in itself it could be socio-economically or politically orchestrated. Such socio-political erasures / prohibitions / exclusions have been visible in history and it becomes extremely relevant in the current turbulent times, especially if deliberate effacement of time tested historical discourses, are being replaced with new narratives which probably denigrate the former. Incidentally, it casts doubt on the verity of the current narrative employed, if not anything else. When deletions are carried out in history, art and literature, one has often seen how that erasure has only helped fuel an unmatched polemic against the atrocities. Suvanwita’s current works deal with that little wedge of unseen sanguineness which could fuel such timely polemics in these deteriorating times.
Suvanwita Saha’s solo show ‘Denying is Accepting’ opens on 9th August 2019 at A.M Art Multi-Disciplines Studio, Kolkata. A Must See.
(Images courtesy : Suvanwita Saha )