INTERVIEW: Dr Ashrafi S Bhagat / Moments and Transformations: Finding life in Materiality / Sushma Sabnis
The perfect blend of materials and ideologies bring out the best in many an artistic endeavour, hence it is interesting to note that a show titled ‘ Moments and Transformations – Finding life in Materiality’ curated by Dr Ashrafi S Bhagat at the Art Alive gallery, New Delhi, addresses this very aspect of materiality in the artistic process and its impact on visual culture. A short interview with Sushma Sabnis.
Sushma Sabnis : How did this show come about and how did this concept of Materiality form under your direction for the show?
Dr Ashrafi Bhagat : Sunaina Anand of Art Alive Gallery met me in Chennai on her way back to Delhi from Kochi Biennale in March 2019. She wanted to connect with the artist from the South especially young and upcoming to showcase their works in Delhi. This got me thinking and suggested a few artists from Chennai and a few from Puducherry. The concept of materiality has always been close to my heart as I have a love for textures and colours. It was tentatively suggested to her which she readily agreed and invited me to work on the show. The idea of Moment and Transformation I felt was at the very core of engagement with materials when artists consciously or subconsciously respond or react to various materials and the importance of the moment in its translation to something new. The metamorphosis or transformations in nature has always fascinated me which I found it as an opportunity to extend this concept to art through materials which can change the dimension of the former from its raw state to translate as a work of art with its distinct aesthetics.
SS: Tell us about some of the artists and their earlier engagement with the mediums or materials of their choice?
Dr AB: The artists I chose to work with were already engaging with different materials in their art practice and that is how they became part of the show. Except for Gubendhiran who was only executing paintings, he decided to translate his works into sculpture and that is how the sculpture “Pearl Maiden” came about.
SS: In the show, how have the artists explored the varying mediums/materials in innovative ways?
Dr AB: In the creative display of their approach to materials all the participating artists have shown a distinctive approach. Kirti has engaged with paper pulp to simulate forms from nature as leaves particularly. Casting their shape in pulp she also intervened to create hollow spaces within the leaf form and she filled it with seed and other detritus from nature. Or she manipulated the leaf shape to take on an Avatar of an animal form, thus rendering an ordinary form into an extraordinary visas delight. Padmanaban articulated with paper to offer a delight of mundane ordinary objects as the cycle rickshaw and other ubiquitous forms from the street or engaged with avian feathery creatures or at a more philosophical level the omniscient eye. Guber living by the sea shore had the fish form internalised which find its representation in his art. The chiaroscuro of light and dark created a mystical feel in his works and by engaging with materials associated with the fishing community he offers an authenticity of approach in his art. Manjula’s fabric art is three dimensional having created an abstraction of forms dictated by her articulation with the waste fabric from her studio; and shaped into different forms juxtaposed with an innate sense of colour combination to create landscapes of abstraction. Lakshmi’s authenticity in her engagement with materials is premised on her use of traditional objects as threads, flowers, metal containers, woven fabrics etc. It is the meld of these various materials on support as wood particularly that marks her works as distinct making it both sculptural and as painted objects. Augustine’s working methodology comprises of photography and watercolours, in the way he translates the details that he chooses to alienate from his photographs, which he has it printed on water colour canson paper and juxtaposes with an imagined narrative through the watercolor technique; seemingly adding an almost a spiritual dimension to his art with its calm serenity and contemplativeness. Potrarasan who excels in his manipulation of the clay has used varied temperatures in his firing process to create the desired effects of both colour and textures. He enhances it further through combination with metal rods to reinforce his conceptual narrative that is premised on the girl child. The ingenious combination of metal and ceramic imparts a sense of power to his composition that also serves as a metaphor for his sensitive narrative.
SS: Do you as a curator, art historian believe that in the younger generation of artists, there is a change in focus from the narrative element in an art work to the materiality of the artwork?
Dr AB : It is my experience that the artists from South have a strong predilection towards crafting their artistic process, by which the central process of praxis is focused on decorative detailing, a heightened sense of realism as well as engaging with materials of different types and textures in their artistic creations. Hence narratives and materiality are both integral to an artist in the visualisation process. The concept can be conveyed through engagement with different materials or it can be equally and effectively manipulated through any medium as painting, sculpture, photography, installations or mixed media which aids in conveying their personal narratives in a language that can be abstract or figurative. Narration and materiality as a matter of fact serve as tools in decoding the artists concepts and approaches. Hence their predilection could be either or both as the centrality remains in the visualisation process either to engage with narratives or materials though through materials narrative can be equally and effectively conveyed.
SS: How do you think it effects the visual language and the trend for the coming years?
Dr AB: These are not trends but methodologies employed by artists which surely have a bearing on their visual language as materials offer differing sensations from the narratives which perhaps would provide for a different language as artistic lexicons makes the difference.
SS : What is the impact of this materiality on the visual art and culture and the conventional art practice of painting or drawing or sculpting ?
Dr AB: In this post post modern climate there are no fixed paradigms that makes conventions’ as defined and fixed category. Rather the boundaries are dissolving which allows the possibilities of using and melding many materials to become integral to the artistic process. The traditions of culture offer resources and culture of traditional or contemporary materials opens space for exploration that serves the artists intentions accordingly.
SS: What are the rare mediums which have been explored in the show?
Dr AB: I wonder if there is anything as “rare” today. Unless the soil of the moon or the rocks of Mars have been engaged by the artists. The beauty of this show was the artists’ exploration of the ubiquitous materials as fabric, paper, threads, clay etc. which offered a distinct aesthetic in creating heterogeneities.
(Images courtesy – Dr Ashrafi S Bhagat and Art Alive Gallery)