REVIEW: Thinking the Inexhaustible /Group Show / Prayer of the Homeless Mantis / Sushma Sabnis
As diminishing grasslands, mangroves and forests around the globe threaten the survival of entire ecosystems, four concerned artists address the issues about the human intervention in the show ‘Thinking the Inexhaustible’..writes Sushma Sabnis
One day I came face to face with the most formidable feminists of the animal kingdom – the female praying mantis. Bright green and poised in her stance, she held up her lithe frame on her hind legs which clutched the metal window pane. She looked at me transfixed and all I did was react like a typical urban, questionably intelligent, life form at the top rung of the animal kingdom; I slammed the glass door shut. She fluttered a little disoriented by my reaction, but stood steadfast. Then she did something that I would never ever imagine, she lifted her agile and slender forearms and held them together, giving me the impression of a praying stance. ‘Please, let me in, I am homeless’ she seemed to plead swinging her triangular head in despair.
Millions of animals, birds and insects are ousted from their homes to be pushed into the dark alleys of grey urban jungles, as brutal deforestation drives demolish their habitats. Cultured, intelligent human beings have deemed that the naturally formed ecosystems could survive every human assault and be lucrative for expansion of businesses and progress of human agendas. Even as Mumbai’s protestors voices fell on deaf ears, the heartless butchering of ‘only 2000’ trees continued in the Aarey Colony for the construction of a metro-shed. Elsewhere such massacres of the innocents continue as rainforests and wild life sanctuaries across the globe ‘accidentally’ catch fire and species after species are razed to the ground. The icebergs are melting, the water levels rising and far beyond our safe balconies, a precariously floating island misses a centenary celebration sinking to the depths, unnoticed even by cartographers with technology at hand. And the intelligent life forms, humans, continue to snatch what is not theirs alone and exploit in the name of their development. Even as images of charred animal and bird remains circulate tantalisingly on perverse social media, somewhere around the globe young, concerned school students sit outside their parliaments fasting, demanding a serious approach towards this arrogant recklessness. As assumed inexhaustible resources dangerously run low, there are people in power who call it a ‘hoax’ of the century. We live in twisted times.
These turmoils are made visible in the works of today’s artists, especially in the recently concluded show, ‘Thinking the Inexhaustible’ held at Jehangir Art Gallery, Mumbai. The artists Malabika Barman, Basudev Ghosh, N Kanhaiya and Kaustubh Gawand flagged out an array of the conflict zones in society as they are sub/consciously registered deep within each of their psyche.
Malabika’s works have a serious narrative about environmental pollution, destruction of natural habitats which keep the balance of a place, and ensure the biorhythms of all living things. In her delicate works, she explores the life cycles of birds from marshlands and mangroves, which are fast becoming land fills to be used as construction sites for multiplexes. The birds still return to the same marshes as their biorhythm guides them only to find it gone. The food patterns, life cycles of the birds are thrown into chaos and they end up trying to painfully survive on scraps of food available around these sites. Unnatural light caused by artificial lamps at a construction site, break their biorhythms and several species have been killed out of hunger or exhaustion. Malabika tries to bring the visual in the form of these painful narratives with her aesthetic of realism, by showing birds as if they were lost within the maze of iron scaffoldings and left over marshlands. What is actually lost is a biodiversity of an entire ecosystem.
In a similar vein, artist N Kanhaiya from Goa brings out the desperation of various flora and fauna coping with the dissociation that they are subjected to each time a human intervention decides to build and expand over their delicate terrains. One can see in the works, the artist juxtaposing the animal in an urbane environment as a rhetoric. In recent news one is made aware of leopards and other ‘ferocious’ wild animal attacks on domestic animals and pets. One needs to question why a tiger would waltz into a human home unless it was the human who encroached upon it’s habitat first, leaving it no safe places to survive or hunt. The transformation of a wild forest’s watering hole into a multiplex food court is quite rapidly done by the corrupt hands of the nefarious builders and the powers in governance. Kanhaiya’s works deal with this injustice and the concepts of encroached lands and spaces, both mental or physical in essence.
Artist Basudev Ghosh’s works engage with the concept of life and death and the soul of things. On an intimate quest, this artist tries to bring out the ritualistic and realistic principles of living and dying. In his earlier works which were on the subtly changing landscape of the holy city of Benaras, he portrayed the innumerable temple spires alongside a passively flowing river. In his later works he portrays the same landscape with hardly any temples but brimming with real estate projects of high-rises, marketed under a ‘river view’ banner. This transitioning landscape becomes a point of departure to the human body which itself becomes part of the landscape eventually. In his new works these narratives resurface like exhumed remains of the long forgotten and buried philosophies on the fragility and ephemerality of life itself.
Taking the philosophy of transience further, artist Kaustubh Gawand from Mumbai brings to the viewer the pain involved in the evolution/growth of society as a whole. There is an inherent looming concern for the fact that time is running out on humanity, literally and metaphorically speaking. The sharp changes in the socio-political, religious and cultural aesthetics the world over, become the focus of the artist as he brings a multitude of scenarios which portray these conflicts, the injustices and dichotomies embedded within a lop-sided, fast paced, globalised world. The hierarchies in such a society renders majority of the population into economically segregated, cogs in wheel of a rich man’s money making machine. The addiction to consumerism, not just moves the human beings further away from nature but teaches them to brutally exploit it to the point of no return. The four artists in the show tried to portray a world of their ambient times and the troubled and fragmented individuals surviving in it, who seem as homeless and lost as the mantis on the window.
‘You owe me a home, you greedy humans‘ conveyed the mantis as she vanished into the night never to return.
(Images Courtesy: The Artists)