Saturday, November 27, 2010

Reassurance: Celebrating the Lost/Loss

(Delhi based Madhu V's solo show 'Reassurance' opened at the Gallery Blue Spade, Bangalore on 26th November 2010)

(Allurement, soft pastel and charcoal on paper, by Madhu. All works illustrated here are in the same medium)

‘Progress’ and ‘Development’ are two foundational principles on which the modern civilizations have built themselves up. The spectacular nature of civilizations somehow camouflages the displacements and damages caused by these foundational principles. In the civilizing and civilizational process, whether the beneficiaries and agents of it want it or not, certain object systems are violently pushed out of use, certain linguistic structures are savagely collapsed and certain noble notions of life are unceremoniously swept under the carpet of vanity. Civilization and its production/productive agencies suck in human beings, mould them, alienate them and throw them into a different object world, ironically caused and resulted by the very alienating process itself, rendering almost all of them into the position of ‘ineffective angels’ who try to withstand the force of history caught into their wings like raging storms.


Madhu Venugopalan, an Indian contemporary artist, articulates this displaced and camouflaged world of progress and development through the evocation of an object/ive world that exists only in memories, sub-cultures and in the underground acts of cultural resistance. In his latest suite of works, Madhu speaks to the audience/viewer, using a different linguistic system, which sounds apparently archaic but alluring, remote and silent but intensely captivating. The objects depicted in these paintings tickle our memories with a sense of familiarity and at the same time they poke at our ignorance, which cannot exactly locate these representational images within a familiar linguistic system. The artist subtly forwards a challenge before the viewer; a challenge to identify the objects and more importantly, the contexts of their existence and alienation.

(Glow Bell)

The objects and their poetic juxtapositions with the very familiar urban imageries connote a system of living that is almost experienced and forgotten by the contemporary world. Seen against this backdrop, Madhu’s paintings trace back to the history of two important junctures of civilization; the agrarian and the industrial civilizations. As an artist, Madhu understands it for sure that these paintings or the evocation of the objects/tools from these civilizational points would not bring back those so called golden moments of history. However, he feels the necessity to highlight those junctures as they could provide the contemporary human beings with a backdrop in order to think about their unmindful and aggressive desire for progress and development.

(Docile I)

Without raising an accusatory tone or even without emphasizing on the ‘loss’, Madhu paints this object world with a sort of earnestness and compassion, which he completely believes would ‘reassure’ the role of human beings on this earth as ‘effective angels’ who could withstand the violent storms of history. He calls it ‘Reassurance’. Through the evocation of an abandoned linguistic system, Madhu reassures the possibility of alternative thinking and life styles, which are more conducive for the endurance of qualitative human lives and co-existence with the other beings. Madhu is not an advocate of agrarian economics or primitive industrial technology. On the contrary, he looks at objects/tools/images from those bygone days as an effective contrast to the spectacular lives that we have created today in the name of progress and development.

(Docile II)

The apparently innocent looking objects and tools help Madhu to establish two points which are pertinent to understand the contemporary politics and culture. The images that Madhu creates are the images of tools or machineries that were used in the primitive industrial societies where small scale industrial productions helped the workers to earn for their lives either by bartering their products or through engaging themselves into a self contained commercial market. These tools were a part and parcel of their lives and the workers were not alienated from what they used to produce. In the works titled ‘Docile I’, ‘Docile II’ and ‘Sanguine’ we see such industrial machines, simple, accommodative and less aggressive. Madhu, as a young boy had grown up in a situation where these machines were part of his surroundings. People made coir, clothes and organic fiber out of it. Today many people do not even know what these tools were used for.


By monumentalizing their images or giving an iconic status to these objects/tools/machines, Madhu attributes them with the status of a language or the constituting units of a language. And through this monumentalizing, Madhu subtly reminds the viewer of such linguistic systems that we have pushed out of our parlance as we progressed and developed throughout the years. Madhu does not speak just about the displaced languages but for him speaking about it is a ploy to narrate the lives of all those people who have been pushed out of the mainstream societies along with ‘their’ tools/objects. If one looks keenly at the aforementioned paintings one could see, how the artist has very skillfully placed these monumental images against the symbols of urban progress and development such as bridges, buildings that connote power and authority and the industrial landscapes. Through this contrast Madhu makes the difference between these two linguistic systems shrill enough to be heard and heeded.


History tells us how the erasure or neglecting of a linguistic system and the resultant displacement of people to the fringes is a mutual process. When the state that is expected to protect its citizens and their life styles, pushes the citizens to the fringes and the wastelands of the mainstream society, in the name of progress and development, the patterns of life that these people have developed over the periods of ‘civilization’ too get displaced and abandoned. There is a great amount of injustice in this act of the State. Madhu, in his work titled ‘Reassurance’ makes an ironic, witty but poignant statement on behalf of these displaced peopled. In the background we see the simulated image of the Supreme Court of India and in the upper foreground we see a garland of crackers horizontally hung as if it were about to be lit up to celebrate the ‘justice’ handed out to the people.


There cannot be a stronger ironic visual statement than this where the celebration is suggested as the achievement of ‘justice’ but the people who are supposed to be celebrating this victory are not seen in the vicinity. Instead, what we get is a deep feeling of silence; the silence of erasure/of erased people. The precarious hanging of the crackers apparently represents the un-anchored position of the displaced people not only in our country but the displaced and dispossessed ones from all over the world. Either the State is deaf or the people are silent and in both case the justice is delayed, denied and buried.

(Recluse Sonata III)

Madhu has been working on the images from his intimate memories, which are the memories of several people from the social fringes. People from the social fringes do not necessarily stand in for the people who are evacuated from their rightful lands or properties. It could be people who are self-exiles from their own mainstream abodes and live a life from the fringes with alternative philosophies. Madhu as an artist belong to both the categories. He is a displaced one as he moved from his home state in Kerala to Delhi. He is a self-exile as he discarded his mainstream comforts and chose to live an alternative life style. Madhu believes that people like him live in a permanent state of ‘hanging’, sort of unanchored life. They belong and do not at the same time. Most of the works by Madhu show this hanging nature as they are seen horizontally suspended.

(Recluse Sonata I)

Even within this scheme of images of unanchored life of the self exiles and the dispossessed, Madhu envisions a past where certain social securities held the simple lives of the people together. In the work titled ‘Inn’ Madhu draws a set of hanging mats, which were once used by the people to sleep. The arrangement of these mats shows how the family is structured; mother and father becomes the base for the children to find comfort and security. Today, they are hung above an urban street where the vehicles are stuck in a traffic jam. When a family unit is uprooted through the obsolescence of their indigenous systems, they cannot but lose their language, land and labor, and become permanently hanging migrants in urban backyards. The poignant and precarious life of displaced people is depicted in the work titled ‘Allurement’ where we see a set of rose flowers hanging above a road jammed by vehicles. The children of the migrant poor become the sellers of ‘allurement’ at the traffic junctions, sans language and dignity. This suspension of anchor is re-enacted in a series titled ‘Vernacular Suspended’ also.

(Recluse Sonata II)

The absence of language is a sub-conscious thrust point in Madhu’s creative life. He undergoes several days of ‘maun vrat’ (penance of silence) as if he were deliberately doing away with the languages he has learned in the process of ‘civilizing’ himself. In the three ‘Recluse’ Sonata’ paintings Madhu uses the surreal juxtaposition of disparate images in order to bring forth the ‘music’ of silence. The base stack of two coconut trees placed in a library, a series of loudspeakers hung from a bamboo pole and two traditional horns hanging against a nursery of coconut plants are the images in these paintings. Sound of silence is incorporated in all these works. This silence should be read out as the silence caused by the erasure of a tongue thanks to the forceful evacuations. And Madhu calls it (ironically and consciously) the ‘Recluse’ Sonata’; the songs of the retreated or the retreat itself?

(Catalogue essay written by JohnyML, reproduced here with the permission of the gallery and the artist)

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Any Innocent Viewer/Reader out there?- From my W+K Exp Blog

Is there an innocent viewer in art scene? Whenever I see a new face in an art opening I get curious. I am not talking about those new faces drop into the galleries as per their appointment with the public relations agencies’ photographers. I am talking about those new people who either just stray in or come to see the show only because a tenent, neighbor, relative or friend is exhibiting.

I look at their face and then look into their eyes. Do they have a pair of innocent eyes? Do they have the wonderment that we see in the eyes of children who first witness a moving creature on a marble floor. What do these people see in the works displayed on the wall, on the floor and on all the possible and impossible surfaces? How do they respond? May be they don’t express their responses at all. They go back as dejected people. They linger like shadows with an uncertain smile on their lips, behind their concerned person who is exhibiting.

However, there are some first timers, for the time being let me call them ‘innocent’ viewers (‘Virgin viewer’ will be a gender bender and sexist at the same time) who really express their responses once a few glasses of vine go into their bellies. They may not be habitual drinkers. But sometimes, a half filled glass of vine is a better companion than a real human being, especially when you are a first timer in a gallery where contemporary art is exhibited.

Recently, in a grand opening of a group exhibition in Delhi I got introduced to a young man in his early thirties. In his three piece suite suitably worn in a winter evening, he looked dapper and I was sure that it was his first time in a gallery. We were introduced to each other by a common friend and the common friend was the reason for this innocent viewer to be in the gallery, I should say again, for the first time in his life. Even during his honeymoon in Paris, he never thought of taking his new bride into a gallery and showed some good pieces of art.

I think those people who plan working honeymoons are hypocrites. Yes, I agree, honeymoons should be working events. Ok, let’s go back to our topic; are there any innocent viewers in this hall?

So this man told me that he was absolutely new in this scene, which was, a few hours before an alien world to him. He was high on red wine and we went out to have a fag under the moonlit sky. I don’t remember exactly whether it was moonlit or neon-lit as I was engrossed in his talk and crushed under his occasional hugs. No, he was not a gay or something though he was praising my looks profusely.

This young guy was from the Indian Air-force. “We join the force early and retire early,” he told me. I thought there was a pinch of sense of loss in his words and I read out that sense of loss coming out of his sudden realization of the existence of a different world called art where long legged lasses swayed as per the wind of influence. He liked the exhibition a lot, he told me. And he hugged me again. Then he added, “One day when you are big and known, I could tell my kids that I had hugged this guy one day.” 

 ( A viewer before Vivek Vilasini's work)

I asked him about the show and he was full of praises for the works. Not because he understood all what had been displayed there, but because he liked the intensity and ambience the works and the people together created. And he promised me that he was going to take his wife and children to visit shows in the city. I thought he would even go for a voluntary retirement scheme, only to become an artist.

So, my conclusion is simple that there are people who are really innocent till they visit a show. Once they are there, they are smitten, and once bitten not twice shy, thrice attracted. Most of them, in my experience, such innocent viewers turn out to be good art viewers in their lives.

But these are exceptional people, who come with innocent eyes and go converted. Generally speaking there are no people with innocent eyes. In a world, flooded with images, pictures and information, nobody could remain untouched by the onslaught of art. If there is one thing permanent in your life other than the smell of your own sweat, it is art. You look around and you see art. Even your property dealer speaks to you about sun rises and sunsets and landscapes and landscaping. Even the vegetable vendor arranges his goods and goodies in clear geometrical forms; artists’ envy and housewives’ pride.

As the victims or the beneficiaries of this flooding of art, in a Benjaminian sense, walking everyday in the streets that look like museums and galleries, how innocent one could remain. Even if they are coming to a gallery for the first time, even if they are finding themselves within a defined art context for the first time, they cannot be innocent. When they stand before a work of art a series of images, references and associations come to their minds and their innocent views get contaminated.

(christo in Delhi by Prasad Raghavan)

I believe, the contaminated views/viewing makes art interesting. As art professionals we cannot expect an innocent viewer. They come with their baggage and they read the works of art and enjoy them the way they want. That’s why different kinds of art exist in our society. We have mainstream established galleries in industrial areas and boutiques that call themselves as galleries in the middle of the textile and chic markets. And in both the places people go and buy/enjoy work of art.

There are no innocent viewers. They have their own discernment. In this world one cannot be an innocent viewer. An accidental spill of red ink (do we have ink bottles around?) could remind us one of those pogroms in our times. A pair of folded hands and tears could take you to the gory days of Godhra.

Let us invite all the people who are contaminated with the image pollution into the galleries and outside galleries. Let’s jam together and sing different songs as if were all in a carnival. What Happened in Mukteshwar show is all about celebrating the carnival of visuals.

And who said, there is an innocent reader and a readers’ community, who/that should be spoon fed? It must be a joke.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Viewer, Art and Gandhi

One good thing about Lalit Kala Akademy Galleries in New Delhi, like in the case of Jehangir Art Gallery, Mumbai, when you have a show there, you get an eclectic mix of audience. Regular art viewers, artists, well-wishers of the artists, friends, buyers, investors, collectors, art critics, writers, theatre people, bureaucrats, gallerists, successful people, frustrated people, chai wallas, drivers etc come in see the works.

(from the foyer of LKA Gallery)

During the Freedom to March show curated by Anubhav Nath and myself, I saw different kinds of viewers who could tickle my curiosity in different levels. However, this man about whom I am going to talk about amplified my interest with his behavior before the works of art. He spent several minutes before each work, studied them carefully and even made some attempts to have a re-look at some images.

(Work by Manjunath Kamath)

Finally he reached in front of the works of Gigi Scaria and Manjunath Kamath. Both of them have done print works by digitally manipulating the existing images of Gandhi. Manjunath picks up several images of Gandhi and arrange them in a certain way so that a series of dialogue between ‘Gandhis’is created. Apparently satirical, this work evokes a sense of critique and re-interpretation of Gandhi’s public image as a performer. In Manju’s work we a Gandhi laughing at himself.

(Work by Gigi Scaria)

Gigi’s work has D.P.Roy Choudhury’s ‘Dandi March’ as the central image. He cleverly changes the position of Gandhi or the position of the people who follow him, so that they appear to have parted ways at some stage. Gandhi no longer leads people or people no longer follow Gandhi. This understatement is quite satirical and critical.

The man stood before this works for a long time. Then as if he were touching the works with a feather, he moved his fingers towards each Gandhi image touched its feet and then placed the fingers back to his head, an Indian way of suggesting reverence, love and adoration. I saw meditation in his act. He was not aware of the presence of anyone. He was deeply in touch with Gandhi. I looked at him from a distance, then followed him to the corridor outside the gallery and I did not dare to go and ask him why he did so (I thought it would be impinging on his privacy just for the sake of some so called research on audience behavior). I found him a driver to a foreign visitor.

Art means a lot to people, still. Or is it Gandhi?

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Volunteers and Facilitators: The Art of Abhijeet, Pari, Neha, Rucha, Somu, Amol, Ronak, Dhara and Mugdha at Sandarbh

They come to help the artists. And they themselves are artists. They are like angels who help gods in delivering boons. Every time Sandarbh gets volunteers from different art colleges and other institutions. Some of them stay throughout the workshop some of them visit and go. Abhijeet Tamhane, Mumbai based art critic volunteered to come and spend time with the Nature Art Workshop members. During the day time Tamhane moved around Luhari Village and found out that most of the folks carry catapults with them. He saw a V shaped wood at a village fence and he converted it into a giant catapult. At night Abhijeet Tamhane talked to the artists about Public spaces for art.

(Abhijeet Tamhane preparing his catapult)

(Abhijeet with his catapult)

(Abhijeet addressing the camp members at Sandarbh, Silvaasa)

Pari Baishya comes from Delhi. She is a second year painting student from Delhi College of Art. She has been there as a motivating force. Pari is a good dancer and a good conversationalist. She could drag the reluctant and shy into a debate; obviously not of high voltage intellectual discourse, but teasers and poking that suit to her age and attitude.

(Pari Baishya)

Deep inside the forest, Pari finds pool. She wants to perform there. She wants to become the nature’s bride. She decorates her body with ‘alta’, a red solution generally used by the brides and grooms to paint their feet and palms red. She wears some special clothes for the occasion. And at the pool side, while all of us witness, Pari sings songs and dance, and spreads ‘alta’ into the pool. And she becomes one with it. And she submits herself to the pool. All red.

(scenes from Pari's performance)

Neha Narayan also comes from Delhi College of Art. She is second year painting graduate student. A clear contrast to the flamboyant Pari, Neha keeps silence most of the time and the occasional smiles light up her face. There is a sort of brooding innocence in her eyes. While strolling through the village paths Neha sees a piece of log wood lying abandoned there. She lifts it with the help of village kids and brings it over to a vacant field.

(Neha Narayan getting a log wood for her work)

Neha wants to create an ode to nature. This piece of wood she finds seems to be the most befitting surface for her to work with. She exhorts the young kids around to college weeds, plants, figs, pods, flowers, cactus, grass, leaves and so on from the vicinity. Then suddenly you have some specimens from all what is available from the live of flora around. Neha, with a lot of patience ties each piece of finding/produce to the log wood. Finally it becomes a trophy of nature’s bounty. On fine morning she finds goats eating way her work. She shoos them away and does it all over again. It is a very impressive work.

(Neha at work)

(The final work)


Rucha Mehta comes from Thane. She studied art at the Raheja School, Mumbai. Currently she works as a graphic designer. Rucha volunteers to come with her two little daughters. Initially, she studies the life style of the people in Luhari. She finds their crafts dying and the village folk preferring to work in factories than in paddy fields. Paddy fields don’t yield much to them. So they are in poverty. While children tend the cattle, elders go to work in factories. While lazing behind the cows, children weave things out of whatever available around.

(Rucha Mehta at her work)

Rucha finds that this skill of weaving and plaiting comes from a rich tradition of craft, which has now become useless. However, the people here still weave things to decorate their houses and make humble toys. With the help of the kids around, Ruch makes a whole lot of images plaited out of leaves other forest materials. She then sticks them on to the walls of the houses as if they were butterflies. She tries to capture a beautiful, impermanent and dying culture.

(The village folk with Rucha's work)

(Rucha's work using the humble craft of Luhari)

Somu Desai is the Bond, Somu Bond for the young volunteers. Somu is an artist but not a volunteer. He facilitates Sandarbh in Luhari. A man of way with different materials, Somu has a quick fix solution for anything related to materials. In his huge studio in Pardi he has developed various techniques to make artistic object out of anything including industrial materials.

(Somu Desai)

The ammonia printing technique, which is generally used for making blueprints of architecture, in Somu’s hands is an artistic medium. He uses very cheap paper for smearing ammonia solution. In his indigenously developed makeshift device to ‘treat’ the paper with ammonia vapors, Somu could convert anything into a blue image. He calls it his ‘ammonia lab’. It is not just about the ‘blue print’. With variation of the density of the solution, the intensity of light, Somu could get different kinds of print effects. Somu demonstrates this for the young artists. He does an ammonia image of Pari. A totally different Yves Klein, Somu is.

(The Human image is transfered in Somu's Ammonia Lab)

(Somu Desai with his Ammonia Print)

Then we have Amol Patil from Mumbai, who paints the village fences red.

(Amol Patel)

(Amol's painted fences)

And we have Ronak Jadav from Amalsad, who connects branches of trees literally with their own roots.

(Ronak Jadav at his work)

(Ronak's work)

Dhara Dave, a young art history post graduate from Baroda was with the participating artists throughout in the capacity of a volunteer. She teaches art history at the Fine Arts College in Surat and does her research in Baroda. In Sandarbh, she is enamored by the birds. She thinks about the notion of home and homelessness vis-a-vis nature and culture. She creates a series of nests, which resembles the nests of the humming birds. These are made out of used papers. Dhara displays them at the Silavaasa Gallery

(Dhara Dave)

(Dhara's work)

(Dhara with her friends at the Silvaasa Gallery)

Mughda Joshi, a young photography artist was there throughout to document these actions. And she presented her selected photographs before the local audience.

(Mugdha Joshi)

(Mugdha's works)

So that was Sandarbh Nature Art Workshop 2010 at Luhari Village, Silvaasa, folks.  

Saturday, November 13, 2010

JohnyML's Page One People at the Opening of Freedom to March

(Exhibition designer Prima Kurien)

(T.V.Santhosh and George Martin)

(Inder Salim Tikku, artist, performer, activist)

(JohnyML in front of Atul Dodiya's work)

(Sudhanshu Sutar)

(Sukesan pensive mood)

(Artist Sudarshan)

(Smitha Verma of Deccan Herald)

(Shreyas Karle and Sunil Gawde)

(Sunil Gawde and JohnyML)

(Vicky Roy, Photography artist)

(Shefali Nath)

(JohnyML and Anubhav Nath)

(Pari Baishya)

(Harshul, Neha Narayan and Namisha Singh)

(Sana Afreen)

(artist Hindol Brahmbhatt)

(A.Ramachandran with Gigi's work)

(Vinod Bhardwaj, art critic, with A.Ramachandran)

(Kanchan Chander)

(Sujatha Ramachandran)

(Kartik Sood, the rising star)

(artist Navin)

(Chameli Ramachandran and Mimi Radhakrishnan)

(A.Ramachandran and K.S.Radhakrishnan)

(Artist Roy Thomas)

(Gallerist Payal Kapoor and Anubhav Nath)

(Prayag Shukla)

(KSR with Zach)

(artist Vinay)

(Actor Lokesh)

(Rohini Devasher and Rajashree Biswal)

(Shamshad Husain)


(Kaushal Sonkaria)

(Jyothimon Dethan)

(Birendar Pani and Rajshree Biswal)

(Vinay Kumar)

(JohnyML with Vinay Kumar)

(Atul Bhalla)

(Puja Bahri)

(Murali Cheeroth, T.V.Santhosh and Mrinal Kulkarni)

(Artist Ruchin Soni)

(Himanshu Bhagat of the Mint)

(Mrs and Mr.Nayar)

(Anubhav Nath, Shweta Bhanot, Kanika and Kiran)

(Rameshwar Broota)

(to be continued................