art focus – a summer mix – chemould prescott road

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There is the office ID card, the fancy pen, loose change, cell phone, a hand written note. Closer inspection brings to the fore yet further details: the worn Tee, crisp office linen shirt, the crumpled uniform, and slowly the faceless personalities defined by their shirt pockets fill the gallery, and I am in their midst.

Every now and then a spray of raindrops showers the city outside, taking no one by surprise. I am at A Summer Mix, Chemould Prescott Road, an exhibition of 15 gallery artists’ personal commentaries, on a grey monsoon clad day.

Jitish Kallat’s monumental photographic installation ‘Cry of the Gland’—an intimate portrait of 108 individuals in dust and sweat covered Mumbai—is the showing’s centrepiece. An urban chronicler, Kallat had randomly approached commuters in the city streets and photographed their shirt pockets, replete with personal belongings, for this narrative. The result is scores of bulging pockets akin to body growths unveiling poignant personal urban stories.

In contrast, Dhruvi Acharya’s work on the facing wall centres on the perpetual tug of war between the head and heart, and her perceived futility and fatality of human experience. The endless chatter with one’s mind while the heart often bleeds are recurring themes transposed to watercolour on paper. The paintings emanate from her sketchbooks, a daily journal where she documents her emotions and which she describes as part of her “stream of consciousness”.

Next to these, twelve miniature houses, each floating on handmade paper and inscribed with a line about the ‘blue house’ are the artistic expression of Desmond Lazaro, a UK migrant to India.

Confronted by such realities
the “blue house” a shack made of palm leaf
and metal
a somewhere-in-between house
spoke of contradictions
on many levels:
of improvisation
want, desire
necessity
all the things we grapple with
defining and redefining
“home”.

Talking about summer, Aditi Singh has been painting flowers for over a decade now. She explains her fascination as “At a certain moment a form chooses you and won’t leave you in peace.” Singh’s flowers are, however, not ornamental decorations, but instead fragile, ethereal wisps of colour on the mysteries of the universe; the paper they are painted on an intrinsic part of the account, both as a space and medium.

The evocatively titled ‘Wahan se idhar, idhar se udhar’ [from there to here, here to there], a group of nine peaceful figures by N.S. Harsha, cuddled on the floor in deep sleep bring the viewer back to earth-bound realities.

Reflecting the rich variety of styles and themes in the showing are Lavanya Mani and Mithu Sen’s work—No two works could be more different from each other than of these two. Natural colours explore the experience of womanhood in Mani’s painted cotton cloth, reminiscent of male oriented traditional kalamkari textiles, albeit with the tables turned. Sen, meanwhile, uses drawings of teeth, birds and vertebrae to create sexually explicit compositions with deep psychoanalytical meanings which attract and repel at the same time.

From photography to painting to drawing and back to photography. And within photography itself: portraiture, poetry and study.

Taking on from where Kallat leaves off, Reena Saini Kallat asks if love is permanent then why does it fade in her ‘Saline Notations’ on sea-washed sands. Shakuntala Kulkarni studies the human ‘need’ for protection and its turning to armour, both invisible and visible in ‘Bodies, Armour and Cages’, an extensive experiment comprising photography, sculpture, drawing and performance.

Two hours and 15 artists later my mind feels like it has been dismantled and realigned. Modern Indian Art has come a long way indeed this past decade. I could easily have been at the Tate Modern in London this afternoon.

As I walk down the Victorian buildings lining the lanes of the Fort district, I mull over how art opens whole new, brave perspectives of viewing the world. The rain has resumed and I also wonder if I will be able to get a cab home. A voice whispers within “I have just tasted summer, who cares about the pelting rain.” I carry this thought as I dash across the street.

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Detail, Cry of the Gland, 2009, Jitish Kallat, 108 C prints
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The intellectual and emotional quarrel, Dhruvi Acharya, Acrylic on canvas
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“Home”, Desmond Lazaro, Pigment, gold and silver paint on handmade sanganeer paper backed with cotton cloth
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Untitled, flowers and mysteries of the universe, Aditi Singh, Watercolour on paper
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Wahan se idhar, idhar se udhar, N.S. Harsha, Watercolour on paper
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Untitled, exploring the experience of womanhood, Lavanya Mani, Natural dye on cotton fabric
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Untitled, of teeth, birds and vertebrae, Mithu Sen, Mixed media on paper
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Bodies, Armour and Cages (2011-12), Shakuntala Kulkarni, Digital print on paper
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Saline Notations, Reena Saini Kallat, Digital print on paper
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A Summer Mix is on display at the Chemould Prescott Road art gallery, Fort, Mumbai, 20 May to 15 July, 2015 from 11 am to 7 pm.

[Images courtesy Chemould Prescott Road and Rama Arya]

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