If the space we inhabit is contested or divided, how do we change its character? How does one make art so that it breathes politics and forces the viewer to return the gesture — with an act of seeing? At the Art Heritage gallery this weekend, a group show of nine artists, mostly from Kerala, offer diverse perspectives.
Gigi Scaria, GR Iranna, Baiju Parthan, Jyothi Basu, KP Reji, NN Rimzon, Pooja Iranna, Sumedh Rajendran and TV Santhosh’s works form the second edition of the exhibition ‘Negotiation in Contested Space – Part 1’. Conceptualised by Renuka Sawhney, a writer who works in New York, it was first held in Mumbai in 2017. Veteran stage and costume designer and director, Art Heritage, Amal Allana has curated it for the Delhi edition.
“As in India today, Contested Space is about the different pulls that are dividing up the space or the ground we stand on,” says Allana while pointing out to an artwork that illustrates this. KP Reji’s ‘Moving the Mountain’ is a startling image of what seems to be dead bodies wrapped in cloths of bright yellow hoisted atop a vehicle with no exit – no door or window – pulled from both sides by hooks.
In another of Reji’s works, Fishes Under the Broken Bridge, children are seen at various stages of play in a semi-rural setting framed by coconut palms and hovering seagulls, while in the backdrop a plane crashes seemingly out of nowhere and men, unperturbed, keep standing on a bridge holding up their rods waiting for fish. The picture is rife with a sense of unease – the fishing rods seen from a particular angle seem like raised swords just before a strike.
The theme of imminent danger, catastrophe or sudden collapse runs through all the art-works at the exhibition. Pooja Iranna’s Gates to Yet Another Spectacular World is an installation built with staple pins. As Sawhney writes in the catalogue, she uses the “conformity” and mundaneness of her material to create a “double illusion”. Stacked together, individual staples create a formidable sculpture or structure. But should one staple fall out or move out of place, the whole edifice may come apart. This mirrors the tentativeness and the instability of existence, adds Allana.
Sumedh Rajendran’s mixed media collage on grey, robotic workers marching to office as if they were soldiers, add another strand – that of precarity of urban existence – to the exhibition. Some of them are torso-less and headless and yet they seem to move automaton-like forward; to stop or pause in such circumstances would be unthinkable. “The work alludes to the desperate and daily departure of human beings to fixed spaces such as the office,” explains Allana.
GR Iranna’s (untitled) work portraying a bundle of old journals with a flower sprouting from a corner is the only image of promise and expectation in this bleak, though striking exhibition. “The paper may seem used and discarded but out of the Book of Knowledge springs hope,” says Allana. “And what can be more symbolic than that?”