Feature by Sumesh Sharma
The Guild, Mumbai, is currently exhibiting Time Lapse a solo exhibition of Mumbai-based artist Prajakta Potnis (September 15-October 27, 2012). MOA reproduces Sumesh Sharma’s essay for the show.
Architecture and the state often dictate how the city begins to divide itself. Archaic acts of law disallow the distribution of land freely, causing an unthinkable price attached to personal space. Bombay expands into the hinterland riding a formidable alliance of political crony capitalism and fearful house buyers. An unconcerned bureaucracy fulfills its role, approving city plans that often forget cultural spaces. Displacement in the city is a vicious circle: economically displaced from the island city, people displace villages in suburbia. Their gated communes and adjacent malls disallow access to many.
An apparent aesthetic nihilism is evident in the construction of housing, as architects seek to maximise space, negotiating the limits of the development plan, adding decorations of associated beauty such as roman pillars and geometrical projections of glass. The disregard of aesthetics often accompanies a disregard for the environment in which these apartment blocks are situated. Chronic disease then accompanies chronic issues such as leakage, dampness, and dust within our homes. A general sense of decay sets in, initiated by the design.
As walls peel, they form intricate designs of craqueleur, and the ceiling bloats to form bubbles of air trapped in, like nimbus clouds laden with humidity. The surfaces of walls disintegrate to form craters instigated by moisture and fungal growth. An invasion of personal space accompanies this decay, somehow akin to the eruptions on the pores of one’s skin. Surreal dramatization of such visual aliases are seen in the works of Prajakta Potnis, giving form to the serene silence within which decay unfolds.
Objects narrate a person’s material biography, as metaphors for memories of attachments. When seldom in use, they find their way under beds, cluttered spaces where even the dust is forgotten. Sometimes these objects suggest a sense of ownership and comfort but also an involuntary anchorage. So do our memories, biases, and residual emotion that we often take with us to sleep, manifesting themselves in imagined narratives in our dreams.
Windows in the city often do not open out to pleasant views. Curtains often work to create a sense of privacy as we try to avert our gaze from the spaces of our neighbours. A curtain on a bare wall not enclosing a window, displaces the utility of a painting, but gives a visual re-assurance to a room that does not have windows, of the possibility of a link to the outside world. In the din of Bombay, do we close out the view from our windows, creating imaginary walls behind plush pieces of cloth
Unused fans are deformed when left for long, their blades sag as the metal disintegrates under the weight of the dust and visiting pigeons that rest on them. The cracking of fans reminds of bureaucratic apathy and stillness buried in dust, frustrations in a city that is expected to be dynamic, like a moving fan.
Ignoring our existence within a tropical city, we air-condition our homes, as fans no longer catch the breeze that used to drift in from the sea when skyscrapers were rare. Clogged rain-water drains give rise to mosquitoes often forcing us to find solace within mosquito nets. These nets form delicate personal spaces like tents within cramped houses. They define our place of rest but also restrict our movements encasing us in a delicate prison.
A failing urbanism accompanies the apathy of the state towards the city. Separated by distance and an inconvenient transport system, the citizen begins to fail as a participant in the city. A sense of alienation is foreboding amongst the young, gradually they are channelized to question the role of immigrants in the city, blaming them for the decay, forming a self-inflicting constituency that fails to question the perpetuators of their apathy.
Prajakta presents portraits of objects that are deeply-etched reminders of our home. Functional and necessary, they often depict insights into our lives, a voyeuristic endeavour of personal choices. When these images confront us they instigate imagined visualisations of alien growth that arise out of feelings of entrapment within our personal spaces as well as the limitations of the city. Metaphorically reflecting on the entrapments of the state, Prajakta discusses her alienation while personally dealing with the city, through a narrative of imagined visual features that exist within most Bombay homes. Akin to hand-painted photographs from the early-twentieth century, the construction of her paintings provides a perspective that draws attention to the mosquito net, or molecular fungal growth, against a serene background of dull grey, in an iconic manner often used in aquarelle Indian miniatures. The works register through their delicacy, unspoken personal metaphors of the inhabitants of Bombay.
(Courtesy: The writer and The Guild, Mumbai)