November 15, 2013


By Preeti Joseph

Postmodern strategies launched in the western world during the post World War era, gave rise to alternative and challenging perspectives in reading and representing images.  Appropriation    an act of reproduction, wherein  images are borrowed/lifted and  'quoted ' from –  broke down the once autonomous position held by the artist as a creator 'genius', whose work was viewed as a personal , unique,  authenticated construct  of  'absolute truth'; a work with no prior 'original'. With its suspicion of the power of the absolutes, the notion of an artist as an exalted creator 'genius'- a belief long upheld since Renaissance and seeing furtherance into modern times; and art as a unique object holding a position unlike any other- was quickly challenged with the heralding of postmodernism.

Modernism, a western tendency brought about by rapid industrialization and increased capitalism was rudely thrust into the unsuspecting Indian psyche through colonial interventions, and an amalgamation of incongruous mindsets took years to establish. However postmodernism in India, as an ideological construct of post-colonial times, marked by rising urbanization working against the background of ecological exploitation, materialism brought in by increased technological advances and rising globalization, and a collapse of traditions, evolved naturally from modernism but continues to remain at tangent with it.  The authoritative notions validated by   meta-narratives of religious, social, political, cultural and historical kinds, once upheld as endorsements of absolute truth, are deconstructed and reconstructed in contemporary times.  Modernism insisted on hierarchies of all sorts.  However, marked boundaries between high and low art - of elitist art versus popular art, of Academic/modern versus traditional art, insisting on a hierarchic hegemony established by mainstream modernist language- was blurred during postmodernism. Artists embarked on re-presenting the marginalized, subaltern voices and materials, without retreating to overt sentimentality of a nationalist or orientalist kind, which existed at the wake of Indian Nationalism. Through a process of gradual transition, Indian contemporary art thus evolved in the past few decades, from colonial to post-colonial and from modernist to post-modernist positions.

INTERFACE showcases the works of eight contemporary artists - A.P Sunil, Manoj Vyloor, Antony Karal, Shijo Jacob, Manu Binny George, Suresh Panicker, Remya Sandeep and Babitha Kadannappally.

Ancient myth as a meta-narrative becomes the theme shared amongst Sunil and Manoj. Myth - a powerful poetic description of natural and human conflicts and resolutions - is generated in the curious combination of a preserved culturally shared memory and a forgotten historical memory. Exaggerations and permutations over time, give rise to diverse mythical beings and their illustrious feats form the basis of what 'reality' is.

Sunil's watercolour series demystify these myths, and re-contextualizes them using the language of satire and parody through a play of images – and tears down the boundaries of high and low art wherein classical stories belonging to high culture are parodied as mass culture elements of low art. An unassuming shirt hanging by a hanger on a washing line becomes a palpable body through which myths find re-enactment in the language of popular art; and the motif though purposely underplayed, was inspired by  the novel “The Overcoat'' by the Russian writer Gogol.

Manoj's 'Shrine' a triptych on canvas, makes use of layered narratives and hybridization of media and images – of carefully 'appropriated' graphite rendition of ancient mithuna sculptures, set against the acrylic backdrop of dynamic molecular structures- a combination of the seen world pitched against the unseen- of representation against non-representation-giving  rise to new readings of ancient myths and this dichotomy is further emphasized in the central  image which serves as a female principle and Siva's eye at the same time emphasizing the binary oppositions of creation and destruction existing in the same sphere.

Using the language of Pop art  Manu produce 'high' art from 'low' popular art of a consumerist culture; advertisement. Advertising renders an image clearly and carefully to attest a 'truth' which is illusory yet one that we have come to believe in, and the message is re-emphasized through text- slogans/taglines/punch lines- which attests its authenticity.  It employs the image primarily because our perception of the world is made clear when picturised, and since our realities are always perceived realities, the 'reality' shown by advertisements is accepted as a stated truth thus promoting consumption. Manu ironically examines this attribute in his work 'Purity guaranteed' where essence is emphatically attributed when it is truly lost.

Modernist insistence on the 'universals' though in conflict with postmodern theories, survives through in the form of archetypes or universal human characteristics.  Antony's works of nature –are a sort of archetype , depicting  a generalized rather than a particular landscape that emerge neither from the outside world or from an imaginative one but are constructs that have emerged from a 'collective unconscious'.

The myth of 'development' and the idea of progress that it promises-is dismantled in the works of Shijo and Suresh. Shijo's works from the series 'Displaced' exist within the framework of a politicized aesthetics- taking up the concerns of the dispossessed/the marginalized. Visually, a map become more than just a preferred form of abstraction and becomes a metaphor of powerful socio-political message of colonization and dominion.

In the name of  'development', the powerful violently seize lands not their own, and transform it into centres of power, into economic zones, all the while uprooting the culture, memories, beliefs and customs of a 'natural' people born and bred on this land. The true settlers of these lands are geographically, physically, economically and politically displaced/relocated and are turned into refugees in their home terrain. In the face of this rapidly varying topography prompted by socio-economic endeavours, the fabric of ecology is jeopardized.

Environmental hazards amplify with rising urbanization and Suresh expresses this concern in his dry pastel works where materialism will totally overpower our ecosystems one day. Sights and sounds, scents and smell of the earth, the very air we breathe, he fears will be a thing of the distant past, part of a forgotten memory, and will need to be preserved within museums for posterity.

Be it a particle of  sand engrained within an oyster, or a piece of dull coal subjected to immense pressure and temperatures, it is only time that will transform it into a luminescent pearl or a sparkling diamond - from a state of ordinariness to an extra-ordinariness and into an object of value. Remya's works from the series 'Let me take my own time' rests on this aspect, where time plays a significant role as an intersection between the past and the future through the present.

Babitha tries to establish a gender identity through her works which are replete with notions of female sensuousness. The 'natural' world curiously nurtures forms closely identifiable with the human self. Through her etchings, Babitha identifies the female self  within organic forms found  in nature, whether it be the tinted petalled flower that entices – a sexually typified metaphor, or an open pod, a receptacle of seeds reminiscent of the womb.

At first glance, the works of these artists exhibiting at INTERFACE seem arbitrary, appearing to be intensely diversified in themes and materials. But despite their diverse natures embedded within highly individualized ideologies, they homogenize and converge at a juncture – at an interface – of contemporariness, from whence interactions ensue; and where master narratives of all timesbearing cultural, social and political commentaries are critiqued, their normative and authoritative notions deconstructed and reconstructed, and decoded message are re-presented in the idiosyncratic imagery of these highly charged artists.

The writer is lecturer in History of Art, Raja Ravi Varma College of Fine Arts, Mavelikara.

(Courtesy: The writer and Jiss J. Victor of Buddha Gallery.)

Buddha Gallery, Kochi, is currently showing Interface which will be on view till November 30, 2013.