December 01, 2018


By Georgina Maddox

Artists Gigi Scaria and Karl Antao evoke, challenge and dismantle existing values systems through a subliminal Christian undercurrent in their respective solos 

An emaciated man lies across a luggage hold-all, a middle-class item of travel, that pre-dates the sleeping bag. The hold-all was used to carry a mattress, pillows and sheets while on a journey. It could be unwrapped on the sleeper-berth of a train and provide a comfortable night’s sleep on the long slow journey that was characteristic for those travelling by locomotives pulled by the coal-fed steam engines, of the 1960s. 

However, the protagonist, as imagined by artist Gigi Scaria appears to be at his journey’s end. Scaria’s open reference to the Passion of Jesus Christ, cannot be missed, in this beautifully executed bronze. The sculpture forms the lynch-pin for his solo show Ecce Homo: Behold the Man, that opened this November at Vadehra Art Gallery. Notably these words have biblical reference, spoken by the Roman Prefect Pontius Pilot, who tried Jesus Christ before an angry mob of people who condemned Christ to death by Crucifixion. Ecce Homo is also the title of a painting by Early Netherlandish painter Hieronymus Bosch that visualizes the episode in the Passion of Jesus Christ, where he is taken to be crucified at Calvary, for the ‘redemption of the common man’.  Scaria appears to be evoking that redemption, through the notion of a lost paradise. 

Another, modern reference that may be drawn, is from Ecce Homo: How to Become What You Are, Friedrich Nietzsche’s last book, that he wrote during his insanity that lasted till his death in 1900. “Like Nietzsche, Scaria too charts out an iconoclastic path, he dismantles the existing value systems to offer us a bleak vision of the present and the future. His works postulate that the prophecies of doom have become the songs of the sirens in our time, enticing and irresistible, but ultimately fatal,” writes young critic-curator Premjish Achari who has penned the essay for this exhibition. 

One could not help but draw connections between Scaria’s exhibition and another artist’s show, titled, Still Lifeby Karl Antao, that opened at Gallery Espace, also in November. Antao’s underlying motivation for this recent body of work is the suspension of life and animation;the stillness that pervades a life of fading memories. His anthropomorphic and zoo-morphic sculptures stand like silent sentinels surveying the world where hierarchies and oppressions exist,with a cool detachedness, a quiet dignity and hidden power. 

The works are created primarily in wood with touches of bronze here and there. While highly figurative, the sculptures reach into the realms of the artist’s subconscious mind, producing imagery that is fantastically surreal and yet playful without being irreverent. Antao draws inspiration from life but also from memory, dreams and the collective unconscious of the common person, elevating their travails into visual poetry. The sculptures of his protagonists are infused with every-day objects carrying symbolic meaning that find their roots in everyday life and mythology. 

What strikes one most about the two exhibitions by Scaria and Antao are their Christian underpinnings, intended or unintended as the case might be. While the intention in both exhibitions is to challenge and dismantle existing values systems, the references like Icarus and Sisyphus in Scaria’s workS, Hesitant Attempt, and a set of Untiledcharcoals, clearly draws on the myths of ancient Greece and early Christianity, while in Antao’s work one may note a subconscious reference to the Indo-Portuguese sculptures to be found in Goa and Gaugin’s Polynesian sculptures, which typify a coming together of East and West.  

In fact, the East-Indian approach to Christian iconography often fuses influences of Hinduism therein. In a sense his art may be seen as a point of cross-over.  In this body of work Antao focuses primarily on the torso as a formal device to convey the nuance of these satirical pieces that touch both heart and head. It may be noted that while the works are laced with a subtle eroticism of the earth-mother, the intention is to go beyond mere physicality of the form. This is signified clearly by one of the sculptures-- one may note that the hands of the protagonist reach in beyond the parameters of the garment to touch her own heart. It indicates that the intention of the artist is to go beyond the earthly body and connect with inner spirit of his creations. 

The emotive charge of a construction worker’s brick, a politician’s chair or a community waterspout carries them beyond the mundane message, when juxtaposed with the astral bodies of his protagonists who are sky clad or forest covered. Under Antao’s skilled hands, the neck morphs into roots, the body resembles a fibrous plant or a bird nests in the belly of a standing figure, who contemplates the world with her eyes closed. All the characters, whether they are torsos, heads or full-bodied sculptures, appear to be contemplating their inner life, for their eyes are either shut or inward looking.  Scaria’s work is also marked by this sense of inner contemplation. For instance, his Thinker, imagines Rodin’s famous sculpture of the same name, submerged in a well that leaks at out green toxic waste at the bottom. In a triptych three protagonists, dressed in saffron, green and white, (resembling the tri-colour) bare their chests, revealing a hidden inner-narrative, indicated by play and pause buttons. 

It would be fair to say that both artists address the past and the present, the national and the global with a fair dose of mythology and a reference to nostalgic objects, that often stand in as protagonists. One might even go as far as to say that their works provide an alternative voice that speaks to the syncretic nature of the country, the largely absent voice of the Christian minority, emerges through these works without becoming overt or obvious. There approach is not in a manner as obvious as an artist like the late F N Souza who takes a verbose stand on the matter.

Within the works of Scaria and Antao, we may find new and nuanced narratives that address the Post-Colonial history of India in an age of Globalization, with the environment in the forefront of the concern’s of both the artists. 

Image courtesy: Vadehra Art Gallery & Gallery Espace