Review by Subhra Mazumdar
October 15, 2017


Whispering Torsos
Kanchan Chander
Curated by Kiran K. Mohan
Auhust 18-23, 2017
Visual Arts Gallery, IHC, New Delhi

By Subhra Mazumdar

The walls of the Visual Art Gallery bore witness to the artistic journey of Kanchan Chander across a decade of effort. With an unequivocal endeavour that has remained constant through the decade on view, she has striven to depict womanhood and its many phases, taking as her chosen form – the female torso. Using a vast gamut of materials, which she has garnered over the years, Kanchan has revealed that she is not an artist who believes in remaining restricted to studio materials alone, in depicting her themes. Being an avid collector of trivia, this artist has shaped and draped the curvaceous central form of her artistic depictions in a manner that makes them stand out as statements of purpose. While her earlier attempts to depict womanhood through her chosen conventions in the past had restricted her to a formatted scale, in this show the larger than life works not only brought freshness to her work, but also became a means of expressing her innermost moods with an openness that explains how much the artist creator within her enjoyed and integrated with the process of its making.

More than their decorative draw at the first instance, these works have a magnetic grip over viewers’ sensibilities, as they were depictions of the stark truth of the term ‘womanhood’ in a no-frills interpretation. The central point of focus for her visitors therefore was a set of large format works in abstract style, using a palette of greys and blacks. Arranged at the end wall of the retrospective exhibition, these works were initially conceived as a gut reaction to the ‘Nirbhaya’ incident. In this show the foursome metamorphosed into striking strokes in mixed media where each mark on the canvas expressed the language of angst, meditative alternatives, or just plain acceptance of the truth, expressed in the lexis of the canvas and colour. No wonder, veteran and senior artists, such as Advaita Gadanayak, on visiting the show had made a beeline towards the works, absorbing its nuances in silent contemplation.

Belying the need to be typecast as the artist who smarts under the burden of societal injustices, Kanchan confidently assures her viewers that she is basically a colourist. A walk around the works gracing the other walls definitely seconds such an impression. To the host of her viewers and admirers of her art, these female torsos, executed in a range of colour palettes, spell freedom and variety and establish the idea that the artist creator cannot be type cast into a comfortable mould. The plethora of experimental use of materials and the charming results thereof, seem to slough off with conviction, the idea that artistic statements that must be created from a data base of specified arrangements. The freedom and ease of choices that her materials bring to the fore, delights every viewer’s heart with its daring outcomes and of course the unmitigated joy it evokes, with its unconventional features.

But even in the works that are characterized by strong lines and brilliant colour, there is something more than an appealing playfulness. The scattering of sequins, and even a collection of keys on their surfaces, bring about a luminous subtlety to the canvases. Even colour has been used judiciously to move beyond its decorative appeal. Thus a sweeping line of vermilion, curving along one side of the torso, seems to define the flowing tremor that spirals a womanly existence through its many stages. Thus the single commentary in a vermilion swirl provides an indepth metaphorical angle to the otherwise kitcshy looks of the canvas surface.

In trying to gather the thought processes that are awakened by an exhibition of such stature, where abstraction and colour play have provided equally attractive options, the artistic drive behind her works shows a tour-de-force that has many stopovers. While the takeaway from this show, literally and stylistically, may have been an emotional or societal statement, to others it will definitely be the playful yet thought provoking ground reality that Kanchan has undergone in the course of her artistic journey. Indeed, few artists have been known to have successfully donned the mantle of playfulness while stating a matter of enduring concern, and Kanchan is definitely on top of the charts, among them. This aspect of her art is revealed when one makes a stopover to enjoy her focal installation using toy-like forms. The waste paper, cutouts and the dressed up dolls were charmingly explorative and left viewers of every age and understanding excited by the drama that it unfurled within the stage-like spread in the central space of the exhibition. While the more practiced eye observed the puerile nature of the setting the viewers with a fresher outlook were charmed with the choice of materials and the many levels of understanding it had the potential of generating.

Coming to the tail end of the exhibits one was drawn to the enduring statement that it had expressed. What one was viewing was not just a specific moment in time on display. It was a journey of many stages each of them embellished with tell-tale signpost as also a variety of materials conjured into forms that transferred vocabulary to newer heights.