Review by Georgina Maddox
October 15, 2017


Carrying Roots Around
Contemporary art curated by Manish Pushkale
Ganesh Haloi, Atul Dodiya, Jaishree Chakraborty, V. Ramesh, Veer Munshi, Akhilesh, Nancy Adajania, Jagannath Panda, Mona Rai and Manisha Parekh.
October 7-21, 2017
IIC, New Delhi


An exhibition showcasing the works of ten contemporary artists revisits the notion of roots and belongingness

Salt Lake is a posh colony in Kolkata, but very few of us may know that it was once a marshland called Kuchinan. Artist Jayashree Chakravarty recalls that a hurricane and a simultaneous earthquake ruined Kuchinan in the 18th Century. Her acrylic on canvas appears like a memory map of the said forgotten land, with its mountainous terrain, marshlands and edifices. When she moved to Salt Lake in 1982, she noticed that the smaller houses were uprooted…’like rotten teeth’, as they gave way to the larger homes. “My works are what give me shelter in the space I imagine,” writes the artist.

Carrying Roots Around is an exhibition at the Kamaladevi Complex, India International Centre, Delhi, showcasing the works of ten artists, of which Chakravarty is one. Curated by Manish Pushkale, it attempts to show how an artist explores and tries to restore possibilities of finding the ‘other’ in that forgotten land. The other artists featured are Ganesh Haloi, Mona Rai, Veer Munshi, Akhilesh, V Ramesh, Atul Dodiya, Manisha Parekh, Jagannath Panda and cultural theorist Nancy Adajania.

“There are significant instances when artists have carried their roots along even though they have been displaced from their locations,” observes Ashok Vajpeyi Managing Trustee of the Raza Foundation that has collaborated for the exhibition. These ten artists’ works address, directly or in an oblique fashion, this ability or attempt to carry roots around with them.

Ganesh Haloi an artist known for his semi abstract landscapes. His primary concern is to evoke pictorial memoirs of the forgotten and primordial past. While Chakravarty’s evocations and linear and architectonic, Haloi’s watercolour on paper possesses a calm painterly quality. “Nothing is unnecessary in this beautiful world except our interference,” says Haloi. His landscapes as if viewed, aerially hint at inner-self that experiences these overlooked places, and hidden memories.

Mona Rai, a Delhi based artist feels an exile in her own city. She faces an inability to identify the place where she comes from and hence her work is like a journey of discovery. Negating the obvious image, she goes instead for an encounter with the unknown. Her colour-fields are dotted by what she calls, earth drops.
In contrast to these gentle abstract works, Veer Munshi’s canvas and photographs are vivid in their depiction of violence that has wrought the Kashmir Valley. In one canvas titled Shrapnel Series, a Kashmiri youth surrounded by shrapnel, lets out an anguished cry. In another photograph, Sacrificing Heritage, the artist digitally introduces a shrapnel carved out of MDF, so it cuts across an aerial shot of the rooftops of homes in Kashmir. “Homes don’t get demolished, they live inside us,” says Munshi who was displaced from his home in the valley as an exile.

Adajania who is known as a cultural theorist, represents her concern regarding the ethnic purity of the Parsi community, to which she belongs. Speaking as an insider, she self reflexively critiques the Parsi fear of contamination and obsession with ethnic purity, through a series of cuttings, archival materials and drawings that are mounted on a soft-board.

Atul Dodiya forms an important contemporary voice on the issue of middle-class Indian life. He is also known for his series on Mahatma Gandhi and it is this concern with the Father of the Nation that we get to see in his two canvases. Weaving past and present together he evokes an image of Gandhiji walking on Juhu Beach in Mumbai with his followers on either side. One of them appears carrying a chair, that is presumably for the Mahatma to sit on. Their idyllic walk is disturbed by a bleeding comma that has grown tentacles and drips all over the canvas…a foreboding prediction of the violence to come? The other canvas confirms this as it juxtaposes a Modernist painting, by Piet Mondrian with the funeral pyre of the Mahatma. The 1948 image evokes Gandhi’s death as one of the aftermaths of Partition of India and Pakistan. One can guess that Dodiya is referring to nation-wide uprooting through these twin images.

Manisha Parkeh works with intertwined jute fiber evoking a contemporary reading of a traditional material, which she glories in and loves working with. The twisted jute can be seen as symbolic of her own journey and of the act of replacing history with personal narrative. “The urge is to create a new language, a new way of seeing that will make the soul tremble before the pulsating drama of abstraction-symbols,” writes Parekh.

While V Ramesh, looks at the materiality of the body itself as transient, his idea is that through the search for the spiritual he speaks through the voice of several bhakti poets and overlayered pictorial planes that evoke the fragility of the human form.

In the centre of the exhibition and drawing much attention to itself due to the constant heaving and sighing of machines, is Akhilesh’s work. Quiet in contrast to his transcendental, spiritual canvases, that speak of infinite journeys, this installation is an assemblage of kitschy items. Pots covered in glittering glass pieces, bright pink and red drapery and a strange white furry object that appears to inflate and deflate when pumped by a machine. One is hard pressed to understand the connection with the theme. The work, that has been replicated twice, throws the viewer a little off balance. Perhaps that is the intention?

We are finally left with Panda’s delightful metaphor of a large snake whose tail has morphed into a butterfly. The incongruous pairing of reptile and insect immediately attracts attention and one is led to ponder about the syncretic nature of the animal kingdom and ecology. Animals stand as a metaphor for mankind in Panda’s work, but they also draw attention to the contrast—while one species lives in complete balance and harmony with nature, on the other hand humans create ruptures in natures order through an endless urbanization that disrupts our roots.