SCULPTED PROPHECIES

Review by Neha Kirpal
December 01, 2018

 

By Neha Kirpal

Ecce Homo
Gigi Scaria
November 1-24, 2018
Vadehra Art Gallery, New Delhi

Sketches of mountains with sad faces, ladders, pulleys, wires, boxes, logs, rocks … a coffin with a man’s legs sticking out with a candle stand placed on top … videos of a man wearing a loin cloth climbing a rope in different ways … these are some of the images that remain with you as you exit Gigi Scaria’s recent solo exhibition at the Vadehra Art Gallery. 

Premjish Achari in his essay Man, in the End Timeswrote that Scaria’s work embodies “moral doubts and anxieties regarding the future of the human body and humanity at large”. In a sense, it presents “a bleak vision of the present and the future.” The title of the exhibition ‘Ecce Homo’ meaning ‘behold the man’ refers to Christ. It has been interpreted by German philosopher Nietzche in his seminal text ‘How to Become What You Are’, a critique to nature’s idea of the universe. Anti-Christ Nietzche believed in the power of the superhuman existence and talked about the idea of the modern world, its formation and the way in which we treat mother earth’s resources and the environment—something that is increasingly leading to natural disasters and manmade calamities. 

Scaria’s spectacular sculptures connect with various activities that humans are a part of, all which have a disastrous end. One of the first few works that caught my attention was bronze figurines of a set of women from different walks of life holding hands in a circle. Sarcastically titled ‘Ringa Ringa Roses’, it shows the sad plight of women in our society. The artist explains the origin of the ominous title. “It first came into being during the Great Plague—one of the most devastating pandemics in human history that resulted in several deaths (“we all fall down”), and was ironically made into a nursery rhyme later—a sign of the dark times that we live in,” says Scaria.

Another sculpture ‘Human Pull’ having men climbing one on top of the other, speaks of competition and mankind’s struggle to reach the top. In another sculpture, Scaria makes Rodin’s well-known ‘Thinker’ sitting on top of a well whose water is draining out. Rather than philosophizing about the universe, this thinker is pondering about his immediate situation—how to overcome the drying up of resources, which is leading to natural calamities. In ‘Hesitant Attempt’, he depicts the Greek mythological figure, Iacrus, who has wings with which to fly but is placed on unstable ground, and so is not very sure of his position. Another work has three oval paintings of a man’s chest with play and pause buttons on them. It shows that we live in world where man’s emotions and actions are mechanical things that can be programmed to be switched on or off as per whatever is required of him.

Known as the urban chronicler of India, Scaria’s work primarily deals with issues of urban spaces, migration and displacement in cities. While his concerns mostly remain the same—and are interwoven across the span of his body of work, they take different forms of mixed media, covering drawings, paintings, photography, installations, anthropomorphic sculptures, screen prints, video projections and films, depending on the situation. When asked which medium he prefers over other, he says that he enjoys each equally. “The thinking process decides which medium is most appropriate to depict what. Certain ideas can only be made, viewed and understood in a particular medium,” he says. 

For instance, one of the videos in his exhibition, called ‘Disclaimer’ shows a pair of a magician’s moving hands creating magic with the help of different metal objects. The objects—such as a tree, a house, a bed, a picture of God, a motorcycle or a cup of tea—keep appearing and disappearing when opened and closed. In this work, the artist explains that the magician is a symbolic allegory that depicts political unrest and public lynching in our country.

Scaria's work has been exhibited across India and the world. In 2010, he participated in West Heavens, the first major artistic engagement between India and China. In 2011, he was one of five artists to represent India at the 54th Venice Biennale. The same year, his work was presented at the 3rd Singapore Biennale as well as in the Prague Biennale. In 2012, Scaria participated in the Oz Asia Festival exhibition. His work also appeared at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, the first major exhibition to introduce contemporary Indian art to the Israeli public. His first project for an American museum was held in 2013 at the Smart Museum of Art, the University of Chicago.

In 2014, Scaria participated in Kochi Muziris Beinnale. In 2015, he had a major solo exhibition in Gallery Chemould, Mumbai. In 2016, he exhibited at the Laumeier Sculpture Park, St. Louis, USA. In 2017, his major solo exhibition was held at Aicon Gallery, New York. In September of the same year, an exhibition of his selected works was held at the Frederic Jameson Gallery, Duke University. His upcoming work includes a show at the Serendipity Arts Festival in Goa in December, where three of his photographs will be displayed as well as a sculpture workshop on stone work in Bengaluru.