Review by Amrita Varma
November 15, 2013


Navjot Altaf
Horn in the Head
Talwar Gallery, New Delhi
September 27 Ð December 7, 2013

A significant body of work on issues connecting river systems and their environs, mythology and the real and humanity in interaction with its immediate environment, Navjot Altaf's current exhibition at Talwar Gallery is a beautiful cerebral conversation on view.

Horn In the Head, the title of this exhibit draws us to the idea of the mythÐthe unicorn. Navjot successfully entwines complex imagery of a mythical past with what is happening in the real present with her as an intrinsic part of that dialogue.

References are made to the sacred symbol of ancient Sassanian culture, Ormuzd which is a three legged donkey where at places the mythical and dream like quality is taken a step further in the sculptural installations with the unicorn horn on this three legged male donkey. The donkey is a sacred revered animal in that culture as the divine element that purifies the Caspian Sea. In contrast, is the hard working broken- down donkey of the Mithi river, maltreated and used as a beast of burden.

Through the two installations and the projection of the Mithi river lifeless and silent contrasted with the wonderful rush of water ebbing with the tide at the estuary in the Caspian sea in the sound clip on the floor above, Navjot creates an open conversation on how river systems are treated. Where at one end the water reaching the Caspian sea is left free and is ebbing with life, here we have the Mithi river strangled and gasping as the estuary is dumped with filth and construction of buildings is happening on this very important eco zone. In this the three-legged donkey watches one cleansing the other broken down.

The work Woman and Two Donkeys has Navjot standing in front of two donkeys one female four legged donkey and one male three legged donkey with a golden horn on the head. The conversation here happens in a subtle manner between the real(four legged ) and the mythical nuances ( three legged with the horn)  from which a heightened conversation occurs in the work Agkuklios Paidea I and II. Here two women are in animated conversation with each other. The energy of their conversation is robust and active and is Navjot's need to have open-ended conversations from various perspectives to come to a certain solution to a problem rather than a monologue.

The broken railway line arranged in a hap hazard circular form are left scattered to be arranged by the viewer as he pleases perhaps to understand the circle in which life runs. We reap what we sow. Life gives back what we put into it and so forth, an extension of an ongoing dialogue on the river estuary issue.

On the first floor of the gallery stand two black donkeys one male and one female suggesting as titled, Same Difference: perhaps the myth and the real merging.

The works take time to ingest and one needs some time to work through which makes for a very engaging walk as one sees the entire show. One stops often in reflection as one revisits the works. The dialogue flows and is not sharp or jagged. It is interesting that Navjyot has managed to attain her objective of addressing effectively, the issues highlighted within this conversation between the viewer and the works through such powerful yet subtle sculptural imagery.

The exhibition in its entirety, is a close sequence of events through visual imagery threaded together with multiple layers of context and meaning resounding against each other and making for a highly enriching experience while provoking serious thought at the same time. An exhibition which is a must see for anyone in Delhi this time of the year.