LONG STORY SHORT
JOINTLY CURATED BY PALETTE ART GALLERY AND KANIKA ANAND.
31.08.17 - 07.10.17

     Amit Ambalal | Arpita Singh |Bupen Khakhar| KG Subramanian | Gopikrishna | Shweta BV | KP Prasad | R. Magesh| Madhu Venugopalan | PS Jalaja | Umesh PK

Long Story Short is a cross-generational exhibition that explores narrative painting and the varied patterns of visual storytelling, exemplified in the work of both Modernist and contemporary artists.India enjoys a long history of storytelling, with regional diversities that shape the format of the narration. Artists have extensively drawn from these traditionswhether written, orally recited, dramatized or performed. Thematically gathered because of their figurative and narrative content, the art in Long Story Shortdallies between Modernist and contemporary expressions, transitioning from an ideological need to find self-identity within a collective, to observing the collective community and the environs within which the self flourishes. Departing from the Modernist avant-garde movements of the mid-1970s and 1980s, the exhibition converges pedagogical and painterly styles that have shaped art practices today.

On losing his home and life’s work to a fire, the English author and visionary thinker Aldous Huxley remarked: “Every man’s memory is his private literature.”Frozen moments of experiences are remembered as visual snapshots in the mind of a person, articulated in a distinct personal language that also reflects the underlying social processes of the time. Huxley, like the Modernist painters in India, had questioned our sense of reality in new and experimental ways. Is it not our memories- whether personal or collective, real or dreamt that forms the basis of stories? And does each story not offer an aspect of fantasy or mystery in its narration?

KG Subramnayan’s contribution to Indian art is immense; he was a prolific artist who blurred the distinction between artist and artisan as he drew from mythology and folklore, crafts like weaving and toy-making, kalighat pat and miniature painting traditions. Siva Kumar describes the suite of works in theexhibition dated 2002, as the artist’s vision of a grand pageant of polymorphs. He says, “Though taken in from the world his (Subramnayan’s) agile cats and arching women, aging men and ageless imps, wing-slapping angels and stalking daemons, bouqeted flowers and severed animals and such other elements of his paints, ever caught in a whirl, are denizens of his mind at play.”

Both Bhupen Khakhar and Amit Ambalal began their art practices in Baroda in the 1960s, which in post-colonial India was a hot bed of ideas and activism. Naturally influenced by the figuration and social realism of the Baroda School of artists that surrounded them, yet unfettered by the academic training of art school that they never had, they borrowed freely from a range of sources including Indian folk and craft traditions, dance-dramas, and elements of formalism from Western art. Khakhar’s ability to identify with the common man, far from any romanticized vision defines his larger-than-life personality. With time, his work was to become more ‘truthful’ as it became autobiographical, where the canvas became a place toexpress his deepest fears and hopes, his desires and indulgences, his repulsions and annoyances. In the exhibition, is a self-portrait Is it Flower, 2001 that definesthe moment during his fight with cancer where he began to literally ‘wear’ hisdisease, as his skin sprouted with lesions and pock marks. In her contributing piece for the catalogue of You Can’t Please All, Khakhar’s Retrospective at the TateModern, 2016, Geeta Kapur suggests a parallel with the marks of stigmata1, owing to the fact that Khakhar looked at a lot of European Art replete with Christian imagery.

Amit Ambalal’s interest in vernacular art and his informal training in the traditions of Nathdwara painting underscores his episodic compositions of whimsically suspended subjects. With the right geometrical proportions, the characters in Ambalal’s work are animated personalities that are cleverly executed as a reaction to ‘high art’. Humour is an incidental trope that develops as a result of the tension in the work, built up as if part of a spectacle where the actors’ behaviors are relative rather than rehearsed. Titles are deliberately misleading, drawing the viewer into the act and engaging them in the plot’s completion.

Breaking conventions of her own is Delhi based Arpita Singh who was an active member of the women’s movement in the 1970s. Her allegorical imagery resplendent with quirky characters is woven from memories and from miniature painting traditions, mythologies, textiles, folk art and art history. Singh’s art is typically recognizable for its strong emotional quotient, repetition of motifs, use of letters and numbers that are often stenciled, and incessant mappings. It is from these pictorial formats and conceptual structures set in place by the Modernists, that contemporary painters draw and further their own ideas.

BV Swetha’s work for instance, addresses social and cultural stigma from the point of view of a woman. Her work titled, A celebration in the land of red, 2014-15Stigmata is a term used by members of the Christian faith to describe body marks, sores, or sensations of pain in locations corresponding to the crucifixion wounds of Jesus Christ, such as the hands, wrists, and feet.depicts a wedding ceremony- the bride in the center with the groom and her parents on either side. A beating heart is placed amidst the fanfare that surrounds the bride and her extended community that collectively decide her place within it. Swetha’s visual language, alongside that of Arpita Singh brings the ‘woman’ into the space of critical social discourse.

For Umesh PK, Madhu Venugopal and Prasad KP, the lushness of their home state of Kerala underscores a lyrical imagination that manifests in paintings with beautiful landscapes. Umesh seeks the deeper essence of nature and the human mind, materialized from visions that are meticulously articulated as archetypal imagery. For him the collective subconscious reveals itself in narratives that appear historical, where the imagined becomes the source of reference. Prasad’s work explores a similar serenity in laboriously detailed landscapes, where thehuman figure is but a miniscule spec amid a rural, densely forested landscape. Drawn from his agrarian background, Prasad’s works, Experiment is truth, Experience is superstition I & II, aim to awaken an intuitive experience through a visual format. Venugopalan’s set of works titled, An antique piece of love, 2017references the swelling trade of antiquities in Kochi where artifacts, both old and remodeled are sold to a stream of tourists. The decorated bed symbolizes a range of emotional relations, be it of matrimony and love, of death and healing, of motherhood and nurturing, or of childhood innocence. The bed thus, represents a universal intimate object that is also a ruin, a redundant souvenir that is traded and personified with a new range of emotions and responsibilities to reconcile.

The focus of these younger artists remains on unraveling innate qualities of the human mind through symbolic gesture and figuration, and by doing so, they also question the rules of objective representation.

R.Magesh explores the politics of power in a diptych that probes the workings of the insider-outsider relationship. Focusing on a body of work that preoccupies itself with the figure of the refugee, the want for identity and the need to not fall prey becomes most pronounced. In a similar thread that addresses the tensionbetween the opposing forces of violence and suffering, PS Jalaja’s paintings are people-portraits that address victims of war and greed. Her Untitled 2014watercolour on paper with the faces of injured people of diverse ethnicities is a stark reminder of who we are as a global community.

Gopikrishna plays the role of both hero and anti-hero in his work. Guised as zoomorphic, fantastical creatures that appear mythological, his work references the ‘human zoo2’ where stark binaries merge & harmonize, contradict & oppose,2 Sloterdijk, Peter, Rules for the Human Zoo: a response to the Letter on Humanism, 2009within the scope of the artist's expression, to reflect the uncanny dialectic of the superficial.

Long Story Short presents an anthology of short stories- vignettes of everyday life in India, scrambled anew from mythology, personal experiences and memories, or from the fraught social imbalances of a growing urban populace. The artist’s canvas serves as a space to critique society as well as a space to retreat into one’s deepest thoughts and desires. Observations are woven into fiction, leading down a never-ending rabbit hole, indulging not only the artist’s own imaginations but also those of their viewers. The tension of the opposites plays out between the historical and contemporary, real and imagined in a series of works that tell tales of heroism and trepidation, power and loss, life and death. Compositionally, the works allow for various points of entry, positioning the viewer as co-author in completing a story/s. Stylistically, the works oscillate between an eccentric and ordered energy, reflecting the psyche of the human mind.

Today, we are informed by a multitude of narratives- from the news, from social media, from literature and poetry, from dance and drama, and even closed group gossip chats and hearsay. Long Story Short presents possibilities of looking inward, of introspecting and extracting our own essence of life from a range of stories. It is with this spirit to re-group and question, and ultimately celebrate stories- the material and the esoteric, the ordinary and the spectacular that Palette Art Gallery re-opens once again!

Kanika Anand, 2017.

 

References:

•       Kapur, Geeta, Mortality Morbidity Masquerade, (Ed.) Chris Dercon & Nada Raza, You Can’t Please All: Retrospective of work by Bhupen Khakhar, Tate Publishing, 2016

•       Sloterdijk, Peter, Rules for the Human Zoo: A response to the Letter on Humanism, 2009

•       Kumar, Siva, A Pageant of Polymorphs, Master of Indian Contemporary Art (Catalog to the exhibition), Palette Art Gallery, 2005