On walking into DLF Emporio, Vasant Kunj, earlier this month, we stood facing a gleaming silver globe placed on a bench-like structure. A couple of steps into the mall, and we caught sight of another life-size sculpture of Gautam Buddha seated meditatively on a plinth, completely unperturbed amid the hustle and bustle of the mall. These sculptures are two of the 13 artworks that are part of ‘Moulded Magic-sculpture on a bench’, an exhibition by Chawla Art Gallery that was inaugurated on April 15. These sculptures will be reconfigured and displayed at the India Art Fair in NSIC Grounds, Okhla from today.
Addressing the idea that prompted her to curate this exhibition, Sushma Bahl said, “We have had a long tradition [of public sculptures] in India and nobody has attempted this before. So, I felt that it was a good idea to try something like this. This exhibition ensures people are able to click selfies with the public sculptures, go around them, and in a way, engage with them.”
Foraying into public art
The sculptures on display here narrate varied stories. Take for instance, Indian artist Pintu Sikder’s ‘Beyond Expectations’. The work—made with brass nuts and iron—showcases a recently recovered patient sitting on an oxygen cylinder-shaped stool. It throws light on the oxygen shortage crisis the country grappled with amid COVID-19. On the other hand, Neeraj Gupta’s ‘Book versus Tablet: Transformation’ outlines how our brains respond differently to onscreen text and words. The sculpture showcases two figures engrossed in reading, one holding a book and the other, a tablet.
As public artworks, these sculptures are meant to be “engaged with”. A prime example to illustrate this idea is Ankit Patel’s ‘Mannat’. Patel uses copper and brass to sculpt a union of two figures; tied together with a mauli (a sacred thread). The viewers have an opportunity to partake in their holy union by using a ball of thread placed beside the sculpture to bind the figures together.
Placing such valuable sculptures at an open, ungoverned space such as a mall exposes these treasured pieces to damage. Despite being aware of this, Bahl and the artists are certain that these sculptures are best kept in a public venue. “At one stage, I don’t know if it was the gallery or the mall that put up ‘Do Not Touch’ signs on these pieces. I was shocked because these are meant to be interacted with. We got them removed.”
Creating an artistic dialogue
The process of working on this series started in early 2021. Bahl interacted with 13 artists from around the country with a simple pitch: sculptures on a bench that the common folk can interact and enter into dialogue with. “No work in this exhibition has been picked up from an existing stock. Everything has been made in response to a concept that I gave to the artists, giving them full liberty to use their own aesthetics and ideas but within the framework of the concept which was a public structure of people seated on a bench, a table, a plinth, or whatever the artists found suitable,” said Bahl.
We met Rashmi Sehgal from Gurugram at DLF Emporio.“The sculpture is really intricate and the effort that would have gone into this is visible,” she concluded.
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‘Moulded Magic-sculpture on a bench’, till May 15 at the DLF Emporio, Vasant Kunj (on display at India Art Fair till May 1)