Artistic encounters with reality

Reflecting on the socio-political turmoil around the world, curator Myna Mukherjee brings together a slew of global artists whose works aim to forge conversations around the same
‘Murmur’ by Satyakam Saha;
‘Murmur’ by Satyakam Saha;

A dancing man in a long, red billowy skirt, is frozen mid-stance, back slightly arched, face hidden behind his arm as he tucks it in the crook of his elbow. His bare torso is accentuated by the winding ropes cinching his waist, tied in a thick knot as if holding up the flailing skirt. This photograph by Iranian artist Babak Haghi is accompanied by a digital rendition of the same man. Only this time, the swirling cloth does not just flow waist down, but also conceals his face, resembling a mirror image.

Donning the swirling outfit, this man appears like a fish in water. Haghi has named his photomontage ‘Red Fish’, a symbolic motif that is regarded as a medium of transformation and freedom in Greek mythology. The artist explains in his statement that a red fish ‘dances in a certain amount of water, and perhaps at the same time, its life ends. It has the passion of the sea and it dances its joy and sadness away.’ This work calls the viewer’s attention to the current political unrest in Iran, where artists are detained and banned from showcasing their art forms after supporting the protests.

 ‘Reading for Tehran Streets, 2017’ by Maryam Firuzi;
 ‘Reading for Tehran Streets, 2017’ by Maryam Firuzi;

“Art is a political tool. The only thing that can replace a didactic, problematic culture, is a new culture and one way to do it, is showing resistance through art,” says curator Myna Mukherjee as she walks us through the exhibition One Story is Not Enough at the India Habitat Centre. With artists from India, Iran, the UK, and Sri Lanka, etc.,  exhibiting different styles through traditional and digital mediums, this show dwells on culture—both expanding and shrinking with increasing connectivity. Keeping in mind the current socio-political landscape, these artists touch upon topics of dissent, climate change, womanhood, boon and perils of social media, technology, and gender.

Reimagining the world

Placed in the middle of the gallery is a giant screen in the shape of a cube. Titled ‘G(u)arden of Digital Delights’, this work is by pioneering Artificial Intelligence (AI) artist Harshit Agarwal. He harnesses the immersive format to deftly visualise how a utopian social media connection can transform into a dystopian one, as an army of faceless bodies step into the giant white cube. Delving into the nuances of his work, Agarwal explains, “The happy garden slowly becomes a circuit of digital trees in which we are getting trapped. It creates filter bubbles that bind you in your own world view and the influence it can have [on people]. Take the example of Facebook or YouTube consumption and the impact it had on elections. We are often fed with information by people who work behind these AI technologies.”

Disintegration of culture

Indian visual artist Nur Mahammad focuses on Islamic art, showcasing the disintegration of Islamic values that he has grown up with. In a particular Buraq piece titled ‘Equilibrium and Chaos’, he uses fragmented Islamic tiles as an analogy for humans. “These fragments symbolise the state of human minds amidst the chaos of the current socio-cultural upheavals,” he shares.

 ‘Unconscious Memory in the Present, 2011’ by Nazli Abbaspour;
 ‘Unconscious Memory in the Present, 2011’ by Nazli Abbaspour;

The points of view in this exhibition range from social to cultural. For instance, a series of digital collages of goddesses by artist Mandakini Devi (India) explores contemporary gender and identity politics. Iranian artists Marayam Firuzi and Nazli Abbaspour explore the medium of photography to showcase women—bold, enraged—rising above everything. National award-winning Indian artist Ranbir Kaleka, who has dived into digital art for the first time, depicts the constant tussle of power across genders. Individual works by Puneet Kaushik (India) and Anna Riddler (the UK) with Caroline Sinders (the US) also shed light on climate change and migration through abstract art and AI. While Raghava KK (the US and India) explores the metaverse, Indian visual artist Satyakam Saha’s bold traditional painting invokes a conversation on dissent and the de-construction of barriers.

With its symbolic imagery on politics and society, this exhibition depicts the world as a place that is too complex to stereotype. “I want people to understand that in a complex world, one should not give in to a
flattening idea of identity or life. I want people to think,” Myna concludes.


What :  ‘One Story is Not Enough’
When :  Ends today, 10:00am to 8:00pm
Where :  Visual Art Gallery, India Habitat Centre, Lodhi Road

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The New Indian Express