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Brushstrokes of urban complexity

Bold colours and mixed narratives are the underlying themes of an art exhibition in Delhi that tries to explore simulated realities of a modern society

Published: 14th November 2021 05:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 13th November 2021 05:24 PM   |  A+A-

his acrylic and oil on canvas titled ‘Moonwalk’

Sometimes, it takes an artist’s perspective to remind you of life and its nuances. So when Pratul Dash says, “In the current society everyone is trying to hide their face. It’s a balancing act and almost everyone is involved in it,” the truth hits home. This thought is from someone who’s seen a slow transition—from growing up in a tiny yet cosmopolitan town, Burla in Odisha, to Delhi where he now lives.

It’s this underlying belief that’s the crux of his painting ‘Moonwalk’, where he’s tried to depict contemporary society and its many complex layers. The golden crescent moon is resting over a cracked egg and an ostrich is balancing itself on the moon with its head hidden. 

“The title itself is utopian, the idea of walking on the moon. The ostrich is trying to hide his face but there are cracks on the eggs too—showing separation in the society. Birds and animals can sense better than human beings but they’re mere spectators. They’re circumstantial witnesses. They cannot react like human beings,” says the 47-year-old artist about his artwork.

Dash’s work is part of Phantasmagoria, an ongoing exhibition at the Latitude 28 gallery in Delhi, featuring the works of four contemporary artists. So while ‘Moonwalk’ forces you to pause and think, other works like ‘Magical Childhood Memories’ are a trip down the nostalgia lane. The common thread that ties the work done by artists—Dileep Sharma, Farhad Husain, Pratul Dash and George Martin—are the vibrant colours. 

Concurs Bhavna Kakar, founder-director, Latitude 28, “These four artists are not afraid of colour, unlike today where everyone has gone for minimalism. On the surface, it’s humorous kitschy but there’s a stronger thought element to all of them whether it’s taking from real life or fantastical imageries.” Take, for instance, Sharma’s portrayal of Frida Kahlo. It exudes charisma and charm—typical of the famous Mexican painter. Sharma explains, “My women characters are powerful, never pitiable. Frida was bold, beautiful and had a life filled with controversies. So I’ve used different motifs, which are symbolic of her.” 

The printmaker has showcased six of his works in the show, including four paintings and two etchings. Sharma has also depicted famous Indian artist Amrita Sher-Gill and Dutch dancer Mata Hari who was convicted of being a spy for Germany during World War I.

Happiness takes you to Farhad Husain’s ‘Magical Childhood Memories’, which transports onlookers to Disneyland and the world of innocence and fantasy. The painting draws inspiration from the life of Husain who had visited Disneyland as a teenager and later took his children there. The artist’s take on his life through the juxtaposition of images—from miniature paintings, Kalighat Pats, Bazaar paintings, Classical and Oriental designs, to Japanese prints and images from the entertainment world —is humorous as well as poignant. 

For example, the work titled ‘Couple Flying Fish’ where a couple sits on a fish and is surrounded with vegetables around. It’s another revisit to Husain’s childhood. He says, “I’ve spent many years fishing during my early years in Bengal. So I am revisiting that experience through my work.”

George Martin’s work borrows heavily from his present environment. His work depicts urban trauma through consumerism. “I’ve grown up in smaller places (Angamady, Kerala) but due to different reasons, we started migrating to bigger cities and started losing existential elements. When I came to the city, the glossy surfaces attracted me. On one side there were these glossy surfaces of the city like the large glass doors for shops selling elite consumer products and on the other were common people like hawkers, sellers etc. Amidst all this, the glass is the neutral element reflective of both the worlds,” says Martin, who has been a Delhi resident for the last 18 years.

The Influence
The title Phantasmagoria draws inspiration from the German philosopher and cultural critic Walter Benjamin. His work centred around urban experience and commodity culture as a sequence of phantasmagorias which are described as dream-like representational images mixing fiction and reality.

Phantasmagoria
It brings together artists who problematise the concept of realism as well as reality, especially in an age of simulations.

On view till November 15, Latitude 28, Delhi 



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