Reshaping special childhood memories

Artist Nihaal Faizal’s solo exhibition at Delhi's Blueprint 12 gallery attempts to look at the 'hidden messages' in the ’90s media that viewers consumed unknowingly.
Artworks by Nihaal Faizal  displayed at Blueprint 12 Gallery. ( Photo | EPS)
Artworks by Nihaal Faizal displayed at Blueprint 12 Gallery. ( Photo | EPS)

If you visit Bengaluru-based artist Nihaal Faizal’s solo exhibition at Blueprint 12 gallery, Anand Niketan, you might pose many questions. Unveiled on April 6 and on view till May 7, this exhibition titled ‘Special FX’—it is a conglomeration of three different projects that Faizal has been working on since 2020—features works in carbon paper, documents, as well as a video installation.

Art from memories past

Of the three projects that are part of the exhibition, the largest—it takes up most of the Blueprint 12 Gallery space—is ‘Shaktimaan SFX’. A life-long project according to Faizal, the series traces the special effects used in each of the 450 episodes that were part of the iconic ’90s Indian superhero television show Shaktimaan. “Now, when we watch a film, we do not realise what is photographed or animated. However, earlier these lines were extremely clear and I wanted to look at this parallel world where special effects exist.”

Faizal isolates certain moments from each episode of Shaktimaan and traces the animation on different coloured carbon papers. The artist elaborates that while the carbon paper might seem obsolete at a time of digital copies, it is a very relevant medium for Faizal to use in his works. “There is some aspect of veracity to it since it is a true copy of the original document. I feel, that what works in this drawing series is that I have put one medium of technology that has kind of become obsolete against another outdated copy. Both these mediums seem to be suspended in time and out of place. It was interesting to put them together and have a conversation with them and around them.”

He further shares, “To an extent, you can say that I am revisiting the media from my childhood as a way of interpreting what these actually meant at the time when they were first released. As kids, we would watch shows from a surface level; we never understood the ideology behind the works,” Talking specifically about the ‘Shaktimaan SFX’, he adds, “While Shaktimaan was the first Indian production to use special effects, it is also part of the national rebranding project. It had a Hindufication of Indian culture and history. Back then, we would never realise the hidden messages that the media documented and we consumed.”

What is art in the country?

Along with ‘Shaktimaan SFX’, Faizal also has a series called ‘RTI Documents’, which are documents of Right to Information (RTI) he had filed (and received responses to). This query was filed by Faizal in 2021 for details on the artworks displayed at the PM’s residence. The copy lists 109 artworks that were on display at the Lok Kalyan Marg complex at the time the RTI was filed. “This was a very personal interest I had about the RTI mechanism, and I just wanted to try it out for myself. I had filed a few and the one on display is what I found most interesting,” shares Faizal.

If one looks at the list—it is divided into two columns, listing the artworks and the name of the artist (if available)—they will realise how limited the details are as responses. “Although these were perfect documents that I just needed to share with my audience, I felt that these worked well with the other projects. There was a similar level of absence and presence,” Faizal explains. The documents on display do not have any images of the works. In fact, most of them are untitled and have vague descriptions. “Honestly, I didn't know what to expect out of this when I first filed the RTI query. However, how they answered it really piqued my interest. While I had asked for a lot of specific information such as medium and year, they never provided me with any of those,” Faizal adds.

As one reads the list, they will find that apart from a few paintings listed with artists’ names, a metal bowl, a pen, a framed article from The New York Times, are also part of the response received. It is therefore interesting to see how the government actually views art and records it. “It is this chunk of public resources and assets of the nation that we have no idea about.”

Faizal’s exhibition also has a video installation of Shahrukh Khan’s 1996 film English Babu Desi Mem. Titled ‘English Babu Desi Mem (Flashback Cut)’, the video is of the same duration as the original film, but with most footage and soundtrack deleted. All that remains in this video are the opening credits and four small black-and-white sequences from the film. This is a way of contrasting multiple cinematic genres of Hindi film.

Although the concepts behind the projects are quite interesting, one might find it difficult to understand the artist's thoughts by only viewing his works. Without an explanation, these artworks by Faizal can feel slightly out of place. However, Faizal’s thought behind exploring the hidden meanings in these “found documents” can become a fair narrative of the politicisation of art.

Related Stories

No stories found.

The New Indian Express