Drawings are a form of rebellion against the limits of space. They explore the possibilities of extreme views: at one end, a confinement that is so narrow and stifling, it requires release and exposure, and at the other, a boundlessness that recedes endlessly to the horizon, in which people and buildings are miniscule. As if all human endeavor – defined by people, trees and buildings – is merely an engraving in the vastness. In the beginning, the earth is empty and expressionless, deserted, without sound or form or shade. Just an absence in the landscape. The emptiness creates the first hint, the hope for architecture. A rootless object appears in space – a human being, a tree, a building, a shadow. The drawing constructs a relationship between them. Sometimes the shadow defuses the space itself, sometimes shadow is used to root things to the earth. Does architecture exist if it casts no shadow? The weight of building leaves a permanent shadow on the ground, the grey-black area of mystery that hovers around a building, quite unlike the restless shadow of a moving person. Its depth is as devious as it is impenetrable, but it is there, a historical archaeological foot print that cannot be erased. Permanence and immobility of building is a given. You accepted it as a fixture, a certainty as sure as death. And when you build, you build with the brush of shadow, and in the persistent hope that your building too will, someday, get the permanent resting place of death, that the immobile blackness will grow and darken as the building ages, as it becomes architecture.


Indian miniature paintings reach simultaneously for the crispness of realistic depiction as well as the poise of the idealized representation. Gautam Bhatia’s collaboratively produced miniature paintings (he conceives and draws, the miniature artist paints) appear at first glance to sustain the promise inherent to this traditional form. But as you peer closely, they begin to subvert the lyrical effect of this traditional manner of representation completely. The paintings show impossibly profane, highly absurd, imaginary urbanscapes, presented in the disarmingly ‘naïve’ manner of traditional paintings. While ordinary buildings, objects, streets, landscape and people (in various states of half-comic clothing and undress, and in various acts of grabbing, consuming, coming, going, or simply letting go) are their visual substance, the paintings are about the culture of urban living in India. Or more specifically, they are about Bhatia’s frustration with the sheer crassness that gift-wraps injustice and sloppiness in suddenly affluent India. But this is no simple critique of urban culture. The limit to which Bhatia pushes absurdity, and Bhatia’s formidable commitment to being endlessly inventive in doing that, hint at a deeper motivation perhaps: a wounded recognition of his own complicity and entrapment with/in that same urban culture. The tour of the absurd city and landscape is as much autobiography as travel sketch.

– Himanshu Burte


Urban Sculpture

The character of the modern Indian city of the last half a century is based not on planning and design, but on the uncharted forces of urbanization. In its transformed beleaguered state the city’s engagement with its citizens also stands changed. How then do you begin to ascribe physical order to such a place? City-Country-Suburb is a filing cabinet of Indian urban life – an agglomeration of private footholds that appear as three distinct and separate entities. Personal and sectorial divisions persist in the drawers of the cabinet; the private house is bounded by walls; the park is surrounded by a high boundary. The visible structure of city life is based on self-protection and self preservation – a form of relentless atomization that reduces even public space to self-conscious intentional action. This excessive privatization – gated communities, private entertainment and recreation, private home ownership and private transport – ensure that the residents remain entirely dissociated from the norms of collective living – an idea again visible in cabinet’s separations. Closed as it is, such architecture offers no continuum of reference, and makes no serious impression on memory. Whether Lucknow, Delhi, or Bhubaneswar – City-Country-Suburb is just an amorphous mass of white buildings – transient camps that generate neither a sense of place, nor orientation, nor pride. The accompanying drawings are also a sort of rebellion against the limits we impose on space. By making unlikely suggestions in them, the idea is to draw the public into a closer association with their buildings – buildings that in fact can make more significant connections with ordinary life and offer more enduring relationships between architecture and the people who use it.

Political Sculpture

In the last few years a great social and political upheaval has created a staggering divide between the people and the state. It is a divide that is marked by thieving bureaucrats, incompetent government, money-grubbing builders, and corrupt politicians, all in league with each other, and promoting a system driven by greed, depravity and barbarism. A significant symbol of all that is wrong is found in the Indian politician. In a system that has subverted morality and institution, the politician stands in stark relief: smug, self-satisfied and entirely unapproachable. As the symbolic representation of Indian politics, and the most visible tool of India’s future, his presence on television, in the newspaper, on Twitter, is all part of a grand design: to remain publicly visible but entirely aloof. In the well of the Parliament, on the back benches, the country’s pressing matters take a back seat. A growing relationship between corrupting influence and corrupted conscience, the politician even employs the media as storyboard for his incoherent picture of India, using the sound bytes of inconsequential debates to good affect. When everyone around him favours his public stance, there is no reason to question his allegiances, his loyalties. When the medium of politics is itself tainted by the incoherence, the mistrust of life, there is no one left to even ask the difficult questions? The sign of the times is a sordid collision of unstated ideals, and a disbelieving public as mute spectator. People have never believed what they will; only what they are told. Now, even they are not so sure…When political life is reduced to caricature the artworks – however exaggerated, however grotesque – can only be a distorted representation of a distortion, revealing only a distorted portrait of the distorted men who rule India, and the underlying falsehoods of their lives.


Bronze’s ability to accumulate like molten wax or wet clay, gives the material the visible sensation of heaviness – inert and permanent, a metal whose innate value lies in its weight itself. Consequently it display that affect naturally, the affect of compression. Its sculpted quality however creates the opposite end, trying where possible to engage with the material sparingly and with its tensile possibility. Because of this dual nature, my own comprehension of bronze as a working medium is tinged with both frustration and expectation. I work primarily with wax and clay to begin an artwork that eventually results out of numerous coordinated processes – accumulation, multiplication and assembly. The wax is itself elastic, malleable, and that very plastic nature is employed to stretch the human figure into a restless elongation and formlessness. To be truthful to the figurative form is then, anathema.

Wax and consequently bronze – allows for easy cutting, stretching, manipulating – that makes the body a restless medium of flight from form, a deviation to other unrecognized states. When the subject is labour and collective action, it becomes then a material of movement and performance. The conversion of figurative sculpture in bronze has always tended to display heroic superhuman action and victory. In India however, we live in a daily conundrum of toil, often tending to forms of collective failure. I look then to impositions of human frailty, the incapacity of human beings to achieve the most ordinary things, to expressions of failure or other forms of collective catharsis. People who push at walls, carry heavy burdens, toil to no personal end or achievement, jump or fall, or are merely caught in the daily crossfire of life. A display of the process of trying, the sculpture is conceived in optimism, about people who are in India merely background to life.



In India satire makes daily tragedy tolerable, applying distance and perspective to an observation that may seem too dire close up. All too often, the tragic is so extreme and catastrophic it is already tinged with satire. When a killer earthquake hit Gujarat some years ago, and people lay dying under the weight of illegally conceived high-rises, a German relief supply plane waited nine hours at the airport for customs clearance; at railway stations, a tout encourages you to limp so as to take advantage of the ticket quota for the handicapped. In newspapers and television, on roads and routine sightings around the city, are similar reminders of a system driven by greed, depravity and barbarism. Stories oscillate between reality and make-believe, tragedy and farce, and leave satirists wondering how to make an unwittingly funny situation funnier. With a daily dose of rapes, burnt missionaries, hacked housewives, unimaginable brutality against tribals, female feticides, racial attacks, rapes and social protests, India is a canvas expanding with each passing day. At one time it was possible to laugh and cry at the same time. Now it is difficult to stop laughing. The satirical collage on Mahatma Gandhi is not an examination of Gandhi at all; the intention is not to mock Gandhi and his ideals, but to take a closer look at ourselves by juxtaposing the reality of our middle class lives with the high principled life of the Mahatma. The result may appear funny, sad, absurd, sacrilegious, even stupid. But that is precisely the point: an attempt to infuse Gandhi with the values of today’s middle-class is obviously as much of a farce as an attempt to infuse today’s middle class with the values of Gandhi.