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
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.