Saturday, January 08, 2011

art in mumbai

Unbelievable but true. Below, two brief notes on ongoing shows in Mumbai. Versions of these appeared in Mint Lounge on January 8, 2011.

Ranbir Kaleka's Sweet Unease

Sweet Unease, Ranbir Kaleka’s first solo show in Mumbai, may lead viewers to wonder why it took so long to bring the extraordinary vision of this Patiala-born artist to this city. Bringing together new works with a retrospective of major Kaleka works over the last decade, the show offers a comprehensive look into his fascinating, unsettling trans-media art.

Ranjit Hoskote describes Kaleka’s work as imbued with ‘epic disquiet.’ It is a sense that remains consistent through the themes and concerns of each of his painting/video projection installations. Phantasms rise from tables and walk through eerie, intimate hallways (Fables from the House of Ibaan); history plays out along a railway line through a strange, half-alienating play on a film montage (Not From Here); birth, growth and death become the thematical underpinnings to a montage about a bird (Man With Cockerel). The ethereal effect of Kaleka’s use of media rests on strong structural and emotional patterns in each work; engaging with each installation can effortlessly take up hours at a time, and it’s not hard to imagine the works entrancing casual viewers just as intensely as they do serious critics.

Kaleka’s work sometimes evokes a joyous sense of the fantastical. As a man with a hammer pounds on the wall opposite which he is projected, to have a white horse manifest before him (Cul-de-sac in Taxila), it’s hard not to feel a spontaneous delight. But it is the multilayered, long-drawn out sophistication of the narratives of each of Kaleka’s installations that complicates them, even more than their conceptualism.

In fusing video art with painting, Kaleka’s work finds its most spectacular idiom. In works like The Kettle, repeated viewings can draw viewers in to a nuanced contemplation of time and its illusory effects. The intimate familiarity of a street scene is always present; it is as though Kaleka opens a window through which stories come pouring through. The centerpiece of this effect is perhaps the marvelous, extended Sweet Unease itself. As its characters provoke orientation and disorientation in their endless, ghost story of a dance, it is impossible not be torn away with an ineffable sense of the world made strange.

Ranbir Kaleka’s Sweet Unease shows at Volte, Mumbai, until February 15.

Sudhir Patwardhan's Family Fictions

Sudhir Patwardhan’s new works, which go on display in his show, Family Fictions, suggest a new direction for this veteran observer of the intersection between the social and the personal. His charcoal sketches and drawings demonstrate a bold, intimate engagement with people. In his paintings, sis gaze remains trained on urban life, as it has in many of his earlier realizations of Mumbai’s public scenes. But this time, it trains itself inward as he paints playful, poignant scenes of life inside apartment houses. Full Circle (acrylic on canvas) arranges old and young members of a family in a tableau of the ages of the man. Yet, the narrative it suggests is warmer and more personal than an abstract engagement with ageing and death. In the tightly composed, shadowed space of the city apartment, the painting creates a moving comment on the environment it invokes.

The theme of enclosure repeats itself through several of the paintings in this show. At the center of many of Patwardhan’s works is a window in an apartment wall, that cuts out of the enclosure of the observer’s room to show other enclosed spaces. Buildings, verandahs, and even streets become bound spaces in these works, poised on the edge of cosy suburban comfort and a quiet claustrophobia. In this, as his other work, Patwardhan affects a compassionate seriousness.

His playfulness illumines the eponymous Family Fiction, a work that interrogates fictionality by assembling a motley cast of characters and settings in its space. Uma Thurman from the film Pulp Fiction co-exists with a middle-aged Indian woman sitting by a bookshelf; a silhouetted gunman draws the eye to the figure of a nude, fleeing the edges of the canvas. The effect is delightful.

Sudhir Patwardhan’s Family Fictions, showing at Sakshi Gallery, Mumbai, from January 8-January 27.


  1. Do you note that the divisions between Delhi and Bombay extend to the artists that find exhibition in these cities? I was told by the proprietor of a Delhi-based art-house western Indian painters are rarely promoted in Delhi (unless they've lived and worked in the north for yonks); likewise, many north Indian artists are hardly to be found in Bombay art-houses. If he is right, this exhibition by a man from Patiala in Bombay is heartening.

  2. Perhaps that's a question someone with more experience of the national art scene than I can answer, Feanor. Do you mean that this divide is exclusive to North and West? (For example, Bengal or Kerala artists show in both cities). Someone like Atul Dodiya is popular in Delhi as well as his hometown, Bombay.

    Also, Kaleka is Patiala born but a UK citizen.