Review: Gallery SKE for Gallery BMB

This review was first published in ArtSlant.

By Sakshi Gupta

The speedy rise of GALLERYSKE as one of India’s more important galleries is, in many ways, a testimony to how quickly Indian contemporary art has soared in critical estimation. Choosing to leave the modernist masters and conventional art practices to others, GALLERYSKE concentrated on looking forward. Its focus was on finding and promoting new artists whose work used new media, sculptural installations and performance art. A showcase of the gallery’s artists should be exciting, unconventional and full of novelty. Despite a few interesting pieces, most of the selection made by curator Bose Krishnamachari for “GALLERYSKE for Gallery BMB” doesn’t quite live up to that promise.

Zakkir Hussain opens the exhibition with a mixed media work on paper. Hussain’s untitled triptych is full of violent imagery, recalling descriptions of torture particularly in the first and second panels. Yet, despite the macabre note, this piece isn’t particularly memorable. The mutilated body has been seen in a variety of avatars in contemporary art and Hussain’s efforts don’t stand out in comparison. Similarly, Sakshi Gupta’s emaciated animal sculpture inevitably invites a comparison to Bharti Kher’s famous sculptures and falls short. Gupta’s other piece, a weird and impossible skeleton, is much stronger and benefits from dramatic lighting, even if it does look like something Tim Burton may have concocted for “The Corpse Bride.”

Avinash Veeraraghavan’s prints and Navin Thomas’s video, “While Your Were Sleeping” are works that needed an introduction for the viewer to appreciate them. Veeraraghavan is interested in creating patterns and using repetition and layers to tell stories. At first, Veeraraghavan’s imagery looks random but once the eye settles into the geometry of his piece the suggestions of dark and violent tales emerge. Unfortunately, themes like castration and repressed sexual identity need to be treated with more inventiveness than Veeraraghavan displays, particularly in the video titled “My Inexplicable Love for Cotton Candy” which repeatedly shows (among other things) a rose blooming and circling knives.

“While Your Were Sleeping,” the only work by Navin Thomas, might easily be missed by many visitors. Not only is it tucked away in the belly of the gallery, but it’s niche is so dark that you have to grope around to find the headphones. The gadget seen in the video is a toy Thomas found in a market of Chinese manufactured toys in old Delhi. The toy sings an Iranian song. If you don’t knows this background, however, then all this video shows is a bit of junk whose tinny speakers leak a cheerful song with gibberish lyrics. You wouldn’t recognise the rusty little gadget as a cultural traveller. All the sophistication of centuries-old artistic traditions of Iran, China and India is contrasted with this product of their contemporary cultures and politics: a mechanical toy that has decayed and looks like nothing recognisable as it sputters recorded noise. It’s a shame the show didn’t have more of Thomas’s works because he is among the more exciting artists in the GALLERYSKE stable.

Srinivasa Prasad’s “Tailor Mama” is perhaps the most charming part of the show. It’s an inventive hybrid of a sewing machine and bicycle, complete with a set of jewel-bright spools of thread. Although “Tailor Mama” is quite obviously a fantastical piece, it’s easy to imagine a man cheerfully riding it through rural India, as the accompanying prints show. The installation displays the sense of enterprise that marks the self-employed and is simultaneously tinged with a sense of nostalgia because the present is characterised by mass-produced, machine-made goods. Prasad’s two “Nest” photographs share that sense of melancholia. The first picture shows a bare, leafless, lifeless tree. In the second, there is a nest in the tree’s branches but it is quite obviously not something built by a bird and hence looks ridiculous. “Nest” shows the artist intervening in an effort to hold on to what has been lost and attempting to replicate nature, without success.

On the whole, “GALLERYSKE for Gallery BMB” feels unsatisfactory. This is partly because the insight it offers into the works of the five chosen artists feels too cursory, and the artists have not been aided by the manner of display.  Even if they were given proper contextualization, not all of the pieces are eloquent or impressive enough to make an impact.

While white space is important and large works need breathing room in order to be appreciated properly, the exhibition design of “GALLERYSKE for Gallery BMB” leaves the gallery looking oddly empty in parts. It’s as though there weren’t enough works to hang on the walls. This is a problem that Gallery BMB has had on repeated occasions as the artworks negotiate the passage-like central section of the gallery and the gallery’s side-wall.  One interesting area of the gallery is the aforementioned niche in which Navin Thomas’s video “While Your Were Sleeping” is on display. However, rarely has this bit of the gallery been used in a manner that doesn’t make the exhibited art look like either a neglected member of the show or an afterthought that couldn’t be housed elsewhere. Thomas’s interesting video feels similarly abandoned in the dark corner and it’s a shame.

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