On India’s Architectural Digest and Seismic Haiku

What do Deepika Padukone and Sachin Tekade have in common? A vague connection to contemporary Indian architecture. This piece was published in the Sunday Guardian, as this fortnight’s Culture Mulcher. Scroll down to see some of Tekade’s works (the article has one image; I, by the power of The Loft’s PR, have more).

India’s Altering Skyline…

There’s a new magazine on the newsstands. Deepika Padukone, looking more architectural than most skyscrapers, invites magazine buyers to pick up the Indian edition of Architectural Digest. Given how hideous and homogeneous most Indian architecture is, many would no doubt snort at the idea of a magazine with that title. After all, the magazine’s story about Padukone’s home decor is illustrated with photographs taken in a studio that has been constructed to look like what someone at Architectural Digest thinks is real, modern Indian home.

My favourite shot: Padukone channelling Bad Barbie while sprawled awkwardly on a bed and a carpet, in a room that would warm the cockles of Austin Powers’ heart. One may ask, if the magazine can’t find an actual, lived-in space to feature even in its launch issue, then how is it planning to fill its pages once every two months?

But given the numerous luxury apartments, Armani Casas and homes designed by Jade Jagger that are being built all over the country, launching Architectural Digest is a prescient move by Conde Nast India. Not just because builders must be doing a happy dance now that there’s a magazine in which ads for their projects can be neatly nestled, but because rampant construction has been among the shiniest touchstones of modernity for urban India in recent times. Even small towns have structures that seem to be inspired by LEGOland. Builders are changing the way the country looks and that, in turn, can’t help but make an impression upon our imagination.

Back in 2008, artist Nataraj Sharma built an installation titled Work in Progress. It was, to quote special effects guru Weta Workshop, a ‘bigature’. The gallery turned into a construction site (literally) as workers welded beams, pillars and metallic rods to create an incomplete multi-storeyed building that was full of spectacular detail. You could peer in and see little flats acting as temporary homes for labourers who would never be able to afford such a place once it was completed but who owned the unfinished space, marking it as their territory with their meagre belongings.

Priyanka Choudhary’s debut show in 2010 had a striking installation using bamboo poles, the kind used to build scaffolding. It seemed as though hundreds of these poles where frozen in the middle of free falling. In Jitish Kallat’s Fieldnotes: Tomorrow Was Here Yesterday, bamboo scaffolding crawled all over the baroque interiors of Bhau Daji Lad Museum, although Kallat added a twist by fashioning bamboo out of resin.

Most recently, Sachin Tekade showed a series titled Seismic Haikus at The Loft in Mumbai. Flat, white sheets of paper turned three-dimensional as structures, built of pixel-like squares, emerged out of them. It looked like a still frame of an eruption. Tekade’s technique is deceptively simple. He cuts countless little square flaps that give the impression of something projecting out of the paper. They also create a play of light and shade that in turn lends a wonderful energy to his works; as though they could, in the blink of an eye, shape-shift.

Tekade’s inspiration for these works was the crumbling and rebuilding that he saw all around him. Tekade translated the phenomenon of old buildings being razed and flattened so that angular new buildings emerge out of that ground into paper. In the little raised flaps, one can see the glinting, glassy surfaces of behemoth structures that rise out of neighbourhoods like Lower Parel (where The Loft is located) and Gurgaon. Those who have flown into Mumbai may be reminded of the shanties that rupture the landscape near the airport, their square roofs mimicked by Tekade’s cut-outs.

It wasn’t that long ago when cityscapes with neon aura and the spiky skyline were exotic. When asked to draw a landscape, most of us as kids thought of hills, trees and meadows. The pastoral was what we considered natural, even if we lived in cities. But the building boom is changing things. The structures that torpedo out of Tekade’s sheets of paper, these are the new landscapes that inform our imagination.

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5 thoughts on “On India’s Architectural Digest and Seismic Haiku”

  1. I love those paper sculptures. Far prettier than any architects building could be.

    I really dislike most indian architects. At least the ones building in Bombay.
    It’s like their vision translates to what I imagine the love child of a Punjabi housewife and Guju porn star would build. That’s what our cityscape will eventually look like.

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