Art: Amrita Sher-Gil and Lionel Wendt

My review of In Dialogue: Amrita Sher-Gil and Lionel Wendt is up at Mumbai Boss. 

Untitled (Torso of a Sinhalese fisherman), by Lionel Wendt
Untitled (Torso of a Sinhalese fisherman), by Lionel Wendt

We can debate how realistic these artists’ visions were and the potentially uncomfortable politics embedded in the work of two people rooted in privilege who moulded their subjects to embody a certain worldview, but that would be missing the most powerful aspect of Sher-Gil and Wendt’s art: their determination to find beauty in themselves and the world around them.

It’s in the fragments of Sher-Gil’s self-portraits that the difference between Wendt’s and her gaze becomes evident. Both used their art to work out issues of identity. Wendt’s homosexuality was an open secret in his circle and this is evident in his photographs. He clothed his subjects with a distinct sexuality, highlighting their desirability and his gaze placed his models in a limbo between being a human subject and a sexual object. Sher-Gil’s gaze, on the other hand, was more inward as she tried to establish an empathetic connection between the viewer and those whose portraits she was painting. Had In Dialogue included Sher-Gil’s nudes — of herself and other women — there could have been a fascinating comparison of how sexuality and the human body was depicted by these two artists. Unfortunately, the selection in In Dialogue doesn’t allow for that conversation. It does, however, hint at it with a sketch and self-portrait that Sher-Gil made of herself.

Art: Noise Life by Desire Machine Collective

It’s been a while since I wrote about an art show and while writing a review of DMC’s Noise Life had me tearing my hair for a bit, I have missed writing about art.

The review was first published on Mumbai Boss. Here’s an excerpt:

Beyond the sonic force field created by the projection, the video and the floor installation (made of speakers), Noise Life has two objects: a table and a cabinet. The well-used and unremarkable table emits the rhythmic clicking of a typewriter at work. From the cabinet, you hear the high-pitched squeal of a dot matrix printer from time to time. They’re objects that make noises from another time; noises that don’t match the objects but are synonymous with the idea of creating a record. That’s when it strikes you that tables and cabinets like these have filled countless offices where people with varying degrees of power have decided which story — and whose — would be heard and which wouldn’t.

Noise Life is not a show that’s easily accessible and it takes pride in being difficult. This is, after all, an artist collective and exhibition inspired by the work of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, whose hard to pronounce surnames are the first indication of how impenetrable their writings are. Fortunately, you don’t have to have read Deleuze or understand terms like “schizoanalysis” to find Noise Life thought provoking. Ultimately, Noise Life is about stories — the ones that survive in memory and sensations, as well as those contained in files and archives.

Review: Section Yellow

This review first appeared on Mumbai Boss.

Dividing Lines

Think back to the last time you were waiting to be interviewed for a visa. Remember dressing up so that you look like you’re visa-worthy, waiting to meet a dour official, carrying a file of every possible document to prove your financial worth and respectability? Chances are, you didn’t consider yourself to be a work of art while sitting around in the visa office. Unless, of course, you’re Pakistani artist Bani Abidi. Delhi-based Abidi has been interested in the way power dynamics play out in everyday life for a while now. Last year, she made a short film that showed streets getting clogged as the traffic waited for an unseen VIP to pass. A recent set of drawings showed her fascination for the neat and clean geometry of everyday security devices, like the intercom. The works in her latest show, Section Yellow continue to explore the idea of power dynamics in seemingly banal settings.

Section Yellow is set in a consular office that seems to be in the middle of nowhere. It is made up of two sets of photographs, a few photographic pieces using text, and a video titled “The Distance from Here”, which is dedicated to her husband, graphic novelist and artist Sarnath Banerjee. The video is literally at the heart of the show. It’s a quiet, subtle short film that watches people who are waiting and preparing themselves for their interviews. Look out for how the expressions of people change, observe the quiet power dynamics at play, and wait for the little twist at the end. However, the tour de force of the show is the set of photographs showing the folders in which the paperwork supporting visa applications are kept. Against opalescent white shelves, the coloured plastic folders look luminous and are transformed into a fascinating combination of abstracts and landscapes. The other photographs are montages. They take the yellow lines marking out the queues in the video and alter their geometry.

Powerful as the works in the show are, Section Yellow feels incomplete. This isn’t only because the gallery feels half-full. With the photographic pieces using text as well as the single portrait (it’s of one of the people in the video), Abidi seems to have taken a step towards exploring individual stories. However, this angle is barely worked out and feels like a half-hearted attempt to make the walls look less empty. We recommend standing in the middle of the gallery and imagining the half behind you doesn’t exist. Focus instead on the video and the plastic folders that have become magical thanks to Abidi’s eye.