Despite the Jurassic Park-like Elements, Jitish Kallat Disappoints
Jitish Kallat is one of the pillars of Indian contemporary art, but his current show leaves much to be desired.
The National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA) has shown several mid-career retrospectives of artists such as Anish Kapoor, Subodh Gupta and Atul Dodiya. These shows managed to break out of the so-called 'art circuit' and reach out to a larger audience with phenomenal aplomb.
2017 has started with Jitish Kallat's much-awaited retrospective, one that wraps itself around an ever-evolving practice of 20 years. But that said, the show leaves much to be desired.
Jitish's wide-ranging oeuvre is not represented here as well as it should have been. He has addressed the pushes and pulls of contemporary life with not just his prodigious understanding but also with his fantastic draftsmanship. However, the show squanders his reputation as a spectacular virtuoso of space and political commentary by its shoddy curation, its placement of works and bad lighting (the latter most crucial for installations).
Evoking Images of Jurassic Park Inhabitants
In two decades, what has truly stood the test of time are Jitish's signature paintings and his (pre-historic) 'bone vehicles'.
The paintings continue to evoke mystery, with their intentional patina and blisters – making a statement on our need for people pictures as a reminder of what once was and is now lost. These portraits may not necessarily be of important people but are instead of those living on the edges trying to make ends meet. What gives a sense of loss and poetic melancholy to these works is the skill Jitish brings to his canvases and the painterly ageing he lavishes on them.
His bone vehicles are of epic proportions, with names that evoke images of Jurassic Park inhabitants. If these works elicit fear and intimidation, they are being effective. They are meant to wrench your gut and make you see the mindless violence that has largely desensitised us to so much ordinary everyday violence.
Behind this truck (Aquasaurus) are tiny paper drawings that I made in 2003... sketches of vehicles burnt down in some form of aggression and public outcry. These drawings disappeared and I rediscovered them a few years later while opening old boxes in my studio. But at the time, they had already become sculptures in my head. And this (work) is playful, being beautiful and repulsive at the same time.Jitish Kallat
A lot of multiple-framed photo works created almost 10 years ago – spread across the NGMA hall – could seem visually jaded for the existing smartphone owner who is used to playing with photo-collage apps today.
The work, titled 'Cry of the Gland' is a set of extreme close-ups of different, everyday shirt pockets and the objects they hold. Mostly pens, ID cards, spectacles, key chains and sometimes earphones. The artist calls it organic extensions of the body.
Art to Represent a Journey
There's a poignant story behind why Jitish decided to create 'Conditions Apply' which traces the phases of the moon. He uses the image of a chapati to depict the lunar cycle. It is used as a metaphor for the different phases we all go through in life. He wanted to trace all the phases of the moon that his father had seen in his entire lifetime.
A lot of sketches are displayed only to understand the journey of his art practice.
Tiny drawings sit on cross roads of four bodies of work. They’re fundamental to the journey of the work. At the time of making a drawing, you never think that it would lead to larger works.
I’d suggest you take a good two or three hours out of your day if you’re interested in embarking on this journey with Jitish. He is undoubtedly one of the pillars of Indian contemporary art and has produced a show that can fire up your imagination in bits. Unfortunately, it is mostly tepid.
(Sahar Zaman is an independent arts journalist, political newscaster and artist. She has founded ‘Hunar TV’, Asia’s web channel on the arts.)
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