Curated by Prima Kurien
“To paint- as some do, even today, taking from colour which, once applied to the canvas transcends meaning and dissipates our memories- is, one might say nothing but itself: one imagines that here the immediate exists, here the veil has been torn open.”
(Yves Bonnefoy, “On Painting and Poetry, on Anxiety and Peace”, The Love and Lure of Painting)
The representation of the exterior world is one of the oldest obsessions of humankind, rivalling hunger, thirst, and procreation, as it is the closest ally to the “self” that seeks its identity in an individual, in relation to nature and culture. It is evident that one cannot be exposed to the “self” without exertion. Hence, one must draw a line to tear through the veil… to break free (from the mirror that imprisons and limits the understanding of the world and hence of ourselves)- to trace life with an astute eye of an errant- dissecting time, devouring appearances, and etching the partially-realised and the momentary into visual memory.
Contemporary artists Brojeshwar Mondal and Parul Sharma break free from visual apathy through their explorations of errantry. Mondal commits to it by venturing outside of human settlements- into the wilderness of the lush mountainous landscapes of Siliguri (West Bengal) and patches of verdure in the bustling city of Kolkata (West Bengal). He becomes a soothsayer for his culture(s)- who must dive and divine the often unseen and unperceived moments of nature. Sharma on the other hand, explores her errantry by scaling the architecture of the city, to leave behind the pervasive human presence that threatens to engulf her- her ascension into errantry as inevitable as the dystopian future of the city that she leaves behind.
The distinct trajectories these artists choose are not the results of detachment from dominant narratives on art or a state of rootlessness but of awareness and acceptance of their relative position as errant within the changing natural and social landscapes of the spaces they inhabit.
Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.
What might have been is an abstraction
Remaining a perpetual possibility
Only in a world of speculation.
(T.S Eliot, “Burnt Norton”, Four Quartets)
Brojeswar Mondal (b. 1994, Siliguri, West Bengal) delves into remnants and remainders of nature that the uninitiated mind sees but chooses not to absorb or delve into. Traces of nature are committed to paper, in watercolour, acrylic, aerosol spray, ink and pigment, often found floating in a vast, white space. The artist invites us into his carefully curated memories of the fleeting and often disregarded phenomena of nature – the silhouettes of mountains and trees exposed by a sudden burst of light in a nocturnal sky, the transient colours and reflections of a fast-flowing river, the constantly shifting sand banks of rainfed rivers, the moisture collecting on a blade of grass at risk of disappearing into the wet ground below- all find expression in his world(s).
Such compositions invite the eye to step into them, shake off the dust of the mundane and take a stroll through the artist’s visual memories… to give in to the temptation of skipping from one abstract form to another, of gently tip-toeing on filigreed lines and dewy drops, to wade into flowing fields of colour, stop occasionally to dip into vaguely familiar references, and attempt at holding on to the fringes of meaning he scatters across the composition, only to find that they slip out of our mind’s grasp like grains of sand, once we emerge out of his world(s). The instinct to chase after patterns and meaning has the eye wander further into his world(s)-the perfect lure to hold us enraptured, a bit longer… and to commit to his errantry-a search for purity in nature.
By refusing to provide any preemptable strategy or path into his compositions, the artist seeks to intervene in the meaning-making process. He plays with our inherent need for meaning-making that ends, despite all our efforts, with us giving in to his gambit. Upon relinquishing power, he takes us gently through the rabbit hole, across lush, green paddy fields, into unusual streams and rivers, over flickering mountainous horizons, beside remnants of trees and near dewy blades of grass…to a state of being where only our eye exists- a place where everyone travels to but doesn’t quite arrive at.
Can meaning be nailed down fully and completely, when it loses its solid anchor- context? In Mondal’s work where only time exists, it spreads itself out, daring us to examine the abstract title, limitless white space, decontextualised forms, lines, and vibrant colours closely. There is no immediacy in his work, only the desire for the immediate. In a culture where we are constantly bombarded with visual images and patterns, Mondal through his explorations of nature, provides us an absolution from our habit of lazy looking by focusing on the immediate- that which runs the risk of changing.
Mondal’s compositions are slippery paths into his world(s). He tears open the torments of our time… that in looking for meaning and in the search for patterns or pre-existing imageries, we risk losing the unity-the moment in its entirety, the only place in which to truly live; that in sketching, drawing, painting, as in breathing, thinking and creating, we bring into existence, a power misperceived, or partial in understanding- that a landscape is never complete, that an untrained eye absorbs only but one perspective, whereas multiple exist simultaneously in a given moment …and that we all limp perilously on the crutches of an incomplete understanding of the world(s) we inhabit and exploit.
And I have known the eyes already, known them all—
The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,
And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,
When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,
Then how should I begin
To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?
(T.S Eliot, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock)
A perennial wanderer in cosmopolitan Delhi- a city brimming with and blaring of human presence, Parul Sharma could have filled her compositions with cramped city views and loud human presence. Instead, she captures the city- with its partially completed buildings, its sparse verdure, its smoggy skyline, and evidence of social and economic disparities of her time- from the quiet windows and the immuring walls of her home and studio. The only human presence in these intimate settings is the artist herself- pinned down and wriggling on the floor.
In Sharma’s current body of work, the eye saunters into the compositions with no sense of urgency. It casually traces the contours of floating forms, intercepts and dodges the sharp lines that cleave the space into walls, a floor, a roof, doors, and windows, to approach and then poke at the light and dark shadows of the lattice window to turn and find-to its surprise, a struggling life pinned to the floor. The erratic beating of its heart is the only sound in the space. The pinned wings, upon realising the presence of an examiner, renew its efforts to free themselves.
The artist offers no gentle path to break out of her compositions. To escape the sound and sight of the pinned and struggling life, one must clamber frantically up the sharp-edged crevices and corners and slip, try and wiggle out of the shadows of the lattice windows and get stuck, slip off the curtains to understand that it is only by scaling up the walls and clutching at the strands of breeze or on an errant cloud that one leaves behind the thwarted human spirit, and the haze of the cosmopolitan city and its suppressive codes.
For Sharma, architecture is a measure of the fragmented and conflicting worldview it frames. It encloses within it, the artist’s memories, fears, insecurities, and ever-increasing resentment towards moral and social codes of her time. The architectural features of her confinement provide Sharma, with an imagination that-though partial and limited, tempts her to scale up the city -of which she is a resenting resident, to seek out the wilderness.
In Sharma’s compositions, the angst-ridden creative mind caged within the social codes of a cosmopolitan city that is hurtling headlong into a dystopian future, taps incessantly at the windowpanes, pecks away at the lattices of light and dark, beats her wings against the walls, and scales up the walled and congested humanscape of Delhi. The golden bird with its wings of gold, from the prodigious Rabindranath Tagore’s poem, Dui Pankhi (Two Birds) breaks free of its confinement. In these attempts, Sharma is an errant who captures songs of freedom within her windows and embraces every hope of verdure that gnaws away at her confinement.
Sharma belongs to a cosmopolitan imagination that moves beyond buildings, cities, and continents. Home and belonging are equated with confinement, displacement, and anxiety in her work. Through errantry, Sharma frees herself from the constraints of belonging- finding her “self”, away from the confines of her home and her city. Her work in this context, offers a critique of the notions of home and belonging, both often equated with stasis, stability, and security.
In the bustling capital of the nation-state, Sharma brings forth the loneliness of the cosmopolitan life where malcontent, fatigue, excess and social inequalities malinger and corrode the human spirit. The overwhelming question then, as the poet T.S Eliot poses in The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock is whether we dare to amble further into Sharma’s compositions, to break through the veils of concrete, bricks, steel, and glass, to scale up the pervasive humanscape around us, to discover epiphanies of our own, or do we choose to turn back to retreat to our confines!
– Shruthi Issac
Shruthi Issac spearheads the museum initiatives as Director- Collection Museum Initiatives and Curator – The Roohi & Rajiv Savara Family Collection at the New Delhi-based The Savara Foundation for the Arts. She completed her Masters in Museum Studies from The Johns Hopkins University – USA and her M. Phil and Masters degrees in French and Francophone Studies from the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.