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Inside the White Cube

An exhibition at Vadehra Art Gallery in Delhi presents the potential of graphic storytelling with the works of five artists.

Written by Pallavi Pundir |
May 3, 2016 12:08:51 am
delhi, delhi art exhibition, defence colony exhibition, Vadehra Art Gallery, indian express talk Work by artist Renuka Rajiv

The graphic form has never been so fully realised as it has now. From the nostalgia-inducing prints of Phantom, Mandrake and Amar Chitra Katha, to the raw and stylised tempo and textures of modern-day works by artists such as Orijit Sen, Priya Kurian Sarnath Banerjee or Vishwajyoti Ghosh — the graphic form has reached, as Neil Gaiman has often stated, the “golden age” or “utopia”. The form, moreover, has long moved out of the limits of reproduced prints to the hallowed confines of the white cube.

Within this context, we look at the exhibition at the Vadehra Art Gallery, Delhi, titled “At the Turn of the Page”, with a refreshed gaze, one that builds on the traditional definition of the graphic form and explores a language that is deconstructed and redefined through a medium other than the comic book format. Through the works of five artists, the exhibition turns simple stories into a fascinating analysis of this artistic practice, narrated through comics, prints, zines, animations and illustrations.

We first encounter a figurative series, Family Jams: Portraits Series by Bangalore-based artist Renuka Rajiv, done in watercolour, pen and coffee stains, inspired by events and people. Moving on, the artist presents Mantastic Mumbai, a handmade book; Sympathy for the Feral, an animation video; and finally, Black Hole, monoprints. Rajiv’s work as the beginning point sets the stage for the show. “Art history has a lot of mainstream artists working with these formats. Sometimes, we take the artists more seriously than the medium. But this medium has potential. So I wanted to see artists working with different formats,” says Delhi-based curator Shivangi Singh.

With humour and dry sarcasm, Rajiv folds in her fascination for materiality, a quality that comes through in several ways — a handmade title Smoking Feels Real Good for Sum People weaves in photographs, text, cut-outs and sketches, while a work from Toxin Series brings forth incongruous figures done in monoprints, a form of printmaking with copperplate that renders the work a rough, abstract texture.

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Another artist from Bangalore, Bakula Nayak, moves the focus to a more surrealistic arena, one where real-time objects, vintage postcards and letters in her case, are juxtaposed with intricate illustrations of her own imagination. Her drawings, inspired by children’s book illustrations, germinate from the contents of her findings, be it a long lost love letter, legal document or bill receipts. “She may not have a relationship with those papers but she creates one,” says Singh.

Shillong-based Treibor Mawlong, a Visva Bharati, Shantiniketan, alumnus, takes us back to the original structure of the graphic book with his Khasi Folktales, an ongoing graphic novel, incomplete segments of which are exhibited here. “The language here is also exciting; it’s in Khasi. This is one of the key things about art, especially graphic art format, because text leads to stories, which lead to interpretations,” says Singh. Khasi folklore is rich and rife with texts, seldom images, and his project recreates the landscape and folkloric creatures out of famous stories. He also brings his Bengal school influences through woodcut works, Diaries from the Hills. These are personal stories of people and objects around him, a treatment that makes one look at documenting differently too.

The only large-scale exhibit at the show is by Baroda-based Shrimanti Saha,whose three panels revisit mythological stories, with a visual interpretation that forgoes the original. Once broken down, the original canvas evokes images from science fiction, philosophy, evolutionary biology and literary references. The churning of the ocean, or the samudra manthan, episode from the Indian epic, for instance, is featured with the Kaamdhenu, the ship from Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea and the falling Icarus from Greek mythology.
The show wraps itself up with London-based Paul Bill Barritt’s immersive works. His book, Ten Leisure Machines, is broken down into untitled illustrations of his “machines” for humans. Next, five animation videos feature a mouse and a cat in absurd plots. The final chapter is White Morning, a dark, dream-like short film created with pen and pencil, mixed media, cut-outs and after-effects. The film’s brutal story, that of childhood memories of misbehaviour and transgression, plays out against whimsical illustrations and bucolic background, giving not just the film, but the exhibition a dense, multi-layered dimension to it.

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The exhibition is at D-53, Defence Colony, Delhi, till June 30

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