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A mélange of styles and themes
‘The Audience and the Eavesdropper: New Art from India & Pakistan’ is a significant traveling show, first hosted in London, and currently on view in New York. It features 10 influential and sought after artists from India and Pakistan, including Anita Dube, Thukral & Tagra, Justin Ponmany, Samarendra Raj Singh, Raqs Media Collective, Hema Upadhyay, Rashid Rana, Sheba Chhachhi, Probir Gupta and Hamra Abbas. Phillips de Pury & Company has organized the show in association with Gallery Nature Morte.

The works by the artists featured simultaneously bring out the symmetry and the diversity of their oeuvre. Rashid Rana addresses socio-political through ironic juxtapositions. His creations oscillate between the micro and the macro; he conceives a composite image arranged from thousands of miniaturized photos, depicting varied themes.

He has been quoted as saying: “In this age of uncertainty we seem to have lost the privilege of having a singular world view. We live in a state of duality. Now, every image, idea and truth (ancient or modern) encompasses the opposite within itself. This internal conflict translates into my creations, on a formal level, as well as having geographical, political and historical connotations.”

In ‘Little Weapons of Defense’, Anita Dube constructs a free-standing ‘Jali (net)’ screen from leftover packing materials. The screens, typically heavily-ornamented and perforated stone screens in Mughal structures are a venerated architectural element of these classy, traditional buildings. Using a wall made of Styrofoam packing material - bandaged and disguised – the artist places velvet-covered rocks in the nooks and crannies of the screen, and they act as both fetish objects and suggestive weapons.

The body of work in this show is almost completely monochromatic, exploring shades of blacks, grays and beiges. The artist does not want colors to interfere with her conceptual process. She employs found objects, recycled materials and discarded debris, confirming her observation that in India, we save everything, and everything is re-used.

Metaphors in Hema Upadhyay’s work point to the rising intolerance in India today, and points to the perpetrators and gullible victims. She reflects upon sensitive issues of class, gender and dislocation in her works. Combining painting, sculpture, photography and collage, they evoke a sense of transient nostalgia that does not belong to any specific location.

Probir Gupta sources his shrapnel from nothing but abandoned military waste. Using the debris, the artist fashions mutant, macabre bodies and landscapes. The resultant fascinatingly complex paintings - with unexpected shots of color – bear the characteristics of a bomb blast: dismembered, chaotic and often apocalyptic. He employs a thick, almost violent, use of impasto and brush strokes, and his imagery weaves rough-hewn bits of machinery into human flesh.

Utilizing a variety of media like metallic foils, holographic paper, acrylic and oil paints, Samarendra Raj Singh weaves dissonant and modern imagery into his composition, simultaneously preserving a sense of the traditional. Abstraction and geometry play a significant role in these paintings.

Sheba Chhachhi originally worked in a photo-journalistic format, studying groups of women who operate on the fringes of mainstream society, tracing the lives of female ascetics in north India. For her body of work, the artist has developed a new artistic language by conceiving photographic light boxes that comprise a series of shimmering layered screens. Each is printed with a photographic collage constructed of diverse elements. The works take on a startling dimensionality even as each layer assimilates in and out of each other for a vibrant, almost cinematic aesthetic.

New Delhi based artists group Raqs Media Collective includes Jeebesh Bagchi, Monica Narula and Shuddhabrata Sengupta. According to Shuddhabrata Sengupta, a lot of their work is rooted in terms of its context in New Delhi He has mentioned: “In a sense, we have always perceived our work as responding to the city. Even if it articulates across large cultural distances, we see it as an ongoing process of responding to the locality we live in."

Thukral & Tagra work in a meticulous, photo-realistic painting style too create surrealistic landscapes that both quote from and aesthetically surpass the slick product advertisements and commercials, epitomizing the visual landscape of our century. Hamra Abbas melds political discussions with light-hearted subjects and meticulous craftsmanship.

Justin Ponmany explores the life in a country defined by class distinctions and the brute Darwinian quality of life. He uses photographs as a basis for his creations, and imbues his surfaces with plastic, printer’s ink, resin, salt and holograms to create his rugged stylistic effects.