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A global passage to Indian art
Captivating creations by Murali Cheeroth, T.V. Santhosh, Subodh Gupta, Jitish Kallat, Reena Saini Kallat, Thukral and Tagra from the Frank Cohen Collection are showcased at Initial Access, Wolverhampton.

‘Passage to India – Part two’, presented courtesy Initial Access as part of its enchanting exploration of Indian contemporary art, is an extension of the first edition of the show held last year. Enthused by the success of ‘Passage to India - Part one’, the organizers are back with a selection of exciting and innovative works by today’s rising Indian art stars.

An introductory note elaborates: “Driven by the continent’s rapid growth and emerging talent, Asia’s art scene has come to the fore in the past five years. Contemporary art from India is undoubtedly drawing more interest and attention in the West than ever before, thus providing a platform for sculptors and painters who now have become a force in the international contemporary art world.”

Among the artist’s on view, Murali Cheeroth’s working process is a kind of extraction system, which draws on tiny concerns about frenzied globalization, uber-urbanization and the resultant visual/virtual stimulation therein. It folds and unfolds, wind and unwinds them into a new mode of reality for the purpose of simplifying their characteristics and relationships. This builds a new vivid visual experience.

In his painting on show ‘Enemy’s Enemy ll’, T.V. Santhosh questions the ambiguities that are inherent in notions of wrong and right, victim and enemy, innocent and evil. These are the ambiguities the media tends to paper over. Irony is integral to his dialectic, as the artist says. “It’s the only way to deal with the unresolved nature of the happenings around the world today”.

Also, on view are Reena Saini Kallat’s works from a series ‘Penumbra Passage’ composed of painted portraits hung above vitrines. They are displayed like an historical exhibition in a museum. The portraits happen to be of unknown people. She has sourced their images from the internet but has displayed them as if the subjects were of a significance belying their anonymity. Across each face is a smear of color likened to the shape of the disputed territory of POK (Pakistan Occupied Kashmir). In each vitrine is a display on red velvet of small plastic toy weapons that are laid out in the shape of an open mouth as if they’re canine teeth - relics from the ruins of a freedom hard to achieve.

Her other work ‘Memoria Corona’ comprises a huge crown modeled on that of Queen Elizabeth ll. The magnificent Kohinoor diamond (It was lost to the British at the time of the Empire) on top of it. Closer examination reveals that the crown’s surface is covered with names - those of freedom fighters who fought the British rulers. This symbol of power and Empire gets transformed into a memorial to the lives lost during India’s freedom struggle.

His sculpture of a wrecked car is typical of Jitish Kallat’s concern with the dynamic pandemonium of life in India’s crowded and chaotic cities. A full size version of a car grins and leers at the audience. It’s akin to a ghost ship thrown up on a decimated metropolis’s crazy shores. Made from casts of skulls and fake bones, each part is meticulously fashioned and reassembled like a three-dimensional jigsaw. The association with a museum relic is obvious, as if the artist is telling his audience that this where the car should now be consigned; a reminder of an age now defunct, as obsolete ecologically and philosophically as the dinosaur in a museum collection.

His second sculpture depicts a young boy holding another in his arms. The latter, in turn, clutches a toy dolphin. Based on his photos of street children at Mumbai’s traffic lights, where they congregate trying to sell toys and books, the sculpture comments on resilience in the face of urban deprivation. This is a constant theme in the artist’s work. The street boy’s feet embedded in small houses symbolize the fact that their home is wherever they rest their feet.

Jiten Thukral and Sumir Tagra collaborate on diverse media like sculpture, installation, video, graphic, product design, Web, music, fashion and painting. Their vivid, colorful work exhibits a whimsical fascination with consumerism. It blurs the lines between product placement and exhibition design, fine art and popular culture, artistic inspiration and media hype.

While Subodh Gupta is better known for his sculptures, his painting ‘Idol Thief’ shown in the first edition depicted enlarged close ups of stainless steel food containers, commonly used by workers in India to carry meals to work. The theme is echoed in the new work on display. In it an enlarged plate rack made in stainless steel hangs on the wall. Plates, buckets, beakers etc sit on its shelves. These are the implements needed in an Indian kitchen.

Here the distortion of scale builds a near-surreal presence. Taken out of context this sculpture could well be reduced in the mind’s eye to the size a domestic plate rack, but in the gallery it acquires a monumental appearance. In his second work ‘There is Always Cinema (lV)’ an old door found by the artist has been cast in brass and then placed one in front of the other, suggesting that even the most ubiquitous everyday detritus can reveal a concealed exotic or precious identity.