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NS Harsha goes ‘Picking through the Rubble’ in London
Acclaimed artist NS Harsha showcases his first solo in London. He unveils a series of new paintings and an installation that has been created specifically for the show at Victoria Miro Gallery. Iniva (Institute of International Visual Arts) simultaneously features his monumental installation ‘Nations’.

The talented creator is known for his ability to work across a diverse media comprising site-specific installations, sculptures and meaningful community-based collaborations. His paintings that encompass fields of sparsely detailed, vast spaces often comprise highly individuated figures in miniature. His installations are often political in scope. On occasions, he looks to combine objects with sites-specific paintings on floors or walls in order to engage with the exhibition space.

NS Harsha’s oeuvre is invariably loaded with pointed social or political commentary, displaying his keenness to exploring the relationship art shares with cultural representation and otherwise. Invariably, location – purely geographical or cultural – tends to play an important role in his practice. Born in 1969, he completed his B.F.A. (Painting) at C.A.V.A. Mysore (1992) and later did his Masters in Painting from Faculty of Fine Arts, Baroda (1995). His noteworthy international exhibitions over the last couple of years include Sharjah Biennale; ‘Leftovers’ (solo), Maison Hermes, Tokyo and Osaka, Japan; ‘Santhal Family’, Muhka Museum, Antwerpen, Belgium; ‘Indian Highway’, Serpentine Gallery, London; ‘Come give us a speech’ (solo), Bodhi Art, New York; ‘India Moderna’, IVAM Valencia, Spain; ‘Prospects’, Auditorium Parco della Musica, Rome, Italy; ‘Horn Please’, Museum of fine arts, Berne, Switzerland; and ‘New Narratives’, Chicago Cultural Centre, USA.

In a testimony to his talent, he was given the Sanskriti Award, New Delhi (2003), and was the winner of the 3rd Artes Mundi Prize (2008). Incidentally, he worked with Iniva in the 1990s, an institute that creates exhibitions, multimedia, education and specific research projects, designed to focus on the work of artists from culturally diverse backgrounds.

‘Nations’, an intriguing installation on view here, consists of 192 treadle sewing machines, hand-painted flags of the UN members, and multiples of thread. The large work was previously showed at Sharjah Biennial, and the Shanghai Art Fair. Providing an insight into its conceptualization, an accompanying note states, “The treadle sewing machines are connected by a web of cottons threading throughout the installation from spool to bobbin winder, from wheel to the eye of a needle. The black machines are ornately decorated in gold reading ‘Butterfly’ and ‘Made in the People’s Republic of China’ - an English translation of the Chinese lettering and graphic flourishes.

“Each spool holds a reel of colored cotton, and under the foot of each machine a national flag is held as if being worked on. The ordered lines of machinery draw a scene of a busy working sweatshop. What acts as barriers to enter the machines are threads as well as remnants of cloth-strewn all over the floor! As a viewer we are called to attend to our own relationship to mechanized labor serving global markets and to our own participation in the fabrication of national identity.”

Meanwhile, his new group of paintings at Victoria Miro Gallery revolves around ideas of the absurd and meaninglessness. Victoria Miro opened her gallery in Mayfair in 1985 to show the work of emerging and established artists from Europe, the US and Asia, and nurture the UK’s young artists. In 2000 the gallery space relocated to northeast London. It has a garden and a beautiful landscaped area. A 9,000-square-foot exhibition and viewing space was launched in 2006. A curatorial note to the NS Harsha show elaborates: “Taking on the challenge of representing on canvas the absurd within human nature, he furthers his exploration of humanity en masse, with an underlying sensitivity for both the individual and the group.”

NS Harsha's initial engagement with the specific ideas led to the work (Spot an innocent civilian). In it rows of standing halo-adorned figures appear as if being part of an identification lineup, presumably for appraising and determining the 'innocent' of the title. To put it in the artist’s words, 'I continue to search for a way in which to portray large crowds or gatherings and their collective absurd acts. It’s interesting to observe a crowd that has lost its collective rationale - or its attempt to achieve a collective rationale!”

A curatorial note mentions: “He often invests his work with an awareness of the medium, in which the figures become an audience for a presupposed viewer, who in turn becomes complicit with or somehow activates the incident depicted. The work arose out of fascination with the term 'innocent civilian' coined by media, which, for the artist him, came to signify another exploited byword used to various ends in the global political arena. He presents another site-specific installation of integrated painting as well as sculptural elements.”

Through his new set of works, NS Harsha continues to draw on both traditional narratives and popular culture as they deftly interweave international and local points of reference.