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Artist Profile1
An artist who links his practice to the immediate socio-political milieu
An upcoming and talented artist from India, Prasanta Sahu, marries two opposing ideas: the unique brushstroke and the reproduced image. He is acutely aware of the pictorial surface of the canvas. In them, monochromatic pictures are calculatively and captivatingly contrasted with vividly painted areas and apparent abrasions on the canvas create tempting textural motifs.

However, he in his work consciously looks to move away from the high-modernist obsession with the painted surface’s formal properties. He essentially strives to fathom complex relationship and transformations occurring between the self and the world as he perceives it. His paintings act as a mapping and surveying of the human existence. For him, the human body is the most familiar two-dimensional image for expressing latent feelings. Acutely aware of the cultural environs and socio-economic climate, mindless violence and brutality arouse a sense of strong vehemence and protest in him that he expresses in his art. It’s one of the most important aspects of his practice.

His paintings operate as visible performative gestures that bring together the realms of art and society. For instance, if he deliberately disfigures its surfaces to point to the materiality of the canvas, the technique also alludes to the symbolic importance of the image thus blemished. Violence is engagingly enacted on the pictorial surface. Art is not any longer the vehicle of seeking isolated intellectual pleasure, it’s an integral aspect of the immediate social and political milieu: both implicated in its aggression and a site for critique. The artist begins with bewildering blown-up reproductions of his body. He then paints over the grainy ensemble on canvas in a painstaking manner.

Having trained in Electrical Engineering, the artist did his B.A Fine Arts (Painting) from Kala-Bhavana, Visva- Bharati University, Santiniketan (1993-98) and later completed his M.F.A. (Painting) from Maharaja Sayajirao University, Baroda (1998-2000). His select group exhibitions include ‘Art for freedom’ courtesy Tehelka art & Aicon gallery, London (2008); a group show at 1x1 art gallery, Dubai (2008); ‘Image of one's own self" Gallery Kolkata (2008); The Harmony Show, Mumbai (2008, 07); an auction show by Asta Guru (2008); ‘Miniature Format Show-2008’ at Sans Tache Art, Mumbai; ‘A MAZ ING’ at Jehangir art gallery (2008); International Art Fair, Rome (2007); ‘Young guns’ at The Arts Trust Gallery, Mumbai (2007); ‘Emerging India’ at The Henry Moore Gallery, Royal College of Art, London (2007); ‘Generation Next’ at India Habitat Center, Delhi (2007); and ‘Vis(v)a’ at Aicon, NY (2007).

Among the awards and scholarships that the has won are gold medal from Department of Painting, M.S. University, Baroda (2001); Nasreen Mehmodi Trust Award, M.S. University, Baroda (2000); Camlin Award (2001); National Scholarship of the Human Resource Ministry (1996-98); an award Eastern Print Biennale Kolkata (1995); and Visva Bharati Merit Scholarship (1993-96). He has been associated with the Dept. of Painting, Kala Bhavan, Visva Bharati University, Santiniketan. For artists like, Prasanta Sahu, Sanchayan Ghosh and Pampa Panwar, foundational presence of the Santiniketan as an institution has essentially become an inevitable model 'world concept', as they create amidst this enriching history, a facet underlined in ‘Vis(V)a’ (2007).

In another of his well-received series, entitled ‘Human Skin’, Prasanta Sahu highlighted the preoccupation with skin, and resultant obsessive tendencies defining with beauty, age and race. He had elaborated: “The underlying socio-political issues are universal and yet very personal. Metaphorically it is a disguise, a skin glove, a mask. My works deal with human body parts. The human skin after all harbors curious undercurrents as a fabricated object. One could argue that he tries to get under the skin of the viewer to perhaps communicate a concept of collective identity.”

A definite act of choice - of opting to view images from behind a database of individualistic experience - lies behind our perception, the artist feels. What we notice gets transformed and influenced by what we believe to know and vice versa. The mechanical tends to subvert the manual and vice versa. According to him, mechanical interventions have greatly impacted human perception, for instance, watching a print of a human face in a hoarding or examining an enlarged view of small insects in a magazine changes the usual knowledge/ perception/ information processing. It opens up an altogether different realm to our eyes and senses.

Human intervention and interpretation can analyze the world of both macro and micro. An enlarged portion of the skin transforms into a different kind of visual to appear like a piece of fabric or even a geographical map. Breaking into a fluid, floating mass of strokes, it constructs an image within itself, in a close-up view. Once the photographic image is reworked upon, it may become recognizable. However, it translates into a visual oriented survey record when split through enlargement and magnified on a canvas. It can retain the outer shape even as the finer details are translated into abstract motifs in the process that he terms integrated disintegration.

An intense mind-locking exercise is involved in engaging the self, to paint over all these deft details. The final visual along with the process itself may be treated as a metaphor for the monotony in our day-to-day life, the obsessions faintly related with certain unexposed areas of human mind and also the temporal existence of things, as he puts it. Prasanta Sahu elaborates in an interview: “The studio is the Operation Theatre where I cut, treat, arrange & re-arrange images of human skins & human figures. A tiny square inch of human skin is enlarged multiple times, converting it into a floating mass of strokes. In the process the animated quality of the human body gets transformed into a dead, inanimate surface. To my mind this is representative of the ‘arranged’ second hand violence we confront every day via the media, viewed clinically from the comforts of our known space.”

At every level of his curious and equally meticulous working process, there tends to be a constant interplay of opposites. The image is painted in a painstaking manner using the paint-brush technique - both tedious and time consuming - yet, he deliberately aims to erase any apparent signs of human intervention in the final output. The artist essentially tries to build a feel of tension, a sort of pull between two opposing elements – those of manual rendering and mechanical reproduction. Thus the work creates an element of doubt in the viewers’ mind, whether what they are looking at, is a painting, or a reproduction on the canvas.