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A glance at the Škoda Art Prize nominees
The Škoda Prize is an initiative to appreciate innovative contemporary art practitioners from different corners of India. The winner this year will receive Rs 10,00,000 whereas two runner’s up nominees will be awarded a 4-week residency in Switzerland courtesy Pro Helvetia, The Swiss Arts Council. Artists in the final nominations list of the prestigious award not only represent the best of contemporary Indian art but also stand at various critical points of transition in their careers. Here’s a quick glance at their achievements as illustrated by the organizers:

Among the most prominent names that feature in the list is that of internationally renowned artist Jitish Kallat. He has made several interventions within the space of Bhau Daji Lad Museum: intricately carved bamboos that resemble scaffolding, a Tristan Tzara poem on the walls, neon-lit Roman numerals along with several. His recent solo was conceived as an open laboratory where the artist would continue to engage in an extended conversation with the collection of the Mumbai based museum, its architecture and its library, during the show’s five month run.

Sumedh Rajendran offers a series of stimulating works that deal with demarcations in domestic life. They are a reflection of his belief that, while we often see, we still fail to gauge the consequences that our fears and anxieties can have on our lives. Arunkumar H. G.’s recent works explore the concept of land and all that it entails and elaborates upon: metaphors for the human and social bodies; questions of ownership and usage; the migration of rural populations to urban centers; environmental consciousness and abuse; the production and distribution of food and the resulting consequences. On the other hand, Ashish Avikunthak returns time and again to his personal footage archive and frequently uses the same images in different films.

Known for his witty and satirical takes on the secular, mythological and historical, Manjunath Kamath tends to revel in his humorous interpretations of the common tales, while always underlining the deeper sense of poetry and philosophy of life. His current body of work is the aggregate of the artist’s distinctive imagery rich with the narratives of everyday life, interwoven with mythologies and intimate stories. Vishal K Dar’s work in ‘BROWNation’ draws on official government photographs and posters, virtual architectural images, and Bollywood and arthouse cinema.

Known for his kinetic sculptures which often comment on society and politics, L.N. Tallur combines a sharp wit along with a prodigious use of materials. Using classical sculpture of India as their starting point, these are then manipulated to confound the established categorizations with which we usually interpret art: figuration and abstraction, traditional and contemporary, decorative and functional, creative and destructive, religious and secular. Prashant Pandey reawakens perception of everyday life by destroying conventional logic when it comes to ways of seeing discarded objects. Through his usage of recycled, reclaimed and found material coupled with the distortion of form, his work serves the poetic function of promoting seeing as opposed to recognizing something that is already familiar and known. Dhruv Malhotra has a strange predilection for nightfall – for it is the night that also compels him to pick up the camera, as he prowls the city of Noida.

Settings in Kolari’s black-and-white photographs vary – coalfires that continue to spew poisonous fumes, a valley of enchanting beauty now forever scarred by strife, a coastline that lies ravaged by a monstrous wave – but in each instance he brings to light the human face of the tragedy. Srikanth Kolari consciously shoots using subdued light, human suffering being the underlying motif of his body of work. Manish Nai’s preoccupation with unusual textures began in the year 2000, when his father owned a small wholesale business selling jute cloth. He evolved a method of incorporating the actual jute into his paintings by drawing on paper; scanning and digitally manipulating the drawn images; projecting and tracing these onto jute stretched over canvas; and replicating the drawings as patterns on jute through a painstaking removal of threads.

RAQS Media Collective’s most important art work in their noteworthy showcase is a two-screen video installation that writes an oblique narrative of the relationship between metropolises and the world in counterpoint to Rosa Luxemburg’s ‘The Accumulation of Capital’, her critique of the global political economy. Madhuban Mitra and Manas Bhattacharya’s collaborative photographic project explores the ruins of India’s first and only still camera factory. In the absence of the workers, the now shut factory unit of National Instruments Ltd. in Jadavpur, Kolkata bristles with objects of personal significance scattered on worktables and in the workers cupboards. Urban panoramas and their haphazard growth and deterioration are the references that drive the impulses of Sujith S.N.’s works. His paintings map the changing rhythms of urban landscapes in the modern times. Navin Thomas explores his continuing interest in the afterlife of salvaged electronic junk with a possible audio capacity.

Reena Kallat’s practice spans painting, photography, video, sculpture and installation, often incorporating multiple mediums into a single work. She frequently works with officially recorded or registered names of people, objects, and monuments that are lost or have disappeared without a trace, only to get listed as forgotten statistics. One of the recurrent motifs in her work is the rubber stamp, used both as an object and an imprint, signifying the bureaucratic apparatus which both confirms and obscures identities.

Pooja Iranna’s paintings endow the harsh surfaces of modern buildings with delicacy, humanizing them in the process. Paula Sengupta’s current body of work represents an eclectic mix of media; from serigraphy to woodblock printing, from nakshi kantha to appliqué, from table linen to almirahs. She visited her ancestral home in Bangladesh and returned with an eerie sense of belonging, and an equally odd sense of alienation. Merging the personal with the political, she explores the role of public memory and re-discovers events that produced history more than half a decade ago. In Aditi Singh’s latest solo, the charcoal rubbings and inky stains are darker, less ethereal, some almost violent in their outpouring. Anjali Srinivasan’s works, often humble artifacts, exhibit unusual behavior by challenging thresholds of human perception or activating an environment unexpectedly.

The Škoda Art Prize nominees indeed represent the most dynamic facet of Indian contemporary art in a wide array of media, forms and themes.