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Artist Profile3
A skilled visual narrator, storyteller and a chronicler of contemporary times
A skilled storyteller, who often resorts to pointed, vivacious visuals, this celebrated contemporary Indian artist combines everyday life from his immediate milieu with the complex global scenario. The fabulous figurative and narrative depictions are extracted out of his own experiences as well as are chalked out of images and photographs culled from mass media. He invariably focuses on issues related to economics, the global marketplace, consumerism as well as cultural heritage. He puts his practice in local context, evolving cultural traditions and the shifting world order, to engage with an ever broadening realm.

Known for his dynamic site-specific installations and scintillating sculptures, N. S. Harsha’s paintings capture our imagination as well, with fields of sparsely detailed, vast spaces and mystical figures. Mostly loaded with social or political commentary, his oeuvre explores the close relationship that art shares with contemporary cultural representation and otherwise. At times, he looks to combine ubiquitous objects with sites-specific paintings on walls or floors in order to engage with the exhibition space.

The sensitive artist brings to our notice the whimsical, slightly absurd as much as the poignant, akin to a philosopher without getting judgmental. In a way, he prompts viewers to reflect on the world around. Born in 1969, he did his B.F.A. (painting) from CAVA, Mysore, and his M.F.A. from the Faculty of Fine Arts, M. S. University in 1992 and 1995, respectively. A recipient of the Sanskriti Award in 2003, his major solos include 'Come Give Us A Speech', Bodhi Art, New York (2008); 'Left Over', Maison Hermès, Tokyo and Osaka, Japan (2008); ‘Charming Nation’, Gallery Chemould, Mumbai and Max Mueller Bhavan, Bangalore (2006). His work has been featured in many noteworthy exhibits and collaborative projects, including 'Against All Odds', Lalit Kala Akademi, New Delhi (2011); 'Orientations: Trajectories in Indian Art', Foundation 'De 11 Lijnen', Oudenburg, Belgium (2010); 'In The Company of Alice', Victoria Miro, London (2010); the Singapore Biennale (2006), the 2nd Fukuoka Asian Art Triennial (2002), and the Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Arts, Australia (1999).

He also 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’, one of his critically acclaimed installations (Iniva, London; 2009), incorporated several treadle sewing machines, hand-painted flags of the UN members, and multiples of thread. The treadle machines were connected by a web of cottons threading from spool to bobbin winder, from wheel to the eye of a needle. They were ornately decorated in gold that read ‘Butterfly’ and ‘Made in China’ – a translation of the original Chinese lettering and graphic flourishes. Each spool held a reel of colored cotton. A national flag was held, under the foot of each machine, as if being worked on. The ordered lines of machinery alluded to a scene of a busy working sweatshop. The people were called to attend to their relationship to mechanized labor, serving global markets, and to their own participation in the very fabrication of national identity.

The acclaimed artist during his first solo in London, entitled ‘Picking through the Rubble’, unveiled a series of paintings and an installation work around ideas of the absurd and meaninglessness. A curatorial note to the show elaborated: “He has always been interested in art and its relationship with cultural representation and misrepresentation, and therefore location - whether geographical, political, social or cultural - plays an essential role. Taking on the challenge of representing on canvas the absurd within human nature, the artist here furthers his exploration of humanity en masse, with an underlying sensitivity for the individual as well as the group.

To put it in his words, 'I continue to search for a way in which to portray large crowds or gatherings and their collective absurd acts. It is interesting to observe a crowd which has lost its collective rationale - or its attempt to achieve a collective rationale!'” He artist invests his works with acute n awareness of the medium, wherein the figures turn into an audience for a presupposed viewer, who then becomes complicit with or somehow activates that incident depicted. In honoring him with the prestigious Artes Mundi Prize in 2008, the jury members mentioned of his vast scope of work, its range and diversity such as painting, installation and even community activities. Among the largest art awards internationally, it recognizes outstanding emerging practitioners, who refer the human condition.

His multi-dimensional oeuvre includes semi-abstractionist panels, detailed figurative painting, large scale installations, miniature drawing, and cross-disciplinary, research-based collaborations. A clever interplay of text, words and symbols, his compositions are as much influenced by comic book illustrations, Bazaar Art, simultaneously drawing inspiration from popular street and poster art. In the process, he unleashes a powerful political commentary within a fascinating framework of Indian miniature, the modern narrative tradition of his home country, its philosophical concepts and popular art.

N. S. Harsha has turned the ancient miniature painting tradition into a contemporary form, which lets him fuse the specific with the universal. The figures floating in his sly and playful painterly realm, invariably focused on an event, will point to something odd, incongruous or absurd. The wit lies as much in the grand scale of the delicate depictions as also in the telling detail of the vignette. Akin to a clever chronicler, he refers from popular stories and peculiar perceptions of news events. He meticulously portrays small town/city life in an increasingly globalized world, by juxtaposing seemingly disassociated local images within an international spectrum.

His multi-layered narratives suggest how the global is invariably located and sub-consciously seeped within the local imagination. The sensitive practitioner continues to draw on both traditional narratives and popular culture, deftly interweaving international and local points of reference in his diverse art forms.