ABIR KARMAKAR | DISPLACEMENT
curated by Birgid Uccia
15 November, 2017 – 28 February, 2018
The exhibition ‘Displacement’ by Abir Karmakar contains five large-scale oil-on-canvas paintings from the series ‘Home’, first displayed at the 'Kashi Art Gallery', a Dutch colonial house in Kochi, as part of the 3rd Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2016. For the current show at Galerie Mirchandani+ Steinruecke, ‘Home’ has been complemented by three new paintings.
Abir Karmakar’s quest of ‘What is home?’, a metaphysical quest in its very nature, invariably leads him to deconstruct the topos ‘home’. Rather than being rooted in a clearly identifiable and permanent place, the idea of the original home seems to arise from the process of migration itself. It can only be looked at from the vantage point of dislocation as the modus vivendi of migrants. Their acculturation and integration cannot obscure the fact that identity is constructed and transformed through the dynamics of dislocation, with the shifting of home being embedded in the temporality of human existence. Even ‘non-migrants’ find it hard to unambiguously define ‘home’, as one can have several homes that only partially match with a physical place. The various implications of home as a geographical, political, social, and emotional space lay bare its historical conditions and impermanent nature.
Karmakar’s interiors evoke home as an inward looking world of quiet stillness. Painted with compositional clarity, these repositories of private experience have less to do with functionality than with the way in which they convey a certain Stimmung, the tentative mood of its inhabitants. They represent a space of refuge in an often diffuse, semi-tenebrous light, where time seems to be suspended. Simultaneously, they manifest the inexorable march of time as the external world constantly threatens to invade this encapsulated realm of privacy. Karmakar’s interiors are devoid of human presence. In muted colours, he celebrates the palpable tension between the glaring absence of the figure and its presence made visible through the objects of everyday life. Suitcases, kitchen utensils, clothes, trinkets, and furniture imprint the empty space with their marks. They are not inanimate objects, but encode a layered past, memories, and a belonging that go beyond their utilitarian function. Manifesting an expressive subjectivity, these objects draw a psychological portrait of the absent figure in relation to the space, similar to Candida Höfer’s large-scale photographs of empty interiors. ‘I realized that what people do in those places – and what the spaces do to them – is more obvious when nobody is present, just as an absent guest can be often the topic of a conversation.’1
Establishing an inextricable relationship between the work of art and its site, Karmakar demands the physical presence of the viewer for the work’s completion. His aesthetic aspirations exceed the limitations of the medium of painting by turning the viewer from voyeur into protagonist. Simultaneously, he embarks on a reformulation of the role of contemporary painting. Acknowledging the challenges the medium has been facing since the invention of photography, he advocates an expansive practice that defies the clear differentiation between pictorial and physical space. One is reminded of Karmakar’s earlier series ‘Views’ and ‘Angles’, 2014, concave-shaped keyhole visions of empty, hermetically sealed off interiors with no signs of a living being. But unlike these earlier series, where the beholder is completely kept outside, the interiors of the current show ingeniously explore the interdependence between pictorial and physical space in that each brings the other to awareness. Articulating the pictorial space in its expansiveness, it includes both beholder and maker, ‘each with his own space intact’.
Karmakar’s interiors, experienced in situ, are not based on a physical permanence, but perceived in an ‘unrepeatable and fleeting situation’, emphasizing the spatial particularity and temporality of the location. As such, Karmakar resists the homogenization of space and commodification of painting. He responds to the open-endedness of the medium and celebrates it as continually expanding and evolving, forcing us to critically rethink the prevailing conditions of its production, perception, display, and distribution.
1 Candida Höfer, in: ‘Candida Höfer en México’, Galería OMR, México: Turner, 2016, p. 104.
Abir Karmakar was born in 1977 in Siliguri, Bengal. He studied at the Rabindra Bharati University in Kolkata (Bachelor of Visual Arts, Painting), and the Faculty of Fine Arts, M.S. University, Baroda (MA, Painting). Abir Karmakar has held solo exhibitions at Aicon Gallery, New York, Galerie Heike Curtze, Berlin, Gallery Espace, New Delhi, and Galerie Mirchandani + Steinruecke, Mumbai. His work has been presented in group exhibitions at the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, New Delhi; the Yale University School of Art, New Haven; Essl Museum, Vienna, and the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, Kochi. He lives and works in Baroda.