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SOSA JOSEPH

What are we? III, 2012

Oil on canvas

59 x 146 in / 149.8 x 370.8 cm 

Sosa Joseph's sense of the absurd is rather elliptical and is often occasioned by the ways in which the ordinary and the bizarre, the humdrum and the incongruous continually rub shoulders in the ‘‘spectacle’’ of life that is the Indian street. In striving to represent the life that unfolds around her, Joseph is present, first and foremost, to the language which she has deemed best for this task, that is to say, to the reality of picture making. The eclecticism of her stylistic references makes for a certain plastic mutability in terms of the handling. The paint describes shapes and then slips into shapelessness, and this pictorial evasiveness — the mutational aspect of the relation between figure and ground, the absence of perspective, the muffled palette, the curious aquarelle-like insubstantiality of the surface and the livid highlights — is what contributes to the open-endedness of the signifying field.

Joseph's seeming ‘‘faux naif’’ style, however, is really a foil for a form of representational shorthand for treating each element in the painting as if it were potentially a micro-vignette in a larger scheme, a tiny incident whose apparent inconsequence is paradoxically what makes it momentarily and locally momentous. Joseph’s pictures are aggregations of such offhand moments and details depicted in a somewhat summary and succinct way, physiognomic traits reduced to a caricatural tic or quirk registered by a pictorial handling that is appropriately notational in its compact expressivity. The deadpan summation of these micro-episodes accentuates the slightly edgy, almost mordant wit underlying her vision of the sheer randomness of the quotidian drift, the purposiveness without purpose of the figures that people these paintings. 

Text with Image

Sosa Joseph

© John Mathew Kodenkandath

 

The psychic seclusion or solitariness of women has been variously treated by Amrita Sher-Gil, Arpita Singh, Nilima Sheikh and Nalini Malani, to name only the Indian painters — all women, unsurprisingly — who are Joseph’s precursors in this vein. Their gazes are withdrawn, their faces a smudge, made all the more mask-like by the summary brushwork, as if the very nature of the handling were an index of their effaced lives. The figures are not individualized in psychological terms any more than are the interiors in which they appear to be marooned. The succinct delineation of a visage, the deftly rendered trait, the formal simplification or distortion may have a comic edge but can also shade into something more melancholic; the pictorial language registers these mixed moods and is the more complex for it.  

Deepak Ananth

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