A number of the artists participating in the second part of the group exhibition, RED, have chosen to allude to the exhibition’s eponymous colour, rather than invoking it directly. They approach red through its traces and its complementaries, its contraries and its residues. Like their 11 colleagues in the first phase of RED, the 10 artists whose work is presented here have responded, also, to two prompts offered to them in the form of literary texts by David Batchelor and Ranjit Hoskote, each engaging with the meanings and contexts of red. To some of these artists, red is the afterlife of the blowtorch as wrought in welded metal, or the emphasis left behind by a flame that swayed in the breeze. To others, red bears witness to massacre, or the delicate tint of a miniaturist’s ink. To some of these artists, red can be the hue of desire escaping the bounds of convention, while to others, it is the breath of revolution. Red speaks in diverse voices here.
'Anamoy’s Birthday', (2021)
Aban Raza’s chromatic choices, animated brushwork and approach to figuration remind us of Emil Nolde’s work, especially his evocation of groups of figures who gain unity of purpose from their participation in joyous events of everyday redemption, as for instance in his series on the life of Christ. Yet there is a current in her work that suggests, also, James Ensor’s astute portraiture of the tremors and turbulences running beneath the surfaces of everyday life, ‘Anamoy’s Birthday’, focuses on the social life of a family living in a shanty that might be in Delhi or Mumbai or Everycity in South Asia. Even in the midst of dire experiences of vulnerability and marginalisation, we come upon a moment of festivity and communion, a child’s birthday, with the celebrants in party hats, the cake dripping with chocolate, the family at once happy and grave in its dignity as it poses for the mandatory group portrait. This painting transits through the visuality of the photograph to return to the domain of palpable pigment and brush mark, staking the claim of painting to the rendering of psychological portraiture.
Three figures appear at the bottom left-hand corner of Aji V N’s magnificent evocation of a forested mountain – are they questors, finding their way through the thickets of life; are they explorers looking for vanished species and rare herbs? Are we, as viewers, looking at ourselves as we negotiate a dark and turbulent time? There has always been a sensuous particularity to Aji’s ecology: he invokes the vegetation and landscapes of his native Kerala. With their snaky trunks and profuse foliage, his arboreal presences convey both the embracing totality of home and the menace of Nature as the Other, resistant to exploration and exploitation. In formal terms, Aji’s painterliness carries into the medium of oil on canvas the painterly delicacy of detail that, perhaps paradoxically, characterises his work in graphite on paper. The painting is bathed in a red luminescence – perhaps that of the golden hour, just after sunrise or just before sunset. Yet nothing seems to have begun yet, nothing is about to wind down. This painting is animated by repose, by a quality of reserve: it exhibits the charged self-possession of the interval.
'Ghost of Berries (for Mani Kaul)', (2019-2021)
Atul Dodiya revisits Mani Kaul’s 1973 classic of the experimental cinema, ‘Duvidha’, in his painting, ‘Ghost of Berries (for Mani Kaul)’. Based on a story by the Rajasthani writer Vijaydan Detha, Kaul’s film revolves around a bride who has been left behind in a village by her itinerant husband, whose place is taken by a ghost who impersonates him. Is the bride an innocent dupe, who has fallen victim to the ghost’s ruse? Or does she see through the deception and collude in it? The protagonist, as well as the readers and viewers of the narrative, are left suspended in the dilemma that gives the work its title. Dodiya’s painterly interpretation of the narrative is informed by his gift for straddling diverse and quite startling different visualities. He casts the ghost as a web-weaving spook from the world of animation here. On the other hand, the bride – who was played by Raisa Padamsee, the artist Akbar Padamsee’s daughter – appears as a pensive and elegantly rendered portrait. The film’s currents of disquiet and desire infuse the sensuous presence of red in this painting.
'Blind Perfume of the Earth', (2021)
'Will you leave me here dying', (2021)
'Lost and Found', (2021)
'There is no street, no one has a door', (2021)
'How long we live? or When we will die', (2021)
Benitha Perciyal works with a panoply of naturally sourced materials attended by the aura of cultural associations, including tree gum, banana fibre, rosewood, and frankincense. Her objects take the form of bookcases, vitrines, and shrine-like arrays, each devoted simultaneously to a richly sensuous experience of life and a meditation on mortality. Staged between the opposed principles of vitality and decay, Perciyal’s works address their viewers through a variety of senses, including the olfactory, so that the experience of viewing is considerably expanded beyond the faculty of sight. In these present works, the artist organises a detour through her oeuvre so far, a mini-retrospective folded into ongoing work, time past and time present fused together. Her use of frankincense invokes, specifically, the sacred narrative of Christ’s life, ministry, death, and resurrection. The magi who came to offer reverence to the Child Jesus brought three gifts: frankincense to be burnt , gold to be offered, and myrrh as an embalming oil, respectively symbolising Christ’s divinity, his kingship, and his self-sacrifice on the Cross. The cycle of extinction and resurrection is memorialised in these works.
Untitled: 30 works (2016)
Buddhadev Mukherjee’s ensemble of 30 works rendered in red Chinese ink on Chinese rice paper are lovely, witty, delicate tableaux in which human figures – sometimes single, sometimes in groups – appear to form from clouds, go about their everyday lives, touched by magic, and dissolve into thin air again. Mukherjee approaches the figure through the optic of whimsy or fantasy, subjecting it to contortions or shifts of scale and shape, allowing it to engage with the gravity or the lightness of the world in different predicaments. Some of his protagonists wear robes of mist or capes of smoke, some swim in a lake of unknowing, others assemble in gathering fog. These works emphasise the supposedly blank space as much as they do the figure – that space is both void and plenum, which is inspired by the artist’s fascination with Chinese Ming-era painting, its balance between the empty and the full. Mukherjee’s protagonists often assume the position of the Other, garbed in strangeness, but in fact spell out a portraiture of Everyperson, crafting a space for themselves against the threats of precarity and extinction.
Jitish Kallat’s art has been distinguished by a sophisticated ability to generate connections between the sciences and the arts, public histories and private obsessions. In recent years, Kallat has traversed the domains of geometry, geology, astronomy and palaeontology to reflect on the action of time, and the intersections between temporal scales ranging from deep geological time to the individual human life. The space-filling curves that he develops as the basis of his ongoing ‘Wind Series’ are conceptual invitations to think of how line can expand itself through an elaborate fractal, covering the flatness of two-dimensional space and urging us to conceive of multiple dimensions beyond it. But the images are achieved through a significant gear shift: the artist lets go of his prerogative to define the formal outcome, and instead collaborates with the elements. He allows the interplay of wind direction and flame, the afterburn of fire and the traces of oxidation, to fill out his geometrical groundwork. The intentional and the accidental, pattern and chance, the geometer’s precision and the visionary’s surrender to nature – these opposed positions come together to inform the enchantment of these works.
'Blood on the road' - 4 & 5, (2021)
Every door of every house in this city is closed. There is no one in the streets. An unending curfew ensures the reign of silence. The dominant palette, cast in reds, points us beyond the formal references to the elegance of the Rajput and Pahari miniatures, and towards the thrum of contemporary urgencies. In ‘Blood on the road’, Nilima Sheikh evokes the decades-long predicament of Kashmir, compounded from militancy, low-intensity warfare, State oppression, and the everyday suffering of a population that has been divided against itself, subject to the most appalling violations of civil rights, broken by terror and diaspora. Since the late 1980s, public life in Kashmir has been measured out in death: the killing of civilians by terrorists; the execution of militants and suspected militants in extra-judicial encounters; massacres visited on processions and protests. Approaching the situation both through her own childhood memories of Kashmir and the elegiac, beautiful poetry of Agha Shahid Ali, the artist summons forth from her viewers a disquiet and an empathy. These paintings remind us of that powerful line from the poet’s iconic ‘The Country without a Post Office’: “We’re inside the fire, looking for the dark.”
'Untitled' - 1 & 2, (2020)
P.R. Satheesh’s drawings, rendered in Indian ink on paper, are distinguished by a sharp, even prickly line and a wealth of quirky detail. These drawings may be situated in the genealogy of Ramanujam and S.G. Vasudev’s drawings – across South India, artists through the 20th century have practised drawing, not merely as a preparatory medium for paintings, but as an art in its own right, often producing formidable oeuvres of drawing. Observe Satheesh’s figures closely – they occupy a floating mid-ground between the foetal and the fatal. Each drawings is a loose concatenation of episodes, with figures and events set into bubbles. In the series from which these works are drawn, figures levitate; a man eats a bowl of stars; we come upon a head into whose scalp pins surmounted by heads have been stuck; we traverse figures heaped and plugged, a debris of heads, faces, and masks, as though the world were a grand trial room for roles and costumes. Satheesh’s art is informed by his reading of fiction, his cherished authors including Kafka, O.V. Vijayan and M. Mukundan.
'The Wall between Us', (2021)
Everything about Ratheesh T.'s painting, ‘The Wall between Us’, is odd, unsettling, and fearful – as doubtless it is meant to be, since it confronts the key danger of the present time: the division, often to the point of polarisation, of one community from another on the basis of language, religion, ethnicity or regional affiliation. The painting is electric with green, the colour complementary to red, the colour of rage and blood, which is implied by its absence. The painting is dominated by a high wall that blocks sight and prevents communication with the other side, which we glimpse as a skyline of palm trees and buildings. At the centre of the frame is the artist-persona – Ratheesh’s favoured protagonist – twinned, one aspect of him standing with his back to us, the other attempting to scale the wall. Clearly, this effort follows a previous and abortive attempt to communicate over the wall, represented by a cane chair whose rattan seat has caved in, under the weight of the person who stood on it. The attempt comes across, variously, as futile or courageous. Despite all odds, it must continue.
'Exposed on the Cliffs of the Heart' - I & II (2021)
Sakshi Gupta’s sculptural works for this exhibition take their title from the first line of one of Rainer Maria Rilke’s uncollected poems, as translated by Stephen Mitchell: “Exposed on the cliffs of the heart.” The image of the life-force rising into the air, even from unpromising rock, animates these works, produced as they are from found material such as scrap metal and rubble. Mountains in miniature, they hold our attention as small shrines, imbued with the spirit of wabi sabi, the Buddhist-inflected Heian-period aesthetic that prizes irregularities, abandoned objects and muted colours as evidence of the fragile beauty of this ephemeral world, with its cycles of generation and dissolution. Significantly, Gupta’s arte povera ethic of upcycling emphasises a creative re-use of humble residues from construction sites and scrap heaps, as though to avoid placing new demands of material production on the planet. The colour red, in the largely grey ‘Exposed on the Cliffs of the Heart’ I and II, resides in our memory, in the afterlife of the blowtorch flame that has played a pivotal role in shaping these addresses to Time.
— Ranjit Hoskote