It is with the exhibition “Passage” that Abir Karmakar’s obsessive interest in interiority marks a point of definition.
Currently on view at Galerie Mirchandani + Steinrucke, Mumbai, the painted walls that comprise the exhibition have been installed to create a spatial discontinuity. The artworks do not commit themselves to linear viewing or indeed to a predictable movement in space. Distributed and divided over room-like sections that emphasize the empty white space of the gallery, the viewer happens to come upon a domestic interior, here and there, that appears oddly familiar and yet not easily identifiable.
In conversation, Karmakar speaks of how these works were first created for the Asia Society Triennale (2019), and installed at Governor Island, Newark, in two rooms of a 19th-century house with wooden flooring and chandeliers, originally made for senior officers of the American army. Karmakar prepared for the exhibition by visiting strangers’ homes in the suburbs of Kolkata, intent upon showing how images of Sharada Ma and Vivekananda resonate, because they were contemporary to the occupants of the houses on Governor Island in the late 19th century. The contrast between the embedded military history of the highly fortified island and the invocation of the Bengali saintly figures could not be sharper. Originally belonging to the Lenape American Indians, the island was turned into a military fortification and a major army administrative centre in the 18th century. With the modest figures of Kali and Durga, Sharada and Vivekananda painted on his walls, Karmakar invokes a transnational contrast, of American military ascendancy on the one hand, and a tipping point of the Bengal renaissance on the other.