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 Ophelia, 2012, watercolour on rice paper, 68.5 x 204.5 cm / 27 x 80.5 in

The grief-stricken Ophelia - modelled after John Everett Millais's lush painting featuring the Shakespearean heroine who loses her father, Polonius and her love, Hamlet - comes across as Siji Krishnan's alter ego in 0 + 0 = 0 (my father's mathematics). We see her as she floats in a dark pool, about to sink into its murky depths. Krishnan borrows Ophelia's sorrow to express her own. The 29-year-old Hyderabad-based artist's preoccupation with her father's death drives this exhibition of paintings mounted at Galerie Mirchandani + Steinruecke, Mumbai, from the 10th of August to the 29th of September.

Mingling memory and imagination, Krishnan casts herself in the roles of an infant, an adolescent and a young woman to address a range of emotions that have characterised her relationship with her father. The Lullaby series, for example, presents a child playing with her father as he attempts to put her to sleep, and stands out starkly from the sorrow expressed in Ophelia. (The layered backgrounds of both the works evoke Klimt leached of all colour.) The comfort of the paternal cocoon is hinted at in a series of five paintings, titled Portrait, where an adolescent girl lightly occupies the embryonic forms of a flower, a nest, a feather, a pod and a leaf. In these delicate watercolours, the spectral shapes flesh out the experience of longing.

In 0 + 0 = 0, the artist turns her attention to nature even as she looks inward. The motif of the spider web that first appeared in her work shown at the 2011 India Art Summit expands in the gossamery painting, Frock. A girl emerges from a heap of seeds in Skirt and the seeds themselves acquire faces in Seeds (faces). Though the connections that Krishnan intends to make with her own melancholic state through these elements are not entirely clear, the imagery evokes an experience of eerie isolation.

Whether the references are direct or elusive, the delicate watercolours address the zero-ness in the title, a theme which Krishnan has explored in the past. Some works in the show, however, seem repetitive. The Lullaby series recalls The last lullaby suite from 2009. Earlier works, like those showcased in Paternal Instinct in 2010, even had the father figure with painted pink breasts in a simplistic depiction of a man in the role of a nurturer.

Though Krishnan has refined her approach in this show, we are keen to see what the artist excavates in her attempts at catharsis in future works.


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