Even though you enter Mumbai-based Galerie Mirchandani + Steinruecke’s expansive new space with prior knowledge of the subject of Abir Karmakar’s show Everyday – mimetic chronicles of the doom and gloom wrought by the coronavirus pandemic – you are unprepared for the surge of emotions experienced on encountering the works physically.
An overwhelming sense of déjà vu gradually gives way to a lingering feeling of disquiet as Karmakar’s compelling oil paintings, culled from photographic sources and rendered in the photorealistic mode, make us confront the grim reality of the past two years. With memories of the pandemic still raw, it takes a few moments to reorient to the sterile setting of the gallery in order to regain a critical distance from which to view the works. Everyday marks the artist’s fifth solo with the gallery and is on display from the 26th of August to the 20th of October.
In a series of small-scale works titled History paintings, Karmakar refers to the western art categories of ‘history painting’ and ‘genre painting’. While the title refers to the former, he employs formal and thematic devices germane to the latter to document scenes from daily life as they unfold under the deathly grip of the virus. He meticulously renders gathered images from online news sources in the city of Vadodara, where he lives. Akin to the practice of journaling, he makes each one of the painted snapshots over the course of a single day. In his adept transcriptions, the mediated imagery acquires an affective afterlife that extends beyond the ephemerality of the original images and the specificity of their locale.
All too familiar scenes – a home inspection by healthcare workers, maintenance of safety protocols, socially distant gatherings, hearse vans piled up with body bags and the conveyance of dead bodies – that are by now imprinted on our collective psyche assume an emblematic dimension in Karmakar’s charged depictions. In History painting 21 (2020), a partially visible corpse enshrouded in blue plastic poignantly conveys the fate of the dead in the time of contagion. While adhering to the conventions of journalistic representation, Karmakar imbues the History paintings with an underlying melancholy. The pictorial space, replete with exacting details, embodies palpable traces of panic and waiting, of anguish and loss. As the artist turns witness in the process of making these works, in the act of viewing them, we as onlookers, become co-witnesses to his vital testimonies of the visible and the visceral that record the anxieties and uncertainties of an unprecedented occurrence in contemporary history.