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In and around Santiniketan


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Arindam Sarker: Altering the identities

Arindam Sarker's sculptural practice focuses on the transformation of material-identity into perceived idea culled from the mundane reality around. He plays with the immediate characteristic features of forms and his works are about the perplexing situations arising out of this play of multiple visual identities.

The identity issue he addresses is deeply rooted in our preconceptions regarding what is expected and he looks into what happens when it is given a purposeful jolt. This compels him to explore the habitual relationships between form-shape-material-color-scale, altering in the process the conventional formal values of a sculpture.

To begin with, his penchant for the junk sculpture and a keen sense of form to locate the right junk, at the right place for the right image enables him to juggle freely with the material, scrap and the problems of identity with simple yet tricky balance acts. This is evident in the form of a scooter in the work 'Hamara Bajaj' made up with machine parts; in the form of the dog as in the work 'Dog' assembled with bicycle seat, cycle part and real jawbone of a dog; in the truncated right feet made up with wood and soft drinks bottle caps; or in a public telephone instrument assembled with an old indentured diesel-can and an antique telephone receiver. It is difficult to guess which comes first, the image or the material either in the process of the artist or in the course of viewing. Perhaps, the simultaneous presence of both the perceived image and the identity of the sourced material create a curious visual ambiguity, bordering on humor and amusement. Despite the introduction of humor in his work Arindam refrains from any obvious sarcasm. But some of his images can be read as glib on the sly or a tongue-in-cheek remark around the very problems he is tackling. Even in an apparently simple work like 'Migratory Bird', Arindam uses contrasting materials like carved wood and toy-car wheels and feathers; and thus, what fairly resembles a car claims to be a migratory bird! Evidently he is attempting at a visual double entendr, a potential semantic tool to strike the intended chord.

The rhetorical effect achieved therefore is a possibility explored also in singular materials like sculptures in fibre glass or iron-net, avoiding any play with multiple-materials. The untitled work depicting a vertically stacked series of heads descending into mere mouths in fibre glass can be seen in this context. Similarly, another untitled work in aluminum net and iron is a straightforward image of an extra-large size shirt bearing a tangible illusion due to subtle treatments of folds and the undulations but begins to tease us the moment we begin to respond the basic medium that is the net. His use of real objects like toy guns sticking out from a red head, or real shoes and leather belt with a pair of trousers made in paper-pulp (My Lee) is an essential part of Arindam's play on the comic value inherent in the aesthetics of juxtaposition; either in terms of idea, or material or both.

Mrinal Dey: 'Are you forgetting something?'

'Are you forgetting something?' This very title of one of the paintings of Mrinal Dey could well be used to describe the socio-psychological underpinning of his works. The plump, obese figures with their over-fed looks and a gaudily colored claustrophobic space they occupy tend to suggest right at the outset that they are the objects of scorn for the painter. Mrinal, makes every attempt to induce a sense of loathing, and he does it by employing the technique of apparently contrasting handling of motifs. One the one hand he treats the figures with a corporeality that seems repulsively exaggerated yet real, quasi-expressionistic yet emptied of any emotive power; on the other hand Mrinal goes for a painstaking photographic realism particularly when inert objects, signs and references to familiar present-day symbols are concerned. The overall impression thus created is that of a certain kind of cultural drudgery translated into and passed back to the mundane non-emotive visualities of the contemporary urban world vitiated by a singular self-centered materialistic objective of a crass covetous life. To put it simply, the painter intends to catch our attention to this constricted and deteriorating continuation of today's world in the context of the rapid growth of a mindless humanity craving for material goals only.

As the overweight figures in his paintings become visual symbols of moral and existential degeneration, the single-ness of the fleshy figures in each of his paintings also convey a terrible lack of sagacity, an inescapable burden of excess and an unfortunate isolation. The wretchedness of these dull figures are saved from any sentimental slips by the clever and generous usages of common, universal uni-cultural signs of urban commercial transactions in the form of trading, investment and information such as, bar-code (the astute sign of mechanical pricing), printed instruction signs on packaging boxes (assuring safe shipping if abided by), simulated images of newspaper (referring to a life bombarded with and thus shaped by information and reports), and even medical images taken for clinical investigations.

In the work titled 'Celebrity, Celebrity, Celebrity', apart from suggesting media's wary role in constructing a celebrity (who once again becomes an object of derision because of his voluptuousness and flabby sagging body), Mrinal's succinct use of the motif of a blooming card-board lotus out of which the celebrity is rising up like an icon with six hands holding very contemporary ayudhas like microphone and gun, is a strong indication of both allusion and metaphor. He complicates the image further by inserting the sign of 'recycle' as a reminder of the transientness of this fake iconic moment being enjoyed by the celebrity.

In this painting the card-board lotus is infact a reshaped packing box a recurring motif in Mrinal's paintings. According to him, in the mad rush for achievements, everybody is loosing their space, and eventually forced to live a life compressed and squeezed in a narrow existence. Packaging boxes almost symbolically refer to this pathetic survival continuing at the cost of a larger meaningful perspective. The sense of mockery and gluttony that accompanies most of his paintings perhaps indicates that.

Soumik Nandy Majumdar 


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