by Uma Prakash
In an age when video art and installations have given a new language to Indian contemporary art, an innovative approach has surreptitiously pervaded the art scene, introducing a new breed of young artists who use art as a vehicle to address identity issues like gender, sexuality, feminism. Artists like Manjunath Kamath compel the viewer to think and participate in their thought-provoking works, contrived from unusual materials combined with paintings. His work goes beyond the mere canvas, creating a new energy through computer, digitals, installations, video and found objects. His imaginations bring forth different experiments, which he shares with the viewer.
Born in Mangalore, India in 1972 Kamath did his BFA (Bachelor of Fine Arts) from Chamarajendra Academy of Visual Arts, Mysore; He was the Artist in Residence School of Art & Design, University of Wales Institute, and Cardiff, UK. Followed by a Charles Wallace Scholarship, UK.
Kamath is versatile with paintings, videos, installation and sculpture. Through his penchant for fantasy and the absurd the artist is able to convey his deepest thoughts and ideas. The narrative is packed with details which provide important clues to the social satire, the wit and the clever ridicule infused in the infinite oddities of human situations.
Manjunath Kamath connects the past with the present in an inimitable style. The artist juxtaposes Ravi Varma's Shakuntala, Sita with Caravaggio mythical images to modern times in an extraordinary digital triptych piece titled How come he is here? In his this piece of fantasy realism portrays unusual happenings like a plane, cupid and superman flying in the air while a woman pours tea over the head of striding naked man. A woman holds on to the tail of a goat on top of a bed while a modern young girl appears from within. While a traditionally dressed man straight out of a Ravi Varma painting gazes at a pig flying while another is seated on a motorbike. There is a clear mix of the bizarre and surreal element and at the same time a sensual narrative that enhances its accessibility. The artist has taken digital art to another level.
The artist maintains that his paintings have an unreal plane taken mostly from real-life situations. From the urban arrogance to the rustic memories curious images take birth in his canvas, his paintings read like a story.
"I can play in my own space, I can place my images as I want, and I can create unbelievable stories that you have to believe. Just like my grandmother's story that I grew up with" says the artist.
Besides digital art the artist is deeply involved in video art. He has been doing video art for the last twelve years and is interested in claymation (clay animation) videos.
He created an interesting installation with a video and two large paper works about “eyes”. He drew individually drawn eyes on paper and pasted them on the wall. He used a video monitor on a red cushion which played the image of thousands of eyes individually shot and put in a loop. The outcome was tremendous.
What the artist was trying to convey was the significance of eyes watching over us all the time. He refers to our contemporary society where surveillance has become a reality. All private spaces have become a public space thanks to technological intrusion. Nothing seems personal as power politics existing in a society has taken over making everything public.
The significance of the eye in our religious practices was something the artist seemed to have observed when he last visited Thailand, Cambodia and Korea. He realized how eyes had become a thing of focus in all the rituals of worship from Budhism or Hinduism.
Kamath's sculptor Vomiting Philosopher 2010 in fiber glass, fake diamonds and articulates today's philosopher's reaction to the current sad state of affairs in the world full of war, inequality and other negative elements.
Kamath known for his spontaneous drawings decided to make the walls of the Gallery Espace in Delhi his canvas and painted relentlessly on the walls for an entire week for his Conscious-Sub-Conscious 2010 project. The end result was dramatic and fascinating. However painting directly on walls has been done by many artists like KG Subramanyam at the Kala Bhawan in Santniketan and Nikhil Chopra's Memory Drawing at Chatterjee and Lal, in Mumbai.
Kamath's visual narrative portrays a sense of magical realism. He has an imitable style of telling stories in his paintings. He may begin with a painting with one element; which could either be inspired by his childhood memory or from his present state. The artist's creativity is akin to a journey which appears far more exciting than the end result. The process of adding ideas or eliminating certain aspects is exhilarating for the artist.
The artist has the ability to take an illusionist space where even an ordinary element becomes a fantasy like Elephant in Silent Nightscape. He creates a minimal atmosphere with the empty spaces as he skillfully takes the elephant out of the canvas into the silent night. It is obvious that there is much more happening beyond the confines of the frame.
Kamath unearths the life of a politician in Teeth Politics by tracing different moments of his existence from speaking into a mike to becoming a statue head. Both are connected with the flowing white table cloth on a conference table where the empty chair and mike are waiting for his immediate attention. Kamath's images moves along the corners of the canvas leaving the centre space empty.
Another achievement of Kamath is cartoons. The artist excels in making cartoons and has mastered both claymation videos as well as animated drawing videos. His cartoons may appear absurd but on closer viewing reveal a deep meaning and perception.
Kamath's unique visual vocabulary reflects his mastery of colour, his techniques and his usage of various mediums. He connects the past with the present in his thought provoking work, showing the deep link between tradition and modernism. With his artistic expertise Kamath addresses issues of identity, race and social structure allowing the viewer to participate in his work.
Image Courtesy: The Artist