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War paint

War paint
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First Published: Sat, Aug 30 2008. 03 10 PM IST

Fallen: Riyas Komu’s Left Leg.
Fallen: Riyas Komu’s Left Leg.
Updated: Sat, Aug 30 2008. 03 10 PM IST
Someone looking back at the art of our time would be able to instantly note that we were a world at war. More than our forefathers, who in their lifetime often endured just one long lumbering conflict, we have a dismaying number to choose from. And it is this variety that is the focus of Everywhere Is War (and rumours of war), a blockbuster group exhibit currently showing at Bodhi Art, in Kala Ghoda, and Bodhi Space, in Wadibunder, Mumbai.
Fallen: Riyas Komu’s Left Leg.
Like a checklist of our times, all the minor battles, petty combats, global attacks and their horrifying accompaniments (famine, death, poverty) make an appearance, amassed in a single quilt of unsettling proportions. The post-Babri Masjid bombings, the Iraq war, 9/11, Kashmir—like a map in George W. Bush’s den, it’s easy enough to pinpoint the world’s terrorist hot spots, but to see them pulled together so that Iranian artist Sara Rahbar’s ragtag American flag hangs next to Subodh Gupta’s steel tap dripping blood is both eerie and uncharted territory for Indian galleries.
Spread out across two spaces, the show isn’t easily accessible, and those attempting to locate Bodhi Space, tucked away in a warehouse (in a central Mumbai locality congested with trucks), are likely to give up if they don’t take along a map. But the effort is worth the trip—not because the two shows can’t exist independently of each other (they actually do), but because together they bolster the overarching message that war and everything about it is tragic and painful and in the end, unnecessary. Many of the works were created specially for the show, curated by Shaheen Merali, while others were picked for their aptness, and the diversity clearly shows.
Rahbar, now living in the US, has made a name creating tattered American flags, sewn together with panels of material gotten from her travels in West Asia. Bits of ornate brocade, garish neon felt, gold trimmings dangle in disarray, with only the white stars left as a signifier of the American flag.
As a hodgepodge tribute, maybe even touching on the American tradition of war quilts, the flags are meant to reflect America’s “true colours”, according to Rahbar.
Reena Saini Kallat’s sculpture White Heat is a giant marble iron that sits atop a cloth embroidered with the names of people who signed a peace petition between India and Pakistan. Jutting out of the iron are delicate models of ornate weapons, masking amid their dragon hilts and carved blades tops of temples and mosques. As a comment on the absurdity of war museums that display ornamental weaponry as works of art, it’s a clever riff on the war as art theme, and one that sits very nicely in front of Kallat’s husband Jitish’s ink-splattered, bomb-motif drawings, and Kishor Parekh’s black and white photos of wide-eyed widows, decaying bodies and crumbling streets.
Over at Bodhi Space, the theme continues in more spacious confines. Here, Riyas Komu’s Left Leg, a giant wooden sculpture of a pair of sinewy footballer’s legs, dominate the room. They are sturdy and immaculately modelled, one standing upright, the other toppled over, sliced in half by a concrete slab.
Spiked: A detail from Reena Saini Kallat’s White Heat.
Like a discarded body in the war-torn streets of Baghdad, these legs are stunted, cut off at the knee, riven by a concrete monstrosity, ugly and butchered with pointless reason.
In the corner, a cracked ceramic sink drips what is presumably blood, a departure for Subodh Gupta from his usual steel and oil works. It’s painfully obvious in every way, and it would take an idiot not to get the significance. Does it work? Sure, because how could it not? Red paint=blood, and sink=trying to wash one’s hands. You can figure out the rest. But coming from Gupta, an artist given to making works of greater complexity and breadth, it is a little disappointing. Standing just a few feet away, is a work by Jon Kessler, an American artist who has frequently touched on 9/11 and the War on Terror in his mammoth, intricately designed installations. Here, he has forsaken his usual scale.
His Habeas Corpus is a small action figure, presumably an orange-suited detainee from Guantanamo Bay, trapped in a glass vitrine, with a bottle of blue paint dripping quietly into the corner. It conjures up every horror story about water torture and interrogation methods, and like many of the works here, begs questioning of the real terrors in this War on Terror.
Everywhere Is War (and rumours of war) is on at Bodhi Mumbai, Kala Ghoda and Bodhi Space, Wadibunder, Mumbai, until 27 September.
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First Published: Sat, Aug 30 2008. 03 10 PM IST