Vilas Bhad—attacked by strays four times—harbours a phobia of dogs and wouldn’t have one as a pet. Yet, samples from the artist’s new collection, nine small-format paper works showing at Concern India Foundation’s Art Bazaar in Mumbai, nimbly contrast the sensitivity of the animal, and its sense of humour, with that of man. “We respond most positively to dogs,” Bhad says. “And no animal exhibits greater human emotions.”
The 28-year-old is, in fact, the male figure presented in his art. The dogs he employs, a male and female, are faceless but not without form. Their personalities are as clear as glass—unchanged by time or influenced by Bhad’s medium: paper, canvas and wood. Their muscular lines are, however, functional surrealism—a stomach rounds into luscious, cherry pink breasts; a midnight blue tail parts a woman’s hair, its curls emerging from hind legs. Bhad’s work, priced at Rs30,000, shows a personal curiosity in erotica. It also winks at the inclination of men to see sex everywhere they look. It is telling that the dogs, his real life fear, rather than his figure, reveals this sensuality—in one work, the male dog suckles from a sky of low-hanging breast-shaped clouds. In another, he lounges on a bed of breasts, his penis-shaped body flag-poled in joy.
Tail wag: Bhad will next show in Paris. Abhijit Bhatlekar / Mint
Bhad’s palette is as compelling as his artistic engagement. He endorses the flirtatiousness of peacock blue to create “a sweet atmosphere” and sprinkles his backdrop with delicate fluorescent pink hearts. But this collection also uses the frailty of colours such as ashes of roses and steel grey to illustrate the imbalance of power in the relationship between man and dog. His commentary on man’s vanity is gentle but clear. He indulges it, in one image, by painting red the nails of his man dog. In another, the dog’s stomach has been cleaved into a garden. “Human beings cannot embrace life as it is,” Bhad says. “We feel compelled to change it to suit our convenience. Stray dogs are implanted in our homes. Wild flowers are torn off the ground and stuck in flowerpots. There is an inherent cruelty to our simplest actions.”
It is these themes that elevate Bhad’s repertoire from direct narration. Jasmine Shah Varma, who has organized Bhad’s display alongside young artists Shruti Nelson and Santosh Morajkar, says he “evokes an immediate and thoughtful response, but subtly”.
In his next series, Bhad explores the relationship further—the stress that inhabits man versus the easy calm of dogs. He calls it “Medi-tension”. In one work, a dog’s human hands question why, as his tail widens into a tree, its leaves an explosion of ebony stars.
The son of a retired primary schoolteacher and a housewife, Bhad grew up in a town called Warud, famous for its orange groves and cotton plantations, in Maharashtra’s Amravati district. He had little exposure to art; it was a hobby deepened by study at Nagpur’s Shashiya Chitrakala Mahavidyalaya and the Sir JJ School of Art in Mumbai. In 2002, he held his first solo exhibition at Jehangir Art Gallery, Mumbai. This October, Bhad’s works will also be shown at Slick 08, a contemporary art fair in Paris.
Concern India Foundation Art Bazaar will run from 22-25 September at Coomarswamy Hall, Prince of Wales Museum, Fort, Mumbai.
Sonia Faleiro is a contributor toAIDS Sutra: Untold Stories From India.
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