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Encountering Prem Sahib’s minimal objects in Tongues, his solo show at the Jhaveri Contemporary in Mumbai, Donald Judd’s seminal essay, Specific Objects, defining minimalism, springs to mind. Judd, a pioneer of the movement, defined his works not as sculpture per se, but “three- dimensional objects" removed from the traditional ways of making sculpture, where the hand of the artist is not perceived—“three-dimensional work usually does not involve ordinary anthropomorphic imagery"—to disconnect minimalism from modernism. His objects, he felt, did not fall into the then conventional categories of painting or sculpture.

Sahib’s work confounds—it ascribes to minimalism in terms of objects fabricated, not sculpted, in its use of industrial material and everyday objects and reductive form and bears no conformity to traditional painting or sculpture, but there is, as you stand before the works in this very sparse show, the definite hand of the artist—an affect that breaks through cold material to convey organic imaginings.

Take, for instance, Your Shine. An ordinary encounter is blown up out of proportion, a gigantic tile, its shiny surface studded with desire: A mundane tile becomes diamonds on a cushion, or the smooth skin of a body pierced provocatively. What’s used to line space ubiquitously in public toilets is made personal: One stares at oneself in reflection, now diamonds embedded seductively stoke the imagination, the duality of ordinary and precious, public and private, desire and the mundane play out in what started out as a tile in one’s mind and is now skin, fabric, mirror. It becomes your shine, the viewer implicated in the artist’s provocation.

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A work at the show

In Me Time (evocative titles for minimalist works), he renders a “painting" with resin on anodized aluminium. Using drops of resin he builds a field of condensation; in a sensational finish it looks much like a swipe on a post-shower, misty bathroom mirror, or the bored hand wipe on a car window while stuck in traffic on a humid Mumbai monsoon day. It plays with hardly any colour, just the play-off between materials used makes a square foot come alive, much like the oversized tile in Your Shine commands the room.

Conversations of duality continue: In Browser, a simple circular form rests on a rod—aluminium/acrylic, black/colour, still/moving—it heralds all the contingencies the rest of the works will follow up with.

The largest work, Only With Your Lights On, is a reconstructed structure from the artist’s memory of a Berlin nightclub experience. Using hand-spanned measurements, he recreates what looks like a daybed, a black mattress with votive lights invites one to lounge, but the rickety nature of the sculpture proscribes it. The contingency of contradictions is at play yet again. The common thread in Sahib’s works, besides the form and material use, is the eerie presence of the body. The viewer is so acutely aware of himself, or a missing other, that the Tongues of the title suddenly dawns as the conceptual tongue-in-cheek (as opposed to the start portrait in the show of a profile with cheek bulging)—the absent tongue speaks the language of the understated beauty in these works. Precise in execution, they appear cold at first glance, then their affect exudes a strange covalency in viewing.

It’s minimalist all right, but you can’t quite put your finger on that plus ingredient; it’s uncanny, much like the artist’s name: of Indian and Polish extract, juxtaposition seems in the genes.

Tongues is on till 17 May, 11am-6pm (Sundays and Mondays closed), at Jhaveri Contemporary, 2, Krishna Niwas, 58A, Walkeshwar Road, Mumbai.

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