On first thought, a tin can does not have bright prospects—no hidden meanings, no grand schemes.

Sumedh Rajendran

But give cans to a young sculptor like Sumedh Rajendran, and the humble object becomes something more than what it aspired to be. Rajendran uses these flattened tiny metal boxes to create sometimes violent shapes of people and animals that evoke a brooding sense of loneliness and vacancy. “The material is a medium, it is the dialectic of the sculpture," says Rajendran. His use of media depends on the effect he wishes his work to have on the viewer, and the context in which he is working. He uses and transforms everyday items—leather cut to resemble a gas mask; Kraft cheese cans contorted to look like humans; and perforated tin sheets that create a sense of claustrophobia.

Rajendran’s passion for sculptures began at an early age. Born into a family of artisans in Kerala, he was always inclined towards his present profession. “Sculpting has always been what I wanted to do, but the materials that I use and the sensitivity towards it have been dependent upon creating my own language to interpret it," he says.

Rajendran’s style of mixing materials in a single sculpture showcases his sensitivity to what his pieces will eventually become. For example, in Loyalty Stamp, he stitches together aluminium sheets, leather, rexine and wood to create the image of a running man. By using four different kinds of material, Rajendran not only represents the physical form of the sculpture but goes as far as to make a guess of what mood it might have been in, thereby giving the piece a dynamic three-dimensional feel. Stare at the figures long enough and you feel like a voyeur of private pain. “The use of the various materials portrays the human subconsciousness, of not knowing how a situation will take you into the complexities of life. Situations change you and mould you," he says.

Mixology: Rajendran’s ‘People Paid’, a wood and tin sheet sculpture, approx. price Rs10-15 lakh

Rajendran’s style has also started receiving notice from established sculptors such as Himmat Shah. “Rajendran is young, intellectually stimulating and very good. His use of material in his work is very different, and he does constructive work trying out new things and ideas. He thinks his pieces through before he executes them," says Shah.

An example of this thoroughness is People Paid, an uncomfortable depiction of violence. A tin figurine stoops over its wooden counterpart with a knife aimed for the belly. Each figure is minutely sculpted, with the wooden man’s hair ruffled during his struggle, and one almost expects the stabbing to happen as the eyes are drawn first to one figure, and then to the next. This piece is also remarkable for its turn from the personal to political. The choice of materials emphasizes the context of his images. The wood is about to be slaughtered by tin, an allegory for how the natural world is about to be destroyed by the urbane. It is a perspective which is valid wherever you’re from and whoever you are.

Rajendran’s Chemical Smuggle will be displayed till 26 October at London’s Grosvenor Vadehra art gallery.