Retrieval Systems, a group show by five artists that goes on show at Art Alive Gallery, New Delhi, comprises disparate sets of artworks—portrait photographs, sculptural installations, digital prints, photographic installations and egg tempera paintings—with no apparent connection.

‘Silenced Sound’ by GR Iranna

The exhibition, then, is the product of Hoskote’s twin interest in contemporary Indian art and in memory—and after viewing the works, speaking with Hoskote and reading his curatorial note, the link between the works and their source of inspiration becomes more apparent. What registers more prominently than the underlying theme of memory, though, is the fact that the artworks are—independently and even as stand-alone pieces—striking.

Alex Fernandes’ black and white portraits of stage actors who belong to the tiatristes tradition of Goa—and who are posing as characters—are animated and alive character sketches of both the actor and the role which he or she is dressed for. Manjunath Kamath’s installation of an antique closet that has a scaled-down model of a typical apartment block in mid-construction (fashioned realistically out of actual tiny bricks and cement) thrusting out of it is ungainly and jarring to behold. But the violence done to the past and, on reflection, the inevitability of the change, is perhaps the artist’s point.

‘Tiger, Tiger on the Wall’ by Tina Bopiah

There is a temptation then to dismiss the theme of memory that supposedly binds these works as unnecessary and even superfluous. Hoskote won’t be surprised by such a response—he has a poor opinion of the curatorial art as it is practised in India. He feels it is quite “un-evolved", with the curator usually acting as a “commissioner or a proxy dealer".

“(I) approach the curatorial process as an intellectual process," he says over the phone, “a collaboration with the artist that is highly empathetic." For him, when it comes to putting together an art exhibition, this is the one and only correct approach.

But the proof of the pudding is in the eating—while the curator’s role is highlighted in all the text that accompanies the show, it is invisible in the show itself. Which probably is how it should be—it doesn’t call attention to itself. The beauty and vision of the artworks on display in Retrieval Systems, however, is clearly in a large measure the function of the curatorial hand that guided the show.

Retrieval Systems will be exhibited at the Art Alive Gallery, S-221, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi from 25-30 November.

himanshu.b@livemint.com

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