There is a dreamlike quality to the works on display at Gallery Threshold in Delhi—mythical beings emerge from swirling oceans, a man can be seen riding a hybrid creature with the head of a peacock and the body of a fish, the heavens agleam with newly imagined constellations. It seems as if these works are set in fantastical lands, which function outside the realm of time.
The show, titled Painted Almanac, Framing Time: Past, Present And Future, tries to create a visual portrait of time and the many notions associated with it, whether personal, historical, cosmic or philosophical. “Each exhibition that I have curated comes from a space of personal questioning. After turning 50, I became acutely conscious of time. It led me to the question: Does art freeze a moment in time or is it created in a space of abandonment, wherein the artist manages to transcend time? " says Tunty Chauhan, director, Gallery Threshold, who has also curated the exhibition.
One of the highlights is Gulam Mohammed Sheikh’s Between Famine And Floods. The watercolour is the very picture of paradox—of how the annual calendar in rural India is divided between severe droughts and heavy floods. Earthy browns give way to shades of indigo. On one side, one can see farming implements lying abandoned under a withering tree; in the other half, homes, people and vegetation are submerged in water.
In fact, shades of blue run like threads through the show. For instance, Desmond Lazaro uses indigo-dyed cotton cloth with natural pigment and raised gold gild in Mapping The Heavens. The work draws inspiration from his recent travels around Dunhuang in western China, particularly his trip to the Margao Buddhist cave where the oldest star map (the Dunhuang Star Atlas) was discovered in 1906. “I have become fascinated with how the ancients saw the heavens," he writes in his artist’s statement. “The map illustrates star constellations and cloud divination in equal measure, a system of celestial interpretation that dictated all aspects of ancient Chinese life. And much like the Dunhuang Star Atlas, this new work offers both a mythological and an empirical view of the heavens, upon which many cultures would later base their calendar systems."
Another vortex of blue can be seen in Manisha Gera Baswani’s set of works such as Garbha Vriksha, Mannat, Kaal and Panchtatva. Using watercolour and gouache on a Shikishi board—traditionally used for calligraphy and watercolour—the artist creates line drawings and marks to depict layers of overlapped experiences lived and felt, crisscrossing their way across time. “Time inspired me to give form to the formless," writes Baswani. In Kaal, for instance, one can see a circle, writhing with colour and lines, radiating energy.
A more personal interpretation of time can be found in Anindita Bhattacharya’s Thick As Guilt. She uses coffee, gouache and natural pigments on hand-cut paper to create a parallel in time between the evolution of her family tree and the history of species that may have become extinct within her lifetime. The work has its roots, conceptually, in the miniature image of Rahu eating the sun and the moon. Bhattacharya contemporizes this myth by placing it within the present-day ecosystem. “Just like time, there is a historical richness in the artworks in the Painted Almanac, a strength and boldness in the vision of the artists and a suggestion of infinite possibilities," writes Delhi-based curator, writer and designer Minhazz Majumdar in the catalogue text. “These artists, like time, are alchemical— transforming a few simple materials into something of value, of aesthetic, spiritual and philosophical significance."
Painted Almanac, Framing Time: Past, Present And Future can be viewed at Gallery Threshold till 24 December.