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Updated: October 20, 2009 18:51 IST

Between sacred spaces

SWAPNA SATHISH
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ICONIC IMAGERY: R. Ramachandran's work.
ICONIC IMAGERY: R. Ramachandran's work.

Appropriating images from popular visual culture, N. Ramachandran’s mixed media works on board, can be viewed within the context of the Post-Modern. Saturated colour speaks of the popular as derived from the colours on the street, while gold leaf dually mimics elegance and gaudiness.

Religiosity is proffered as a vignette from everyday life just like the photographic images of commuting by train, and the ubiquitous newspaper. The layers of newsprint, cut in strips and glued to textural effect, are suggestive of the commonality and cohesion while the compartmentalisation of space into grid-like niches appears to act as separators. The votive offering of venduthal sheet metal images of body parts hammered into the matrix of the boxed spaces find their place beside colourful iconic imagery of the gods. Also added to the list of everyday things are sheets of rusted iron, which add fractured fluidity to the severe geometry of the grid.

A soft touch

The play of elements within the spatial construct softens the rigidity. The point at which the artist and the material he uses meet, constitutes the ‘Degree of Certainty’, which forms the title of the series of artworks on display.

Ramachandran’s representation derives from the minimalist idiom characterised by hard-edged planes bereft of the expressive application of colour; further, in keeping with the characteristic of Minimalism, the grid-like structured framework aspires to the status of a ‘real’ object while being non-functional. Into this, he infuses imagery from the language of Indian popular culture, comprising god pictures or sami padams. Ironically, these mass-produced prints are themselves preserved like works of art, under a layer of PVA glue, which shields them from the ravages of time and Nature.

The printed image from the calendar art tradition, customarily portraying gods such as Lakshmi, Hanuman or Durga, is sometimes made the focus of the work of art, where large prints on canvas are juxtaposed with smaller reverse silhouettes of commonplace articles such as scissors, paint tube, bucket, lamp, globe, and so on.

The lines of distinction between the so-called ‘high’ and ‘low’ have blurred to be accommodated in a single work. Ramachandran attempts to embody the Janus-faced nature of Post-Modern art through the juxtaposition of the minimalist aesthetic alongside vibrant images from popular visual culture. He almost seems to reject the identification of popular culture with mass culture by taking imagery from the common space into an exalted space, here the gallery. In a different viewing, however, it may be read as an interaction between parallel sacred spaces, that of the temple of faith and the temple of the aesthetic.

The exhibition, ‘The Sun and the Moon’, is on at Apparao Galleries, Wallace Gardens, Third Street, Nungambakkam, until October 30.


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