The extreme landscape of Jharkhand comes alive in Chittrovanu Mazumdar's works

Chittrovanu Mazumdar's stark, powerfully dystopian art takes many forms — paintings, videos, music, photographs, digital media. Any form, really, that can help capture the sense of mystery, the unspoken story, the dark shadows in the world around him, the essence that he's constantly trying to give voice to through his work.

“You only see a part of everything in this world, tinted by perception — there's always a mystique, waiting to be deciphered,” says Mazumdar, considered one of India's leading expressionist artists. “I love to live in that anxiety, that moment of trying to decipher the shadows between words, the darkness that dwells there.”

The Paris-born, Kolkata-based artist was in Chennai recently to launch his exhibition ‘Ancient Earth' at Apparao Galleries, a series of digital works inspired by the landscape of Jharkhand, where he has a home.

“It is a place of extremes, the sun pitiless, the land arid and scarred,” he says. “The landscape itself speaks to you in a language of silence, daunting as barbed wire; you might have the will to cross it, but can't.”

Of love and longing

If there is poetry in that description, there's even more in the brilliant exhibit itself, a haunting video installation that somehow converts the stark imagery of the Jharkhand landscape into a heartbreaking love story. Dark, ominous skies churn and change over the dry, barren earth, just a tinge of red in the horizon or the sepia-rust of stormy clouds alleviating the grey-black of the imagery. And all the while, an old, melancholy ballad plays in the background, with a woman's voice whispering urgently of love and loss.

“The landscape becomes a panorama of that person's life — the person who gave up everything for love — a place where he's trapped and cannot seem to escape,” says Mazumdar.

He often struggles to find the words to describe exactly the abstract emotions and the nuances he captures effortlessly in his art, but his sense of conviction is absolute. That conviction translates into a completely immersive experience for the viewer of his artwork — you are transported instantly to that world of shadows he inhabits.

The second video installation in the exhibition, is of an old temple his father built in Jharkand decades ago, which has fallen into disrepair. Using minimal music and sound effects (bird calls, water dripping) over his brooding, beautifully angled shots of the structure with no ceilings and no deity, surrounded by greenery, he creates an incredible sense of atmosphere, of desolation and eerie emptiness, of secrets hidden but not forgotten.

“There are several tools and media I use — I choose whatever vehicle gives most in terms of artistic expression,” says the artist, who does everything from metalwork to composing his own music. “Sometimes I begin with the music — three notes might denote what the periphery of the work will be; sometimes the work itself demands a certain silence — eventually they grow together to become one.”

This fluidity between media is a hallmark of his work — the video, the music, the digital effects of colour and texture that speak of a painter's deft touch, they all merge together seamlessly to create a composite whole. And from each video installation, large, mounted stills become gorgeous works of arts in their own right, a shift from “moving to static, cinema to art”, as Mazumdar puts it.

Given the deeply immersive nature of the art experience he creates, it's no surprise that Mazumdar works in absolute isolation and silence at his studio in Kolkata. “It's a private zone; I cannot let anyone in because of the extreme fragility of the work during its gestation,” says the reclusive artist, describing the transition from this private space to the public domain of the exhibition hall as ‘extremely traumatic'.

Yet, Mazumdar's art lies as much in its interpretation by viewers as it does in his own vision. “I try to capture those shadows, but the viewer plays an important part in deciphering their meaning,” he says.

The exhibition is on until March 26.