The Terre Offshore exhibition brings together the works of 11 artists from Reunion Island

You know from the moment you step in and see a metre-long work of art poised on bright red-striped plastic buckets — that you have entered the topsy-turvy world of artists. A word of advice for those who venture into this territory: leave all preconceptions of art outside the door. You won't find place for them in here.

In India, as part of the Bonjour India Festival of France, the Terre Offshore exhibition curated by Francine Méoule brings together the works of 11 independent artists from Reunion Island. Four among them are here for the Chennai segment of the exhibition, giving us their take on the world through mixed mediums of contemporary art: from video installations to coloured inks on paper, and even adhesive on canvas.

A fragment of Europe

Try and pinpoint Reunion Island on the map, and you will be able to do just that. The miniscule speck of land to the East of Madagascar has the intriguing particularity of being a “fragment of Europe in the middle of the Indian Ocean”, and is as fascinating in its ethnic divergence as in its defiance of geographical norms. The once uninhabited island was occupied by the French in the mid-1600s, and was populated over the years by a mix of ethnicities. Its contemporary culture is rooted in African, Indian, Chinese, and French traditions, and its citizens are bound together by the shared Creole language. Such a crucible of cultures would form the classic breeding ground for art's favourite musing, the agonising question of identity — or so we may expect.

Surprisingly, and yet refreshingly, the exhibition does not harp on issues of identity and on the continuous search thereof. It is certainly among the concerns of some, for as artist Jack Beng-Thi explains: “He who doesn't know his history is always perturbed, and art has always been a means of expressing history”. But the younger generation of artists have different preoccupations. “Identity was largely questioned by artists of Reunion Island in the Seventies,” says Stefan Barniche. “I see myself as being in suspension, perhaps lost, but positively so, and have digested the question of identity. I deal with its more global aspect, its imprecision, its passages in form, and its continuous gliding, as reflected in my use of mixed mediums of art.”

Other artists simply draw from the contemporary world around them, and deal with direct, everyday observations. “I explore the relationship between colours, notions of disguise and revelation, and the interaction between living beings, in my work”, explains young artist, Gabrielle Manglou. “When the wind touches a leaf, there is life in that movement, and that is what I try and express through my drawings, sculptures, and videos.” There are others who examine the mechanics of space and time. Artist Yohann Quëland de Saint-Pern uses audio-visual displays to enquire into man's relation to his geographical, physical, and mental surroundings. “I try and understand why we construct houses in one way in Reunion Island, in another way in France, and in a third way in India. My work is mainly concerned with geography, territories, and the body as the first interface with others.”

An array of ideas depicted through multiple forms, all challenging spectators to shed the preconceived ideas they might have of syncretic art, and interpret what they see before them through a fresh lens. As art critic Bernard Marcadé contends, Terre Offshore suggests “an extra-territorial dimension, a stage open to new adventures, and therefore, a platform to create new things”. A new experience of art is what you should come prepared for then — and you just might save yourself from tripping over the flat-screen TV lying on the floor, as you enter the exhibition.

The Terre Offshore-Reunion Island exhibition is on at Apparao Galleries until February 4. For details, call 28279803 or 28271477.