The second edition of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale later this year is no doubt going to be exciting with artists like Sahej Rahal taking part in it.

A self-confessed ‘Star Wars’ nerd, the Mumbai-based artist — the youngest recipient of the Forbes India Art Award for the best solo show debut of the year for ‘Forerunner’ at Chatterjee & Lal in Mumbai — creates works drawing upon sci-fi, space science and history that in his own words add paradigms to the growing metanarratives that he ventures to unfold.

Small wonder then that he is an admirer of Jorge Luis Borges, whose genre-defying literature dealt with the hyper-real. One of his works, debuted at Khoj last May, is a case in point. It comprised a film — on four runners intermixed with footages from NASA’s International Space Station and Pir Ghaib Observatory adjacent to the Hindu Rao Hospital in Delhi — screened for an audience who could walk around sculptures made by him while they watched the film. “The entire thing read exactly like a story Borges would have written,” says Rahal, on his first visit to Kochi the other day to take a look at the biennale exhibition spaces and to know the city, which in his owns words acknowledges history, up close. Borges, he says, gives you a chance to look at things from outside, referring to ‘The Garden of the Forking Paths’.

Sometime ago, Rahal made a didgeridoo using a PVC pipe, coated it with wax and played music in the Dhobi Talao subway, as walkers went about — the sound of music and footfalls creating a strange acoustic effect. He says it was history being played out in real time. As is wont to him, he recorded the ‘ritualistic’ performance, called ‘Brahamana-II’ attired in a flowing hooded robe as a ‘mythologised’ man/shaman. There’s an allusion to Borges, here too, he says.

Abstract ideas

Simply put, Rahal thinks abstract ideas are about what we are, like the Cartesian doubt. For instance, how would you place the idea of ‘free’ in human body? he asks. The effort of the artist, he reckons, is to try and labour to complete in a lifetime the incomplete structures he/she is to deal with. Rahal tinkers with ‘found objects’, mostly discarded and spent ones like broken furniture and fallen branches primarily because “he doesn’t have to pay for them”. But given that his approach is that of a fish viewing the ocean, he tries to imagine what it [the grand narrative] looks like, and therefore, tries to resurrect the objects that are past their use-by date, giving them a kind of after-life existence. Like the Frankenstein monster, he adds!


In Kochi, too, his aim would be to create something site-specific, drawing on the multiple layers of history embedded in the place. But every work of his is an addition to the meta-narrative he’s working towards.

Graduating from the Rachana Sansad Academy of Fine Arts and Crafts in 2011, Rahal was invited by the FUTUR Foundation in Switzerland for a three-month art residency in the city of Rapperswil-Jona, which resulted in a solo exhibition titled ‘HardBoiled Wonderland’ at the Kunst (Zeug) Haus Museum. He will be one of the youngest artists in the forthcoming biennale.

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