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Varied shades to this art

Besides Anita Dube's compelling work `Illegal', this past week also witnessed an interactive work at the Apeejay Gallery and an interesting exhibition curated by Vidya Sivadas at the Vadhera Art Gallery, says GAYATRI SINHA.

Anita Dube's "Dockyard" displayed at Nature Morte.

ANITA DUBE'S current exhibition `Illegal' at Nature Morte is a compelling and persuasive body of work. Within the context of Indian art it has many of the elements that are like definitive markers of contemporary practice. Dube engages directly with the mediatic or received image, in this case the widely disseminated newspaper and television imprint of the Iraq war, of scenes of loss and degradation and a reeking fear that you can almost smell off the newsprint. Dube, since she first presented Halleluyah Fallujah!, a mixed media work on the immediate aftermath of devastation in After Dark (2003), has worked on geography as a determinant of an extended cultural identity. At least one stream of Indian art in the last few years has moved away from the East-West binary to a deep engagement with the region that stretches into West Asia, that in fact mimics the old silk route, the pathways of mystics and conquerors, and in turn the outward spill from Hindustan of trade and religious exchange.

The singular piece in the exhibition is a large installation of fretwork or jaali, that mimics a familiar architectural device Islamic inlaid with stained glass, in this case images from the Iraq war that serve like multiple points of illumination. Dube speaks of how stained glass belongs to both the Islamic and the Christian faiths, carrying within it the idea of the precious, the sacred and the decorative. She makes for other profanations in this usage - the jaali itself is industrial thermocole made to resemble terracotta, thus impaling the image of the people within a cultural marker of an ancient and once proud civilisation.

Elsewhere in this complex body of work Dube creates sculptural pieces that mark the trajectory of her work and thought processes. The found object, in this case a piece of thermocole with its uncanny resemblance to a bombed out building, is given a perfectly applied skin of bandage and a spill of red illumination, to create a sense of interiority. These building then become sentinels to the violence like the museum of Iraq, the swimming pool with a huge crater in its centre, a hospital. Less obvious but of significance is the manner in which the artist has made the shift from her immaculately covered velvet pieces in works like Silence Blood Wedding or Oedipus Rex, to a new set of materials, new skins and overlays which carry within them their own contradictions and symbology.

Border show

With new media art it is getting more and more difficult to write about what is it about? Or what does it do? In the main it is the process and the experience on site that comprises the entire text and extent of the artwork. This is particularly correct in the context of interactive work, recently witnessed under the umbrella of the Bombay Badarpur border show at Apeejay gallery. The Apeejay space has a quixotic position - its run up is through ugly bottlenecks lined with painted hoardings of Pehelwans who set right body sprains, hawkers and squat tech offices. In this cacophony of sounds and smells, Apeejay at Badarpur presents more of Bombay's video art production than possibly any other gallery. The three practitioners Mukul Patel, Ashok Sukumaran and Shaina Anand recreate some of this synergy through interactive works - with some predictable and some wildly unpredictable results. The work, A Piece of film, which is found footage of a TV promo is projected on any surface that the viewer offers. The man in front of me was kicked with having the TV soap on his shirtfront, I on my handbag. Border Patrol was probably the least successful piece simply because Badarpur may be interesting in Bombay, but it of no interest in Badarpur - and there were no surprises in the work. And in `Typed Desire' you could type in a word that suggested the city and you were to get random images. My entry was hate, and I got a picture of beaming mother hugging her infant. Hello? "Whatever is not reported in the media has not happened", a media school saying.

Young curator

Vadehra Art Gallery has moved into the new generation of Indian art loop with a massive exhibition that stretched from end to end of the Rabindra Bhavan galleries. If one is looking for surprises in the exhibition, those may be few, but what the young curator Vidya Sivadas has attempted through a demonstration of real energy is a consolidation of leading interests. The over arching curatorial intention then appears to be to present artists who have attained degrees of comfort with identity and in the process, image construction. In a post-colonial scenario, in which Nehru and Shastri are only names in text books the most pervasive images are drawn from the media and in turn feed into it again. In this sense the media as icon-maker is both interlocutor and the subject of ironic interrogation.

Advertisements, politics, reality shows, text books, newspaper archives, grabbed TV images cinema stereotypes become the basic text, the beamed images that tumble into retinal space without order, as a historical mode of fleeting address. Broadly the show covers these areas - although several artists in the show work outside this area and create some sagging pockets within the larger fabric. There are some rich areas - B.V. Suresh's paintings and the synergy that these have with his video, Pushpamala's video on middle class communications that mimics the staccato Chaplinesque funnies of the 1930s, and Bose Krishnamachari's take on his own painting fraternity. The exhibition would have benefited from better viewing arrangements for the video and the sculptural works, but it nevertheless reveals the kind of energetic intent that would normally be seen in museum spaces.

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