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Unfettered in form

Dimpy Menon's works explore relationships of different kinds, and the emotions portrayed are remarkably unhindered.

DIMPY MENON's exhibition of bronze sculpture, opened at Fluid Space on March 17. The rather restricted gallery had space enough for the mostly small-scaled works, the freestanding ones ideally placed so that one could walk around them.

Her command of figuration was obvious in her depiction of the body, male and female. Though the heads were androgynous, they still managed to differentiate gender. The obvious echo was Brancusi's seminal ovoids, though his perfectly smooth ones were transformed by texture. Featureless apart from the very pronounced Negroid lips, they nevertheless possessed an unexpected degree of expression. She also managed to convey moods in the stances of the heads or bodies as in No.5, the bust of a woman contemplating a rose in a vase.

The works spoke eloquently of human relationships: between man and woman, and mother and child, based on her own perceptions and appraisal of what is significant to her. These values emerged as emotion, unashamedly direct and therefore refreshingly sincere. Feelings manifested themselves, uncluttered by any intellectual or theoretical isms.

Not surprising, then, that her sculptural mode of expression is traditional rather than modernist, suitably gentle without the harshness of distorted simplification or abstraction. The style suited the lyrical, often serene, mood of the pieces, many, indicating bonds of tenderness and cherishing. The delicacy of attachment communicated itself best in No.8, a complete surrender of a child, secure and content on his mother's lap. The more sensually entwined lovers of No.18 were surrounded by a broken circlet of waves, suggesting both the turbulence and incompleteness of an adult relationship.

One only wished for a grander and more monumental scale to do justice to the range of feelings and to celebrate the body. It is not the physical exertion and logistics (Ms. Menon casts and finishes her own work) that has limited her, for she has done six-foot sculptures. Most of the exhibited works were around 12 inches, though the ones involving movement were a bit larger. These pieces were the least successful, perhaps because of the lack of emotional content and the fact that arrested motion has often been done in this established idiom.

Her spatial differentiations usually have human allusions. While painters have used the frame — either painting them onto the canvas, or painting actual frames as an extension, or integral part, of the work — Ms. Menon has used the concept in her sculpture to good effect. Windows can denote a crossing point, from the enclosed privacy of an individual's existence to the larger all-encompassing world out there. Conversely, windows also allow the outsider a glimpse into a person's secluded realm. The motif therefore worked very well as a metaphor for the universalisation of emotion emerging from individual experience. Figures lean out of windows — variously shaped, so that they sometimes resemble balconies or alcoves — which signify such two-way thresholds.

The particular also gains wider significance as figures are surrounded by Nature, thereby rooting humans in the larger sphere of creation. The frames were rough textured, resembling bark, or had bamboo (No.11) or tree trunks (No.12) scored onto them. Some had archetypal symbols such as waves or triangles to reinforce the nature connection. Trees or creepers served the same purpose, while also being decorative.

Another recurrent symbol from nature was the bird, denoting freedom. The child is torn between the nest and a desire to spread one's wings. This was best exemplified in No.10: while perched on the window frame with its legs dangling out, as if already poised to soar away, the child reaches out to the beckoning bird.

Parting was as felicitously suggested by physical divisions in No.16: a woman looks over a wall, laying a perhaps restraining hand on the child who stands in front of it: already partial separation exists. The adjoining lattice screen also betokens a halfway stage (a partition, yet, not a complete barrier) on which a bird waits watchfully — perhaps what the child seems to ensconce protectively in his hands is a baby bird.

The smallest sculptures, Nos.6 & 7, appeared rather decorative, though well executed. The line drawings also veered on the pretty, probably because the bodies were too perfect, though the intentionally tentative and broken line somewhat countered the facile tendency. Two were memorably lyrical: the girl holding a flower and the woman seated in front of a pond on which two lotuses floated.


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