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EVOCATIVE There is a lyrical narrative to Mani-da’s paintings
EVOCATIVE There is a lyrical narrative to Mani-da’s paintings

Mani-da’s exhibition of paintings currently on at Galley Sumukha is not to be missed

In his poem “When You Close Your Eyes”, celebrated artist-writer K.G. Subramanyan speaks of phantom streaks of ghostly red and green, figures in noisy fancy dressed on empty stage, dancing dreams with dragon masks, and bodies of ballet girls with lathe-turned limbs.

In Odd Encounter, he spots a boy and a girl on either side of a road which is “badly split into strips of sun and shadow”, almost like day and night.

“He stands in the shadow on one side of the road / She is framed in a spot of light on the opposite.”

They see each other, “but stay across the road, sticking to where they are / The distance is what ties them, nearness may keep them far.” There is hope though. “Some day in the time to come, when the light covers both sides / or the deepening shadows will sink all difference, / the crossing may be easy. And they may make the choice.” Mani-da, as Subramanyan is fondly referred to, is known to bring a lyrical narrative to his paintings.

Cavorting couples, crowing cocks, jumping cats, hanging fishes, flying angels, combating deities and a curious tapestry of human faces form captivating congregations in his multi-layered work.

There are many pieces of exhilarated restlessness and contrasting recitation in Mani-da’s latest suite of paintings.

Put together by Seagull Foundation for the Arts, Kolkata, The Magic of Making , a travelling exhibition (December 2007 – April 2008 / Calcutta, Chennai, Bangalore, Mumbai, New Delhi) comprises more than 100 engaging pieces of imagery by the senior artist, who is also a distinguished art educationist, scholar, and art historian.

Among the recurrent metaphors of Mani-da’s paintings are crammed rooms, “where you could sit / And watch the world around and slowly draw / Your inner phantoms out from the dimly lit / Tunnels in mind.”

The intriguing structure of his paintings leads the viewer to grasp slices of interior spaces as well as absorbing actions of an external world.

“Varanasi I” (Acrylic on canvas / 30 inch x 30 inch) is a typical Mani-da painting. The square canvas is split into four unequal quadrants.

In the lower two quadrants, we see a lady reclines on a chair reading a book; her long legs stretch into a living room which is filled with a vacant chair, a teapoy, a couple of flower vases and statuettes.

From this very still, silent and relaxed interior space we catch a glimpse of the holy city outside: a chock-a-block of tall temples domes and crowded buildings, and a hint of a distant river.

And then comes the punch. A long-tailed monkey moves menacingly towards a fallen bird with outstretched wings.

Suddenly the calm and relaxed atmosphere gives way to anxiety and unease.

Mani-da offers a unique visual experience to the viewer through such silent yet evocative images.

In “Inside Outside 2”, for instance, a woman in a room - is she hiding behind curtains? - watches a naked man evidently on the run.

Is he a thief? Was he her fleeing lover? His face is turned towards her but both of them betray no emotion. A closed window, flower vases, plants and other assortment stand as mute witnesses.

“In Girl and Crow”, a young lass seems to be in conversation with a two-headed bird oblivious of another bird watching them. Naked women form the crux of “Dance” in a vertically split canvas; “Sleep Crowded with Faces” has five characters with varied expressions in an agitated frame.

The exhibition at Gallery Sumukha concludes on March 8. For details contact 22292230.

GIRIDHAR KHASNIS

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