A question of identity

Khalil Chishtee's trash bag art which will be displayed at New Delhi.  

Around the time the Godhra episode took place, which was followed by the Gujarat genocide, Bhopal-based artist Shreedhar expressed his anguish with an installation at Lalit Kala gallery in Delhi. It had broken and burnt wood signifying ravaged homes, and rotten and freshly-cut red tomatoes symbolising bloodshed. When the 45-year-old artist was asked if such installations had any durability or saleability, he said it was just meant as an outcry, adding, “and if someone (especially institutions) want such installations as a memento, we replace the perishable stuff with solid material of the same colour and feel.”

Cut to the present, there is another artist, this time from Pakistan, voicing his concern through installations just as unlikely to last or be bought by collectors. Khalil Chishtee, 47, a Pakistani by birth and an American by domicile, has used the same un-durable and unsaleable material, trash bags or polyethylene bags, to express his concern over the lost faiths and beliefs among the nations! The artist's installations titled “Recycled Identities” are figures braving the dilemmas of life. One of them for instance, is a man whose arms are extended to transform into a ladder, and another is a melting man seemingly doing a somersault. He hangs upside down in free space.

The wrong image

Says Chishtee, who is trying to procure visa to be present at his shows, to be mounted from this coming Monday, in a telephone interview from the US, “After teaching for 11 years as an art teacher in Pakistan, when I moved to the US, I saw how this country thinks that Pakistan is a trouble maker and I get the same feeling when I come to India. But when I meet people, I see no such grudges. They are loving and understanding. They separate trouble makers from common people. They have same concerns, same emotions and same insecurities. I see no hatred and stereotype that is being propagated through some political mouthpieces in the media. This ‘new identity' coaxed me to work on a medium that is utterly transient and yet horribly permanent – plastic – because whatever happens plastic is not going to vanish. This is the beauty of the contemporary art world that it understands the importance of content than durability.”

Chishtee's figures hence reflect the “duality” and “huge change” that he is questioning through the man with the ladder work. He is questioning why some people (here political parties) use ‘others' (here media and others) as ladders? His melting man (“Unbearable, The Lightness of Being”), seemingly gory, is softening under the pressure of the duality he lives with. Says Chishtee, “For the first time I have used trash or recycled bags as my medium because no matter how many times I recycle plastic, it will remain plastic only, it will not change, so why do we change after being re-placed? We change names, religion, language and even emotions. Why can't we also remain ‘human beings' that we essentially are?”

Trained in wood and bronze sculpture, the artist who loves Urdu literature and poetry even uses Ghalib's couplet with his installations including “Koi charasaz hota, koi gham ghusar hota” from “Ye na thee hamari kismat” poem.

A veteran of several shows in the US, UK, apart from India and his hometown, Chishtee says he will not take the “select US opinion” back home but only will highlight the “difference” through his works.

The show will be on view from August 2-12 at CityWalk Mall, Saket, 7 to 9:30 pm and Gallery Seven Art Limited, M Block Market, GK II, 11:00 am to 7 pm.

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Printable version | Apr 11, 2021 10:22:49 PM |

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