Conversing with taboos

Curator Shaunak Mahbubani conjures a creative playground with artist Murari Jha’s sculptural ‘creatures’ in the ongoing show, Fondle. The show analyses the anatomy of consent, dissecting each component for the viewer to experience. In collaboration with illustrator Devarshi Gohil and Mumbai-based NGOs Anubhuti Trust and Rubaroo, Mahbubani explores a conflicted web of identity, sexuality and agency. Triggered by the #MeToo movement, few hidden stories began to find a voice and breathe their way into a larger discourse. But many still remain trapped. Fondle emerges in this terrain between society and an individual — creating a safe space for silent stories.

“This is not a white cube” — the words written on the walls of the room draw you inside, anchoring alternate phenomena. Perhaps a smart way to unearth topics of taboo starts by evoking a playground — a physical space where children let go of their inhibitions. One instantly notices toy-like objects with handles that seem to be calling you. But they remain still — glued to the wall. The room then begins to feel rather odd. The trumpet horn doesn’t make a sound; the basketball on the floor turns out to be wooden. The forms must be broken for the meanings to appear.

Approach with empathy

Jha’s sculptural ‘creatures’ (as described in the curatorial note) are familiar on the surface. But on closer view, they expose nuanced fragments. As the gallery twists into a playground — the viewer turns into a performer. It’s an unusual, rather unsettling realisation. For instance, a tyre (possibly from a small cycle) is suspended from the ceiling, evoking childhood memories of tyre swings . Except, this tyre holds a shield of black thorns — symbolising non-verbal cues marking personal space. It cannot speak, leaving the performer to decide if it may be touched. Does silence imply consent?

Engage with care

Although Jha’s objects perform the absence of verbal consent, they mark a strong presence. This shatters the fog around consent with controlled contortions — opening up issues of vulnerability. Certain works invoke a private space, such as the inverted bathroom sink with a blanket of hair. A gentle drip of water can be heard. The role of the performer is invasive when notions of the body come into play. This privacy is juxtaposed with a public sphere as objects like the silver bollard — a metallic pole found on sidewalks — protrudes from a wall and the sliced remnant of a pipe lies fallen on the floor. A silent conversation intimately cuts through the transgressed boundaries of the private and the public.

No means no

The show almost seems to reject the viewer. For some toys ‘play’, while others stay static. Perhaps you should have asked for permission first. Fondle astutely builds an experiential greyness of consent by provoking a larger conversation on structures of power. As you experience vulnerability, you realise that forms of repression (by individuals or society) only serve to aggravate a toxic environment that breeds sexual abuse. Silence does not imply or solve the dynamics of consent. This show aims to cultivate a deeper understanding of sexuality and body language, which respond to hierarchies of power. The personal then even in a playground, is political.

Fondle is ongoing at the Mumbai Art Room, Colaba until November 15

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Printable version | Apr 15, 2021 7:21:19 AM |

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