Mahatma and his message

“Mahatma: Self or Nation?” explores what Gandhi and his ideas represent

May 23, 2019 12:16 pm | Updated 12:16 pm IST

Capturing Bapu’s spirit Jagdeesh Tammineni’s The Birth Of A Nation - 1

Capturing Bapu’s spirit Jagdeesh Tammineni’s The Birth Of A Nation - 1

In an India scarred by political diatribe, Mahatma Gandhi continues to be a metaphor and a message. At Art Heritage, “Mahatma: Self or Nation?” sets one thinking of Gandhi as a person and as a principle.

“Civilisation is that mode of conduct which points out to man the path of duty,” said Gandhi for whom it was a moral enterprise. In art as in literature we can look at Gandhi as a symbol, we can create dialogues and discourses but if we keep replicating his image merely to translate an imagery, it dilutes the multiple commentaries it can bring about. Immaculate in design and lay out, the three works that stand out in this exhibition, belong to printmaker Jagdeesh Tammineni, photographer Ronny Sen and sculptor Arun Pandit.

Nation builder

Tammineni, a Baroda graduate, hails from a hamlet called Kottavalasa in Andhra Pradesh. He picks up the idea of nation building and has consistently used Gandhi in his work in this show. His series is called “Birth of a Nation”. He states, “I believe Gandhi was someone who could hold the nation/country together without it falling apart. I believe his ideas of non-violence as well as nation building are still valid in the 21st century, wrecked as we are by sectarian violence. The act of building a democratic, liberal nation has its own pitfalls and the path is strewn with difficulties. Gandhiji still holds the key.” Tammineni’s trio of woodcuts (peacock, cow and tiger) ensnare you with their brilliance of conception and metaphoric moorings. The tiger with its mechanised machine bones and Gandhi in a comforting dialogue speak about political upheavals and the price we have paid.

Bull and family

Arun Pandit’s bronzes envelop and absorb. His “Bull” created in an internet age with its error-principled multiple imagery speaks of both the tiller and the one who toils. Both his works tell us that the foremost principle of self worth for Gandhi was his love for the nation. The human symbolism in his second work “Family” tells us that the nation can be a mirror of reality with the power and poignancy of images serving as echoes of our experience. “The couple and the child” is a heady bronze in which forms flow into each other, grow and diminish, with an undulating rhythm so deeply tuned to the viewer.

Tucked away in the inner recess is Vidya Sagar Singh’s Untitled acrylic sheet and shards installation that revels in the moving shadows of light/darkness through ramparts of a city, and shadow patterns in the trees. There is a deep rhythm in this installation that plumbs the depths of history, as elements are developed and resolved throughtransparency of the materials used. Yusuf Arakkal’s prowess at the collage and the figurative both beam out at us in his work that creates a bevy of images of Gandhi and an individual who portrays angst in the centre.

Crowds and crows

The piece de resistance of this show belongs to Ronny Sen ( Getty Instagram Award winner) whose cluster of images coalesce the protest march during 2014 Hokolorob movement by Jadavpur University, Kolkata students along with his singular image of a crow. It talks to us about the penchant for sharing images that go beyond the tenets of time.

Ronny says: “Crows remind me of death. And death is like zero. Like the only sure thing, everything else is a possibility.” Between black and white images that speak through their monochromatic starkness Ronnie’s early black and white works 2007-11 have an intrinsic aura of their own. In the labyrinthine web of the newspaper script in the hands of a muffler-clad man with a cigarette, we are looking at undulating loops of intonations that pulsate with irrepressible force, drawing us irresistibly towards the spaces contained within the tightly woven skeins of human predicament. The set of prints by Ronny serve as a stirring evocation of an intense passion for capturing the moment of angst and anger and all that lies in-between.

The title of the show sets one thinking. Scholars say for Gandhi, the self expands into the civilisation self and contracts into the individual self. Self and the other can exist peacefully, respecting each other's difference. In other words, we must have peace and embody the ethos of harmony at all times. In an exile of ethics, are we looking at a loss of inherent values? In our miasma of materialism and mapping we seem to be enslaved by one power or another, and what has been exorcised is the conscience.

(The show at Art Heritage, New Delhi runs through May and July.)

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