I call this ‘MONSOON BLOOM’

Because rain makes everything bloom 

Acrylic on canvas 14 " x 14 "

I call this ‘AFTER THE RAIN’
Because the light that passes through flowers, leaves and branches after it has rained has been washed of dust and all impurities making it the cleanest expression of light that our eyes can behold

Acrylic on canvas
32 " x 45 "

Dhiraj Singh | 21 Aug 2019

THOSE IN THE MARKET sometimes forget that the goods are a means and not an end. The end is feeling. Of happiness, of satisfaction, or even of keeping-up with the Joneses. In the art world goods and feelings converge in many strange and counter-intuitive ways. A work of art is a work of art only if it makes you feel something, anything. Most of us creating a painting or an object aren’t thinking of how much it will fetch. We are thinking of how to give physical materials the reality of human engagement. So that it speaks to people far, far removed from us and our time. A work of art needn’t always be touchable and feelable. It can also be a virtual idea that stays locked up inside our computers. Yet being that it manages to engage us in ways that are novel and have no recallable precedent. Most people will have trouble wrapping their heads around this, but the fact is that artists are looking at solving deep problems of humanity. And that the act of creating things—paintings, drawings, sculptures, installations—is incidental.

The past couple of months the Internet has been breaking over a work of art. Usually art enters the mainstream of Internet conversations only when auction prices hit a record high. Or an invisible Banksy destroys his own artwork during its auction. This work had none of these qualities. In fact, it was farthest from anything even remotely suspected of being arty. The artist in question is called ‘Bill Posters’. If you Google him, you will come across a flurry of pictures of wall-notices saying, ‘Bill Posters Will Be Prosecuted’. These notices, common in the UK, are aimed at discouraging sly vandals and cheap advertisers from claiming their walls. So, we know that Bill Posters is probably a pseudonym for an artist or a collective of artists who like to indulge in “brandalism” and “subvertising” or in simpler words vandalizing brands and subverting advertising.

The work first appeared on Bill Posters Instagram page as a seemingly innocuous video of Mark Zuckerberg. However what Zuckerberg was saying was anything but innocuous. The video went viral. Even news channels began to show it asking questions that the video implied by its very existence. In the video Zuckerberg is saying: “Imagine this for a second. One man with total control of billions of people’s stolen data, all their secrets, their lives, their futures. I owe it all to Spectre. Spectre showed me that whoever controls the data, controls the future.” Many realized that the video was a ‘deepfake’ or one where the speaker’s face or lip movements or voice have been faked using AI and an actor. In the past there have been deepfakes of others such as Barack Obama where comedian Jordan Peele channels the former US President to holler at the current saying: “President Trump is a total and complete dipshit!”. Or another where Hillary Clinton impersonator Kate McKinnon makes her weep. Yet the Zuckerberg video addresses the most important issue of our time. Data and the ability to shamelessly profit from it. The video poetizes the phenomenon by making the one person around whom this whole debate has raged for years its main protagonist. I think that in itself is an act of boldness, wit and artifice worth applauding because it required a fresh way of thinking and looking at a pretty scrambled debate.

In a later video Bill makes Zuckerberg own up another fact that everyone knows or suspects about Facebook. “I wish I could tell you that our mission in life was just connecting people but it isn’t,” says he, “We just want to predict your future behaviours. Spectre showed me how to manipulate you into sharing intimate data about yourself and all those you love for free. The more you express yourself the more we own you.” That line for me is the biggest question of our times. How much of ourselves should we cede to this giant monster that grows stronger every day as we feed bits of ourselves to it.

The ‘Spectre’ that many of Bill Posters videos refer to is also a very intelligent ruse. It’s an “immersive installation” that he and fellow artist Daniel Howe created for a show at Sheffield, England, but it is more than that. It’s a metaphor for all that is wrong with us today. The name ‘Spectre’ is founded on Dr Aleksandr Kogan a.k.a. Dr Aleksandr Spectre, the data scientist who profited by selling 87 million Facebook profiles to Cambridge Analytica, which then used them commercially to target voters in political campaigns including those in India.

Bill Posters has used deepfake to vent collective ire and frustration over being used as data-fodder by big corporations. On Posters’ Instagram page there is another where Kim Kardashian is saying: “I genuinely love the process of manipulating people online for money.” Another of Trump saying: “It’s all about two things: algorithms and data, I pulled off the biggest heist of the century and people just have no idea.” There is of course a larger moral takeaway from this online art project. That artists must address complicated issues of our times in the best they way can: as problem solvers.

Dhiraj Singh is a well-known journalist, writer, TV personality and artist who has shown his abstract paintings and X-Ray works in India and abroad
Article link on NDTV-Mojarto is HERE

I love the idea of art being displayed in public spaces because it helps engage an audience that otherwise would not visit an art gallery or a museum. So am really excited to be showing my latest works at SelectCity Walk one of Delhi's most visited malls 

Always one to expand the reach of art from the gallery to more accessible public spaces I am happy to share that my works are part of this unique art show in a mall
This is my interview with 'Fairgaze', an online forum that helps students to engage with artists and creative professionals

Really happy to share glimpses of Hunar Charcha, a unique 'Art Chats in a Mall' series organised by Hunar TV and Gardens Galleria Mall. These glimpses are from two episodes hosted by me
My first complete handmade #artjewellery set... being showcased by the lovely Sahar Zaman 😍

Dhiraj Singh 15 July, 2019

ART IS A BIT LIKE GOD. People only feel its presence inside a gallery or an event especially designated as an art event. Sadly, art is not seen and felt everywhere as it should be. It is only a small minority like the mystics of yore who can feel the presence of art everywhere. As a writer and an artist, I strongly feel about the enormous number of binaries that we Indians carry around our heads. And on top of that is our purity-fetish. For us, things have to be clearly defined and refined before they can be aesthetically enjoyed. Right from school we are taught that there is art and there is science and the twain meet only in movies and nowadays in Apple devices.

It was with a view to deflate this rather pompous balloon that we devised a formula to take art into the heart of what has today become the hub of social life. Some months back we approached Mahim Singh, the operations head of Noida’s Gardens Galleria mall, to start an artist chat series. We chose Noida because it’s usually a distant third in the NCR arts calendar. Initially skeptical, Mahim later saw value in our desire to start a dialogue at a space where people came with the singular purpose of shopping and hanging out. Let’s surprise them, we told him, and give them something they’re not expecting. Since I am also a co-founder, along with Sahar Zaman, of Hunar TV, a web channel whose aim is to make arts more accessible we decided to call the series ‘Hunar Charcha’.

We gave the mall a list of artists, musicians, singers, writers and a host of other performers whose practice fell in the in-between, undefinable space. Soon the idea began to roll on its own momentum. And thus began an exciting journey of taking art everywhere, literally. Our first Hunar Charcha was with a unique breakthrough artist who is unlike anyone in India. We got a ‘senior model’ to begin our ‘artist chat in a mall’ series. Dinesh Mohan is 60 years old and is a rage on ramp shows and TV commercials. He is tall and well-built with a fashionable shock of grey on his head and his face. But that is not all. Dinesh is also the story of contemporary India coming to terms with an ageing population. “I get trolled and age-shamed for doing what am doing,” Mohan told a rapt audience in the mall. His personal life has been a roller-coaster. His was two-decade old battle with crippling depression and obesity till he came to a point where he decided to will himself back to life.

The art world sometimes tends to get very dense and hifalutin for people struggling to make a living in the city. I have sat through endless lectures and harangues from art world worthies who’d like to believe that the public is only drawn to random sentimentalia. That may have been the case a decade or so ago but now things are different. All it takes for a smart phone user is to take out his phone and Google what it is that he’s seeing in front of him. And if he likes what he’s seeing, it’s going to be there in his camera roll and his social media soon enough. The idea was also to make this encounter with art an offline, real-time one. And we couldn’t have chosen better. Dinesh is also an actor who had a small role in ‘Bharat’ and has a bigger one in the upcoming Anurag Kashyap production ‘Saand Ki Aankh’. By the end of his Hunar Charcha Dinesh had created a spontaneous fan-club right in the middle of a busy mall.

Our second artist in the series was a young, upcoming desi-rapper who raps about some really edgy challenges of urban India. His song called ‘Band Kamraa’ speaks about the closeted life of LGBTQ kids. The song sensitively portrays the inner anguish and sometimes physical violence faced by LGBTQ boys and girls especially from their families. ABHI Urf Rapper Wolf is a radio jockey by the day but when he’s free and has the mind-space, he likes to wander off to do some creative heavy-lifting. The idea behind these talks is also to acquaint shoppers and mallrats with the inner life of artists. It is an effort to stop people from becoming mere consumers of art but also real enjoyers and partakers of it. And people do come back to the artists to say how inspired they are by their stories and performances.

Our next episode will feature Shishanath Sapera whom I first heard way back in 2007 at Central Park in Connaught Place. It was the first-ever sapera orchestra that I’d heard. And I was blown away by the haunting quality of their music that came from 100 ‘beens’. They played ‘Auld Lang Syne’ and ‘Amazing Grace’ with such remarkable finesse that everyone sat transfixed. Shishanath and other saperas like him have been left without a livelihood when in the late 1990s a change in the Wildlife Protection Act brought an end to their traditional snake-keeping. Today many saperas have left their family vocation and switched to small jobs. Shishanath is now in his sixties and am much looking forward to his first performance in a mall.

Dhiraj Singh is a well-known journalist, writer, TV personality and artist who has shown his abstract paintings and X-Ray works in India and abroad
Article link on NDTV-Mojarto is HERE

HUNAR CHARCHA is unique 'artist-chat-in-a-mall' series started by Hunar TV of which I am a co-Founder. Hunar TV is web channel dedicated to bringing arts closer to the public and 'Hunar Charcha' is one of its many initiatives. In its second episode I did a chat with ABHI URF RAPPER WOLF, a young and super-talented desi rapper who raps about burning social issues 

Dhiraj Singh 12 June, 2019
ANDY HAS A BOOK IN WHICH HE WRITES down all his blessings. All of them since he was 12. And there are 7904 of them at the beginning of the play. Andy is Anando Chatterjee, a math teacher who is also the Treasurer of Indian Origami, a nation-wide association of origamists. Andy is a huge fan of Nina Bedi, one of the country’s top origami artists (which is to say that she’s famous among 200-odd people in the whole wide world). And for the benefit of this select audience she has written a book, which is one of Andy’s most cherished blessings at number 5000-something. He has read it till his heart ached. However, after ruling the hearts and hands of origamists around the country Nina has suddenly gone off the radar. The brochures that Indian Origami sends her have also returned. And her annual due to the organization, a princely amount of 500 bucks has not been paid. So naturally Andy is worried, so much so that he comes to Nina’s place one rainy afternoon and rings her door buzzer. Nina has just had a break-up from her husband and her dog has disappeared. She’s not in the best frame of mind to open her door to the stranger that Andy is to her, although as he reminds her they’ve met before at three annual origami conferences but she doesn’t remember him.

It is not often that a play can be about so many things and be equally swank in all of them. And that foremostly is because of the beauty of the writing. If someone had asked me to watch a play about origami I would’ve said: yeah right. But the fact is that I did. And not just that, I loved it. ‘Animals Out Of Paper’ is a play that turns folding paper into a metaphor for so much that happens in life that it is almost disgusting. I mean how could a writer be so spookily on point. “Look at this paper. It’s just flat,” Nina says in one scene, “but fold it and suddenly it remembers something. And then with each fold, another memory, another experience… Folds leave scars.” It was scenes like these that left the usually fidgety Delhi audience entranced from start to finish.

The play is also about a young boy, an origami genius, who instinctively knows how to fold phenomenal creatures from single pieces of paper. He is not a folding vet like Nina, who has honed her art over years of practice, often going through the labored process of sketching folds before she actually carries them out. Suresh on the other hand can see the final shape of things even before he puts his hands to paper.

It is Andy, whom the origami whiz calls ‘Chat-man’, who brings the two together. Because he’d like the young genius to get acquainted with the larger world of origami. It is a problematic encounter that many well-meaning people try to engineer, between veteran and prodigy. And it has much of the fireworks expected of such a meeting. When the voice of experience talks down to the impetuosity of youth. And youth strikes back. Suresh does too and calls Nina a bitch for slighting him and his way of seeing things.

Suresh is the enfant terrible who wants to break out of the pigeonholes and formalism of art. He has his own way of doing things. He likes to ‘freestyle’ in his folding as he does in his hip-hop. Yes, he’s also a budding rapper. “You gotta freestyle a bit,” he tells Nina. It is great advice—the kind I really dig—that is often not given to artists.

And am glad that Rajiv Joseph, the Pulitzer-finalist writer of ‘Animals Out Of paper’, has managed to wing this advice into his work. Especially considering that origami is an artform that’s not known for its freestyling. Watching the play I felt as if someone was echoing my own feelings about art. ART IS indeed EVERYWHERE! You just have to see it, hear it, sense it.

Vivek Mansukhani who is the heart of Joseph’s Indian adaptation plays Andy. His theatre company Scene Stealers has been missing in action for a long time and this is its worthy comeback. Sriharsh Sharma is amazing as the genius origamist. And Geeta Sudan as Nina Bedi is superlative as she brings alive the subtle dilemmas of an artist and a woman living through a major unfolding in her life.

The set for the Delhi debut of the play was especially created by Ankon Mitra and his student Aditi Anuj, two far-out origami artists whose practice and oeuvre has now been introduced to a whole new audience thanks to this play. Poonam Bhagat’s sharp cuts and designs give the clothes a very contemporary feel. Last but not the least is Aditee Biswas’ 360 vision for the adaption that effortlessly situates an American drama in an Indian context.

Dhiraj Singh is a well-known journalist, writer, TV personality and artist who has shown his abstract paintings and X-Ray works in India and abroad

Article link on NDTV-Mojarto is HERE

Dhiraj Singh 08 May, 2019

When Cornelia Parker was made ‘Election Artist’ by the Speaker’s Advisory Committee on Works of Art in 2017 it came as a surprise to many ordinary Britons who didn’t know such a post actually existed. The British General Election that year itself was extraordinary because it was a snap poll called by Prime Minister Theresa May three years ahead of schedule. Parker’s choice was as bold as it was quirky—she is known as one of Britain’s most out-of-the-box artists who was part of the YBA (Young British Artists) gang that began showing in the mid-1990s. It was a group that included Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin and Grayson Perry who famously appeared in drag to collect his Turner Prize in 2003. The YBAs were known for breaking out of the trappings of art history and creating their own unique mediums and ways of showing. Most famous among them was perhaps Hirst who exhibited a dead shark inside a glass tank of formaldehyde. But the others were equally sensational. Parker’s breakout work was called ‘Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View’ and it consisted of surviving remains of a garden shed that she had blown up using Army explosives.

Parker’s choice as ‘Election Artist’ therefore was anything but disappointing. One of her works in her Election series was called ‘Left Right & Centre’. It was a video, shot with drones inside the House of Commons whose main table was stacked with newspapers. On the left were placed Left-leaning papers and on the right were Right-leaning ones. While hovering the drone-blades created a down-draft that set the papers aflutter flying off in different directions, landing on different sides of the table until a glorious mess of newsprint was left all around in the hallowed hall of UK’s Parliament. This was Parker’s way of showing what happens during elections. A messy churn of headlines, hearts and minds all for a noble cause of electing a government.
As we navigate what could possibly be the most fiercely fought elections in living memory I thought why not look at the art of electioneering in India through its most digitally-enabled election ever. And to understand how art and aesthetics play a role in this game of persuasion. I was not interested merely in slogans or messaging but the surprise poetics of the process. As an artist am a strong believer in the visual poetry of an art work. So the idea was to take the whole election campaign as an exhibition and then pick works that stood out for their unparalleled power of persuasion.

Let me begin with the Narendra Modi biopic that has Vivek Oberoi in the lead. The film was supposed to release just before voting started but was stalled in the face of a huge public outrage. Good art often aims to subvert conventions and mores and in that the release of a film that was clearly meant to benefit a particular candidate was subverting the basic principle of a free and fair election. And here am not going into the merits of the film at all. Instead I am admiring its leap of imagination as a device for tipping the scales in one’s favour, almost like daylight robbery some would say… but I’d call it an audacious piece of theatre.

Indian elections have used merchandise for quite some time now but never before has it included sarees with the face of a candidate printed on them. Traditional aesthetic wisdom in India has often maintained that to wear a person’s face and body on your own would bestow you with the traits of that person. People have worn T-shirts, caps, pendants of film stars and godmen before but this election showed that many, especially women, were willing to abandon long-held taboos for a political leader, again indicating that the persuasion has worked.

Hashtag campaigns such as ‘Je Suis Charlie’ (I am Charlie) usually come from a place of persecution and injustice like the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo shooting. This election’s ‘Main Bhi Chowkidar’ (I too am a watchman) campaign similarly took on a slur ‘Chowkidar Chor Hai’ (The watchman is a thief) and gave it a defiant spin like ‘I am Charlie’ by turning an accusation into a badge of honour. Elections are like a battle in which the word is the ammo. And this one showed that making a wall out of the stones hurled at you is not only good politics but also good art.

An image that left a strong visual impression was that of Priyanka Gandhi playing with snakes. In the video she is seen sitting with snake-charmers and doing what is no sane onlooker ever does. In those few minutes Priyanka established herself as a great channeler of drama. What made the image even more potent was the kind of opposition her family faces from the incumbent government and the fact it was an absolutely impromptu moment. Am sure the image has been etched in the minds of people for a long time to come.

The washing of feet that the PM literally pulled out of his hat was one of those rare instances when thousands of years of discrimination and bigotry melt away in a single gesture. The moment beamed across TV screens was doubly symbolic as the feet the Prime Minister was washing were of Dalit sanitation workers.

Another superb subversion that this election has thrown up is Namo TV. For those watching it, it is a river of information that keeps flowing and flowing endlessly. As a work of art the channel is like a long-looped video work that explores the idea of a continuous presence as an overcompensation for ineptitude. The beauty of this channel is that it is sponsored by the party in power without it realizing the subliminal damage it is doing to its cause.

The last in my list is an interview of the Prime Minister by actor Akshay Kumar. What really made the interview worthy of this list was the spectacle of normality that two thoroughly pedestalized individuals were seeking to portray. As an art project I think it sought to reverse a narrative of opulence, luxury and imported mushrooms by a deliberate recall of poverty, stolen mangoes and personal thrift. And I think it worked terrifically especially because it avoided the fatiguing questions of election season.

Dhiraj Singh is a well-known journalist, writer, TV personality and artist who has shown his abstract paintings and X-Ray works in India and abroad

Article link on NDTV-Mojarto is HERE

 Dhiraj Singh 03 Apr 2019

There is no medium that brings you the power of the sea like cinema. The gigantic crawl of the waves, the terrifying sound of submergence or even the bobbing of a boat in the far horizon like a flicker of hope, however distant: it’s all embedded in the grammar of cinema. The way the camera enlarges the obscure and makes it epic. The way it becomes a spy for the eye going into situations that are only possible in dreams.

Ranbir Kaleka uses this grammar of cinema with an ease that’s often out of reach for even the best filmmakers. He is a rare painter whose work has consistently been gravitating towards the moving image. It started with his video projections on paintings that placed a sort of cognitive rupture in the minds of viewers who were used to seeing paintings as works of still life and not works in which people heaved and blinked or got up and started to move around. Kaleka’s works have the ability to engage viewers in the most unexpected of ways. I remember being mesmerized by his ‘horse and a man with hammer’ work at India Art Fair some years ago. It is remarkable how the artist creates poetry by imagining a different course of events for a painting that has been fixed in time. It seems easy but trust me it isn’t.

In his latest solo that is called grimly titled ‘Fear Of A New Dawn’ one is exposed to Kaleka’s growing obsession with moving images and what they can do in terms of recall in an overstimulated world where images—both moving and still—are constantly fighting for your attention. But Kaleka takes you like a hypnotherapist to a place where he speaks to you in the language of dreams, where the viewer is forced to take on the role of an interpreter and not merely a bystander. That is in fact the silent and subtle competence of Kaleka that he lets you wander about and arrive at your own interpretations of his dream on display.

In the work titled ‘House Of Opaque Water’ you are taken from a chai-shop to a village where the sea is gradually swallowing parts of the coast. There is a local villager who’s pointing out to the sea and describing where places used to be: the village school, the church, the mosque and so on. It is a poetic commentary on disappearance, not just of land, but also of those who inhabit it. The sea here becomes a metaphor for time that is constantly eating away and vomitting things back. On another level it is also a slow and gradual nightmare that’s unfolding before us as we watch bewildered in a half-wakeful state. In one scene there is a small pyre burning inside a boat that’s being moored by a villager. It’s a potent image of a ritual we’re all familiar with.

Kaleka’s preoccupation with time is also visible in ‘Fearsome Acquiescence Of A Monotonous Life’ which squeezes your perspective to that of a Peeping Tom, a voyeur who’s watching other people live their lives. And in doing so you also become complicit in the monotony of this other life which as monotonous as yours. It is a hall of mirrors where Kaleka is showing you dreams within dreams as you walk like a somnambulist through a maze of projections and sounds.

The work from which the title of the show is taken is perhaps the more dramatic of Kaleka’s dreams. ‘Not Anonymous-Waking To The Fear Of A New Dawn’ takes all the starkness of mid-20th century black-and-white cinema to create a narrative of slow decay. There is a quality of terribilità, the dreadful fascination people felt on seeing Michelangelo’s sculptures, and it comes in flashes like when an arrow pointed at one side of the screen leaves its bow and hits the ground on the other side. There is also a man uneasily shifting his weight from one leg to the other perhaps in anticipation of an arrow. A mother also appears breastfeeding a baby deer and the bleeding head of donkey pops out of thin air like a dark portent from the subconscious as dark portents often do in dreams.
Kaleka’s imagery is spare like the sea surface and mystifying, as if someone accidentally left behind a running camera. His work ‘Bound’ is a projection on a case of burnt wood, almost coffin-like. The video on it is of a body lying out in a field. Every few seconds the body twitches, as corpses often do when the rotting gases inside them try to wind their way out. Who was this person you wonder and why a screen of burnt wood.

The only still life work in the entire show is ‘The Life Of An Unremarkable Man With Tiffin’ which is a photo-painting collage. It is the surprise element, especially when you’ve wandered around taking in the moving images. The man with the tiffin is smug and unremarkable as is his projected self, standing between him and the street outside. An explosion is going off in the background and the headlines on the newspaper lying next to a sleeping dog are screaming out other crimes. But the man is too busy to notice. It is then that you realize that you’re looking at a remarkable work of protest art.

Dhiraj Singh is a well-known journalist, writer, TV personality and artist who has shown his abstract paintings and X-Ray works in India and abroad

Article link on NDTV-Mojarto is HERE
Dhiraj Singh

Feb 28, 2019

Chennai Photo Biennale, in its second edition, brings to the fore many interpretations of the expanding universe of photography

“I went into photography because it seemed like the perfect vehicle for commenting on the madness of today’s existence.” — Robert Mapplethorpe

These past few years, one has been forced to ask whether it was possible any more to trust an image. We are after all living in a ‘post-truth’ world where faked and photoshopped pictures go viral all the time. Where the fake image has an almost Voldemortian power of falsifying what really is in ways that were unimaginable a few years ago. It would seem then that pictures are no more true as they once used to be but instead have become agents of moral corruption and decay. In such a scenario of willful blurring of lines we get to have an event that makes you explore the increasing complexity of picture making and the faith-like relation it once had with truth and reality.

This year’s Chennai Photo Biennale, which is in its second edition, brought to the fore many interpretations of this expanding universe of photography. It was great to see the Biennale take on an air of multi-disciplinarity which was so far only seen and felt in the field of visual arts. What was also noteworthy was the use of venues that put the spotlight on Chennai’s past in very intelligent and well-thought out ways. Venues such as Senate House overlooking Marina Beach, Madras Literary Society’s 200-year-old library and the Government Museum perfectly showcased an extremely photogenic city that straddles many different Indias, all at the same time.

Read full article HERE

Dhiraj Singh 12 March 2019
There was a time when we used to look at family albums and relive the days gone by. How people looked when they were younger. Family photos had triggers that could take you back in time. That they were printed on paper added a certain preciousness to them. It was as if the photos themselves were some sort of relics endowed with magical powers. As a kid I remember being moved by this movie scene where Rati Agnihotri lights up her boyfriend’s picture, mixes the ashes in her tea and drinks it up to spite her parents. It is was defiance, poetry and the power of photographs in one scene of cinematic brilliance.

This power of pictures printed on paper is somehow gradually fading from our midst as most of our memories are now shared digitally. So it was lovely to see this power of photography beautifully reconjured for us in this year’s Chennai Photo Biennale. Not only that, it also gave us many diverse interpretations of the act of picture-making itself.

What I found particularly endearing was the idea that distantly hung over the Biennale like a cloud. And I mean this in the best possible of ways. The idea of a ‘Fauna of Mirrors’ comes from an old Chinese legend of an emperor who colonized the world that existed on the other side of the mirror. These ‘mirror people’ though earlier a friendly lot became hostile towards humans because of the emperor’s occupation and have ever since been feuding with them. The tale in itself seems to be an allegory of human discomfort at being shown the mirror but in the context of the Biennale it became a deeply intended encapsulation of what curator Pushpamala N. had in mind. I have been a fan of Pushpamala, the artist, whose work I adore because of her use of impersonation as a way of paring down the hyperboles of the Subcontinent.

In that the Biennale is true to its ideal of holding a mirror to the changing face of the planet. I found Archana Hande’s work extremely thoughtful as it dissolved many binaries not just of image-making but also of looking at the colonial enterprise, as only an exploiter of human beings. Titled ‘The Golden Feral Trail’ it reimagines the exploitative trade of the Indian camel that was shipped to Australia to work in the mines there. Set in a projection pit strewn with crystals the work involves moving animations of camels, trains, drilling equipment snaking through the Australian outback in a quest for gold.

Manit Sriwanchipoom from Thailand too furrows deep into the trauma of his country’s past, 1976 to be exact when student protests were violently quelled by the ruling military junta. The most well-known of these was the Thammasat University massacre where protesting students were lynched, shot and raped under the watch of the military. The death toll in the massacre is still disputed though official figures are said to be a fraction of the actual numbers. Manit in his works has inserted a ‘pink man’ in some of the massacre’s most iconic (and gruesome) pictures creating images that evoke both humour and horror. “I want to make authoritarian governments look like they are someone we should ridicule, make fun of. This is the power of humour where you can play with them,” he explains.

Indu Antony takes to humour in a more gendered way picking out the aspect of women behaving as men. In her photographs she is Superman, Captain Jack Sparrow, a coconut seller, a police inspector; all archetypes of stud masculinity. But even as she indulges in this roleplay one isn’t allowed to forget that her underlying message is seriously concerned about the freedom that’s often denied to women in public spaces.

Arun Vijai Mathavan focuses his lens on autopsy workers in Indian hospitals. These aren’t doctors but ‘sanitary workers’ often from Dalit communities who cut and stitch corpses because no one else will. Mathavan’s pictures capture the grisly anatomy of the post-mortem ritual. It is a sight one is not familiar with but Mathavan bravely goes where no other Indian photographer has gone before.
Catherine Leutenegger takes you to an American suburb that was for much of the 20th century a household name. Her series ‘Kodak City’ chronicles the wiping out of a film-reel manufacturing hub set up by George Eastman himself. When Kodak filed for bankruptcy in 2012 many of its office buildings were razed to the ground. Videos of these Catherine has made part of her work that consists mostly of pictures of Kodak buildings in Rochester, New York. The images are deeply ironical—a study of loss and disappearance—about a ‘photo city’ becoming invisible because of digital photography.

Another form of loss and decay Angela Grauerholz showcases in her works ‘Privation’ and ‘The Empty Shelf’. Through her two giant photo books Angela creates a catalogue of disappearance. ‘Privation’ is a personal work that has scanned (not photographed) images of her own books that were gutted in an accidental fire. “I realized that the books were very beautiful after they burnt,” she says, “I’ve been thinking a lot about the future of books and how can I sort of participate in the photographic reflection of that. Also the future of the materiality of photography.”

What I thought was also spectacular about the Chennai Photo Biennale was the intuitive way works were placed across the city in venues that are old and beautiful. It gave me a lot of hope for the future of photography and the histories they’re seeking to preserve.

Dhiraj Singh is a well-known journalist, writer, TV personality and artist who has shown his abstract paintings and X-Ray works in India and abroad.

Article link on NDTV-Mojarto is HERE

Women finding their voice and feet is what makes a society free and equal... so this International Womens Day I’ve painted this lovely shoe provided by ‘Artkriti’ & Gaurav Chawla for their upcoming show ‘Shoe Tales’
Dhiraj Singh 04 March 2019

The earliest source of music in India is the Samaveda and it opens with this line: ‘Agna ā yāhi vītaye’ which translates as ‘O Agni, come to the feast’. To a musician this invitation to Agni, the god of fire, is perhaps a prayer to be touched by fire. To be granted the gift of ‘duende’. That incredible agitation of the soul. The one that Lorca, the poet, brilliantly illustrated with the example of El Lebrijano who famously declared: “On days when I sing with duende no one can touch me”.

I was reminded of Lorca’s essay on duende time and again as sounds from places as far as Yemen and Cuba unleashed that same soul-agitation in me as I sat by the lake in Udaipur. The Udaipur World Music Festival is the creation of Sanjeev Bhargava, whose organization ‘Seher India’ has been bringing many international talents to India. Sanjeev is a sort of ‘duende-seeker’ who travels the world to find singers and musicians whose fire he can stoke and artfully graft into the musically fertile loam of India.

For the audience too the experience is as uplifting. Especially listening to ‘Gulaza’, a band from Israel that brought us centuries-old songs of Yemen’s Jewish Diaspora. These songs, as Igal Gulaza Mizrahi told us, have been passed down from mother to daughter and they speak of the guilt many mothers felt as they shushed their daughters into marriages with men they had never seen, men already married, men sometimes older than their fathers. Igal began his song by telling us how mothers consoled their daughters by singing to them the Biblical story of Isaac and Rebecca who had travelled great distances to marry him. How the two had never met but found true love after marriage. Among the Jewish women of Yemen it had become customary to “bring down the white chord of grace to the new couple” through such songs of hope and comfort. Igal and his troupe of four whose lone woman member is cellist Leat Sabbah sing these amazingly lively songs of women feuding with patriarchy in their own small ways. “We’re taking the world of tradition and bringing in a new evolution,” says Igal, “we’re transforming songs that are passed down from mother to daughter, from ear to mouth and from mouth to ear. The mothers of our mothers brought us something and they wanted us to do something new with it.” Which Igal is doing with so much spunk that he ought to be given a prize just for thinking up the idea. “They ask me all the time this question how I am singing women’s songs as a man, but for me more than anything this is a project about freedom.”

‘Albaluna’ a band from Portugal gave freedom an altogether different dimension by reimagining the eclectic psychogeography of the Iberian Peninsula. Its Afghan rubab-playing lead Ruben Monteiro explained it most simply: “Iberia for many centuries was a really special place that received so many people from all over the world. Not only because people came there but also because the Portuguese and the Spanish went out all over the world to make business, sometimes bad business (laughs), so a lot of different cultures came to Iberia: the Jewish people, the Arabs, the Vikings all came to the Iberian peninsula.” This resulted in Iberia absorbing influences far removed from its own native borders and ethnicities.

The ‘Delgocha Ensemble’ from Iran created a mesmerizing morning ‘sama’ at a venue that overlooked Lake Pichola, on a stage on which loomed a giant ‘mirror tree’ like some magical djinn billowing out of a bottle. Taghi Akhbari, Delgocha’s vocalist sang Rumi and Hafez. Taghi’s singing accompanied by the Persian ‘tor’ and ‘daf’ was familiar but different as great music often is because it connects us to something that we already carry inside ourselves: our emotions. As his wavering voice sang ‘Rakh Abdullah’, a morning rendition much like our ragas, we were transported to the desert ruins of Khorasan seeing the world as the Sufis saw it: a vessel waiting to be animated by love.

Compared to soft tonal lilts of Delgocha, ‘La Dame Blanche’ burst forth into the audience like a confetti shower with all the pluck and passion of Latino rap as its lead singer and flautist Yaite Ramos Rodriguez owned the stage Havana cigar in hand. Everybody from backpackers to turbaned locals at Fateh Sagar were seen swaying to the beats of this one.

South Africa’s ‘Hot Water’ was another band that got the evening crowd at Gandhi Ground energized with its foot tapping sounds that included ‘Wamkelekile’, their most popular soundtrack from the Adam Sandler film ‘Blended’. I was especially impressed by its lead Donovan Copley’s improvised Castrol can guitar. The jazz by the ‘Yves Theiler Trio’ featuring our very own Shree Sundarkumar on the kanjira too created a sizzling mix of sounds not normally heard in small town India.

It was amazing to see the chhattris of Udaipur echo with music from all corners of the world. A Flamenco singer’s wailing ‘siguiriyas’ in a place more used to the sounds of the ‘ravanhatha’! “I felt a lot of emotion from the audience,” said Rocio Marquez, “even if we didn’t speak the same language.” Truly, there are no borders in music. Only people who haven’t yet been touched by the fire.

Dhiraj Singh is a well-known journalist, writer, TV personality and artist who has shown his abstract paintings and X-Ray works in India and abroad.
Article link on NDTV-Mojarto is HERE
Dhiraj Singh 13 Feb 2019

THERE IS NO PLACE IN INDIA that epitomises tragedy better than Awadh. On the map it is a largish region roughly the size of Portugal that contains Lucknow and Ayodhya. Many wouldn’t know this but the name ‘Awadh’ or ‘Oudh’ as the British referred to it is a corruption of Ayodhya which on its own means ‘not to be messed with’. The Awadhi way of life is often referred to as the ‘Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb’, a phrase that artfully captures a confluence culture in which many binaries dissolve and stand-out like wavelets in a river. The tragedy though is that the glorious culture of Awadh is fast turning sepia with neglect and apathy. Just then comes along a festival that stalls the sepia-fication and shines a bright spot of light on the arts of Awadh.

The Mahindra Sanatkada Lucknow Festival is like a sparkling aurora in the middle of a decaying city of high culture. Though the Festival isn’t new, this year it was special because it completed 10 successful years. One of the highlights of this special edition was a fascinating exhibition on the arts of Awadh titled ‘Husn-e-Karigari-e-Awadh’. I must point out here that ‘husn’ or beauty isn’t usually used in the context of art, which is baffling but then Urdu is a pretty baffling language whose euphemisms can make even hell sound like the most beautiful place on earth. Located in the never-before-opened ‘taykhana’ or basement of the Safed Baradari the exhibition showcased the leisurely arts of Awadh such as ‘tukde ka kaam’. The fascinating aspect of the tukde patchwork is that it involves embroidery but only in the form of minimal outlining. The mainstay is of course the pixels or ‘tukde’ of colour that create the finest geometric abstractions. The fact that this piece of art is worn by women as ghararas and shoes and bags put it ahead of Yves Saint Laurent’s ‘Mondrian dresses’ that came at least two centuries later. Another kind of Awadhi specialty is the ‘metal embroidery’ or ‘Kaamdani’ in which thin metal pieces are clawed into cloth to create intricate patterns and motifs.

Chikan embroidery in comparison is not a dying art yet the show introduced us with its finer versions that one doesn’t often get to see. The beauty of Chikankari is that it creates an illusion where the cloth becomes an almost gossamer web in which the designs float as if in a surrealist’s dream. It is indeed worthwhile to dwell upon the idea of Awadh’s renaissance that was underway for a good 100-odd years in the relative peace of the Doab region. Until the British East India Company decided to gobble it up in 1856 under the extremely devious Doctrine of Lapse.

About 160 km from Lucknow is Kotwara which is the ancestral home of Muzaffar Ali. A former talukdar Ali captured this last phase of ‘Awadhiana’ most evocatively in his ‘Umrao Jaan’, a film based on Mirza Hadi Ruswa’s novel about a courtesan by the same name. Ali’s Kotwara estate is today like a set from his film complete with fountains, ‘jhaad-phanoos’ chandeliers, gilded mirrors and four-poster beds. The only thing out of place is a Mercedes-Benz from Amitabh Bachchan’s ‘Don’ that’s parked out in the garden.

Not too far from Kotwara in the same Lakhimpur-Kheri district is a ‘Frog Temple’ that on first mention conjures up visions of a Ninja Turtle or a Kungfu Panda but up close it is breathtaking if slightly incongruous hidden as it is in a maze of bylanes. It is a uniquely crafted temple on whose front entrance is perched a giant brick-and-mortar frog. It seems as if the temple is being pulled by the frog. Pradiyumn Narain Dutta Singh whose ancestors built the temple points out that when viewed from the top the temple is actually a ‘yantra’ or a four-sided sacred diagram meant to ensure fertility of its patrons. The temple sure is quixotic in both idea and actual architecture but then that is Awadh for you.

Beneath the quirkiness of its gentry the area had also learnt to live very close to nature. The terai forests of Lakhimpur Kheri provided an amazing variety of native and exotic species of birds and animals including the tiger. Though now most of the former landed talukdars have hung their guns, some have even graduated to opening up their hunting lodges for travellers like me. One such place is Oel Nature Retreat that’s nestled in between swathes of sugarcane and wheat fields and a picturesque pond. Though fitted with modern comforts the place is replete with crafts from the region such as bamboo furniture and Chikan furnishings.

The makers of many of Awadh’s exquisite crafts often live in small, nondescript houses in small towns but their imagination lets them fly to the skies and beyond. And it shows in the things they make like the fancy repousse naqqashi ‘paandans’, spittoons and hukkah stands which are remarkable in their ingenuity. I had the opportunity to witness the making of ‘phool’ metal pots that are still used to cook. As an artist I was hugely fascinated by watching pots emerge from moulds made of sand and molasses, a process that is as old as Awadh itself.

Dhiraj Singh is a well-known journalist, writer, TV personality and artist who has shown his abstract paintings and X-Ray works in India and abroad.

Article link on NDTV-Mojarto is HERE



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