'Vanitas Vanitatum'

'Vanitas Vanitatum', an installation exhibit, is named after a Latin term given to objects included in official portraits of kings and queens during the Renaissance. It denotes a collection of objects, which make a cryptic comment upon the transitory nature of existence. They include books and manuscripts, globes, natural history specimens (animals, vegetables and mineral), human bones and skulls, as well as furniture and carpets.

These objects were selected so as to communicate a sense of the subject's power and prestige to the viewer. As the curator of this show, Peter Nagy, notes, this is the genesis of still life painting as it came to be known and practiced in modern times. The exhibition on still life turns inanimate objects into self-conscious objects, through works, mainly installations and photographs.

The core of the exhibition is underlining the functionality of domestic objects/interior spaces from an artist's point of view. Accordingly, the participating artists merge opulence with their own quirks and what you have is dog-faced vacuum cleans titled 'Hungry Dogs Eat Dirty Pudding' and others eccentric outputs. The participating artists are Samit Das, Atul Dodiya, Anita Dube, Mario D'Souza, Subodh Gupta, Bharti Kher, Bose Krishnamachari, Arun Kumar H.G. and Dayanita Singh. All of them give a little tweak, and provide a tinge of irony to objects like a multi-spouted kettle, an oven-grill, chaise lounge with nylon underwear thrown over it, an old Murphy radio coupled with nostalgic old photographs and a mini money-vault.

The message they come up with is astounding. As some of the photo-images on view convey to you that even if you accumulate the treasures of the earth, you can't carry them along with you. Then there is Anita Dube's toaster and money vault, depicting the insidious influence of military rule on our everyday lives.

All the nine artists but for Dayanita Singh make their grandiose artistic statements with installations. As mentioned above, the artists have come together to showcase a contemporary take on 'vanitas vanitatum' on the lines of objects included in the portraiture of royalty. The show sums up how people make objects speak for their lifestyle.

Delhi based artist Samit Das's enlarged photo-installations look into the cupboards and showcases that hold the Tagore artifacts have a nostalgic feel. He has researched thoroughly to capture the nuances of the bygone era and took a closer look at Tagore's personal life, to encode the objects like the personal books, musical instruments and apparel about the then the intelligentsia's lifestyle.

Dayanita Singh's photographs provide a peep into bourgeois interiors. She has about 13 portraits of interior spaces on view at the show. As she recounts to say: "I started making photographs of spaces without human beings. Yet these were peopled by the unseen generations who had lived there before. I was consumed by the seeming emptiness. Chairs, in particular had been in the same place for decades but their occupants had moved on to the other world while their presence were embedded in the chairs or so it seemed to me." While she was doing family portraits, the artist noticed beds and chairs lying around but something about them drew her attention, and she then tried to capture the spirit of these objects in the spaces.

On the other hand, Atul Dodiya's collection of framed photographs - of artist-wife Anju's parents traveling abroad - stand for the aura attached to foreign trips. Outwardly individualistic in nature, the memorabilia on view, actually sums up the middle-class sentiments attached with such sojourns. Bose Krishnamachari has placed his chaise lounge in a set-like room. It's so functional that it could easily become the interior of a home chaise lounge. On the other hand, it can also be seen as piece of phallic sculpture.

Anita Dube brings to fore the notion of violence. Her toaster and money vault don't lend themselves to any actual function, and should be viewed in a new context of American imperialism and its mingling with middle-class Indian values. Elaborating on her work, she states: "I am displaying a safe vault, which has artificial money, a bone and some other objects and a camouflage of military fabric. Also I have an oven with a small ball and a skeleton hand again covered with military fabric." Her idea is to dramatize these domestic objects commonly found at home and symbolizes the militarization, depicting the insidious influence of military rule on our everyday lives.

'Vanitas Vanitatum' show continues at Sakshi Gallery till September 23.

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