‘Synonymous’ showcases a mélange of styles and themes

A mélange of styles and themes are visible in a new group show at Mumbai’s Guild gallery. Navjot Altaf, Mithu Sen, Vidya Kamat, Tejal Shah, Kiran Subbaiah and Binu Bhaskar are the artists showcased as part of the show.

Oriented away from the individualistic, but towards collective endeavors, Navjot in much of her works has given prominence to people’s testimonies of social violence. Her work on projects with students and women has always been a part of a wider concern on social and educational issues, through which she has sought alternative art practices and communication outside the gallery space. The question of description haunt the reception of her work, as she has been associated with varied fields as an artist, a researcher, an anthropologist, a social worker and a political activist.

Since the early nineties, the artist has been involved in interactive, co-operative and collaborative projects with Indian and international artists, classical vocalists, documentary filmmakers, activists, craftspeople and technicians. Placing her own image as an emblem of a particular representational category, she critiques the social imposition of values on such representations. The artist has clearly re-tracked the familiar terrain of social injustice and violence, transmuting her concerns to the intimate, often hidden private lives of women. Her engagement with the physicality and mortality of human body began while she was working as a museum curator of the anatomy section.

Gender as a critical category and feminism as critical theory not only questions the specific modern constructions of the female body-self but also of modernism at large. In this context, Vidya Kamat is neither an ethnic artist stuck in the box of anthropology-as-art, nor is she blasé secularist, a cosmopolitan artist distancing herself from the past and personal; struggles, points out art critic Nancy Adjania. “She does not abolish the sacred to attain the secular, but instead extends herself through symbolic performances that gauge the density and mobility of her individuation.”

On the other hand, working around her attention and affiliation to concerns of individual interiority and broad femininity with a touch of eroticism, Mithu Sen deftly draws sexuality from diverse objects - living as well as inanimate. She does so sensitively, displaying a smart sense of political acumen laced with witticism and sarcasm.

She is one of the young vibrant faces on the Indian contemporary art scene. An alumnus of Kala Bhavan, Santiniketan, she has won the Charles Wallace India Trust Award in the UK for 2000-2001 and was nominated for the Magna Young Achievers Award for 2003. The humor in the work, according to her, is meant to invite the viewer to play and interact with the ideas and meanings of 'self'.

Tejal Shah, considered one of the significant artists of her generation, explores various new media, including video, photography, and performance. Apart from the diversity of media, unconventionality of expression is another noteworthy facet of her art. The promising artist has exhibited extensively outside India. She completed her BA in photography from Australia and went to the Art Institute of Chicago as a Visiting Scholar.

Kiran Subbaiah has moved away from constraints of sculpting to work in a wide range of media - from film to photography - and other experimental work on the Internet. His creations are simultaneously unified by skepticism and allegory, whereas Binu Bhaskar’s versatile vision has prompted him to explore the fused effects of painting and photography. In the process, the artist encounters a third element, thus discovering a reproductive quality/ possibility of the (photographic) medium. This is quite evident in his portraits and captivating images of crowds.

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