Brought up as Rabbit

Narendra Yadav’s latest solo exhibition at Gallery Maskara in Mumbai, titled ‘Brought up as Rabbit’ after one of the works on display, is the artist’s third solo exhibition at the gallery. In this show, Yadav moves away from earlier didactic works, although the playfulness of his style remains evident. As always, each work is layered with meanings that need to be explored and unraveled by the viewer.

Two of the works on display immediately bring to mind the much-celebrated works of artists Tracey Emin and Jeff Koons. In the first, a large neon sign declares ‘Brought up as Rabbit’ behind a small steel figure of a rabbit placed on a pedestal. Koon’s ‘Rabbit’, a widely recognized symbol of consumerism across the globe, took the world by a storm when it was first shown in 1986. Yadav’s rabbit on the other hand is reminiscent of a child’s teddy bear. The gleaming silver material however is upsetting. While teddy bears are furry, soft and warm, the animal on display is cold and hard, devoid of all feeling and emotion. The neoe words ‘Brought up as Rabbit’ with a gash across the lettering add to this sense of unease: who was brought up as rabbit? By who? And why?

As the viewer searches for answers, another question is encountered: a second bright pink neon sign in a language we are not familiar with but recognize as Urdu or Arabic. The title is explanatory: ‘Trust Me’, it says. In an age where markers of Islam (one of the most important of these being language) involuntarily induce discomfort amongst most people, this offer of reassurance only heightens the alienation of the viewer. The work references directly references Tracey Emin’s work of the same title, in which the phrase is inscribed in globally recognized English. Emin’s words ask for trust in a manner that is personal; Yadav’s ask the same on behalf of the ‘other’.

‘Trust Me’ acquires another layer of significance in this exhibition, as it is placed in closest proximity to another piece that dominates the gallery space. Across two of its walls, the inverted silhouette of a city is hard to miss. It is immediately clear that the blackened skyline represents a secular city, or amalgamation of cities, which includes temples, churches, high-rises reminiscent of New York’s World Trade Center, and minars and spires of a mosque.

As the viewer takes this upside-down city in, an airplane appears on its right, seemingly headed straight into the city’s skyline. Housed in a small nimbus of light, this moving video projection steadily makes its way across the city, disappearing as it encounters its three tallest structures, and reappearing once it has passed them.

This multimedia work immediately conjures up images of 9/11, of airplanes crashing into high rise buildings. Even upside down, this cityscape evokes panic and fear; one waits with baited breath to see what happens when the plane ‘hits’ a building. Much to everyone’s relief, the building swallows the machine and spits it out as if nothing had ever blocked its way. Through this nail-bitingly slow journey, the plane encounters three obstacles, but leaves each and itself unharmed.

This piece perhaps represents an extension of one of Yadav’s earlier works. In this piece titled ‘Paper Planes’ and executed in 2009, the artist created two columns of steel, one slightly cracked with the impact of a paper plane that was embedded in its side. Here Yadav wondered if terrorists thought like children; equating a child’s plaything with an agent of terror.

Inverted objects that induce discomfort are further investigated in the last work on display, housed in a separate section of the gallery. Titled ‘Not Me’, this installation comprises a moss-green wall hung with old black and white and sepia tone photographs from discarded albums, which have all been hung upside down. These portraits are obviously culled from old family albums, and bear original inscriptions, mounts and frames in some cases. Placed in the centre of this eerie shrine like installation is a timeworn, wall-mounted cabinet with a circular glass front. As viewers move closer to investigate, they realize this it is actually a mirror that inverts their own image to match the others on the wall.

Yadav’s work is quirky and engaging; viewers are made a part of the exhibit, intimidated and confused. Yet they leave the show with the satisfaction of having encountered art that is hard to forget.

‘Brought up as Rabbit’ is on view at Gallery Maskara in Mumbai till 28 April, 2012.

view all articles