EXHIBITION - Searching for the present, where? Being - becoming in Akbar Padamsee’s figurations (1995 - 2006) (Aug 06-Sep 25, 2021) :

Searching for the Present, Where? 

Being - Becoming in Akbar Padamsee’s Figurations (1995 - 2006)

Curated by Srajana Kaikini

The Guild presents Searching for the Present, Where? Being - Becoming in Akbar Padamsee’s Figurations (1995 - 2006), a collection of drawings by eminent modernist Akbar Padamsee (1928-2020) that have been selected from its on-going exhibition at The Guild in Alibaug. Curated by Dr. Srajana Kaikini, the exhibition celebrates Padamsee’s perception and reflections on body as form. Through this collection, Kaikini effortlessly ties in discourses on the human form from philosophy and art history to offer a broader understanding of the artist’s work and practice.

Curatorial Note by Srajana Kaikini for The Guild, 2021

The artistic practice of Akbar Padamsee (1928-2020) was entangled in questions and explorations on the nature of reality, be it through reflections on time, space, the order of things, or the knowledge and experience of the self and the other. A metaphysical preponderance can be seen in Padamsee’s thinking on human configurations in his drawings and photographic work that were made between 1995 and 2006. These subjects depicted in Padamsee’s later works, appear like notes and pages from the artist’s search for presentness and what it may mean.

Art history is testimony to the contestational legacies of the genre of nude portraiture and representation. The tradition of the artist engaging with the human form in the nude is highly signified within these historical meshes entangled in debates around the ideal and the real. Historically, this genre, therefore, also became a critical site for several turns of the avant-garde. Engaging with the human form in contemporary times cannot be distanced from critical intersectional questions. These critical discourses also give us sufficient grounds to hesitate in preserving this tradition in any archaic generic form. Further, conceptually reconfiguring the nude as merely the body also risks reducing the perceived to a singular category. Keeping these in mind, the human forms in these works are addressed as subjects, beings, selves keeping with an ethical commitment to Padamsee’s thinking and intellectual affinities.

Padamsee’s intellectual interest in the human form was accented by philosophical thought around power, transcendence, perception, being and becoming. Under the umbrella of this intellectual preponderance, these works appear to us, both as gestures as well as mirrors - giving us an opportunity to perceive a dialectics of being.

What are the tussles and confrontations we may encounter when any kind of systematization is applied to the embodied subject? Have we ever been able to see a person as a person and nothing else? Where may we find a chosen dissolution of selves, when are we ready to be the sahrdaya of an experience? What makes us stop, look away, hesitate, judge, or indulge in a work of art? These are some tasks that Padamsee sets the viewer on.

These series of drawings and photographs speak about the body as a place of being and becoming. These are figurations, subjects set in motion. In this world view of the self, perhaps social signifiers like clothes, location, context and thinking of the body singularly may be perceived superfluous. Embodiment of the self, here, is presupposed.

The interest is, therefore, to look for when and where these embodiments become present to us. While some drawings bring to us glimpses from other selves - lives enmeshed in sanchaari bhaavas (fleeting emotions), the photographic images speak in their own language trying to grow from the moment captured into new kinds of beings, creating their own sthaayi bhaavas (foundational emotions). They are not so much abstract as they are intentional – they need us to speak to them, for them to speak to us.

These works from the collection of The Guild and other private collections have been curated through lines of play between the various registers evoked by the works, in the hope to deterritorialize the body as a place. This rendition may perform as a dialectical stance to the measured and attuned conscious gestures that underline Padamsee’s works. Through a deterritorialization of these subjects from their meshes of social signification to the subjects and beings may appear to us in the now. Perceived in this light, we may hope to see the work of Padamsee’s art practice as philosophy, in this case, a philosophy of being-becoming through an unsettling of the subject-object dichotomy.

[Srajana Kaikini works across curatorial, artistic and philosophical grounds. She is currently Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the School of Interwoven Arts and Sciences at Krea University.]

(Srajana Kaikini, Searching for the Present, Where? Being - Becoming in Akbar Padamsee’s Figurations (1995 - 2006), Alibaug: The Guild, 6 August – 15 September 2021)

About the Artist

Akbar Padamsee was a celebrated Indian modernist who was known for exploring themes of metaphysical and spiritual value through his art. Padamsee was born in 1928 in Mumbai. After graduating from the Sir J J School of Arts in 1951, with a Diploma in Painting, he went on to live and work in France. In 1952, he was awarded a prize by Andre Breton on behalf of the Journale d’Art. Padamsee’s first solo exhibition was held in Paris in the same year at Galerie Saint Placide.

Padamsee’s pioneering spirit allowed him to experiment with a wide range of media, from oil on canvas to photography and digital printmaking. Whatever his chosen medium, the artist conveyed a command over space, form and colour. Though he was best-known for his Grey Series, Metascapes and Mirror Images, Padamsee also experimented with film-making, sculpture, and had also written as an art critic.

The artist passed away in January 2020.