The Art Gallery in Ahmedabad for Artists and Art Lovers the line of fire

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31 January,2010 - 07 February,2010
Curated By: Rekha Rodwittiya
Anandajit Ray, Rekha Rodwittiya, V. Ramesh, Veer Munshi, Walter D'souza
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….in the line of fire!
Rekha Rodwittiya

When Khanjan and Shradavi of Lemongrasshopper invited me to work with them in Ahmadabad, it seemed an ideal opportunity to get together a group of artist friends to communicate in an intimacy of engagement, within a collective studio context. Away from the normal routine that each of us adhere to, and experimenting with an unfamiliar medium like ceramics, the idea of this workshop was with the undertones of re-entering a process of learning together; reminiscent of the ethos of our college days. Only this time we would bring with us as artists, the history of our individual journeys to mark the territory of this temporary new playground.

For many artists, friendships that take shape at the inception of college life are held precious forever; perhaps because they retain the imprints of the faith of idealised dreams in ways where they never get tarnished. The modules of learning at an art college are also very different from other institutions, and though the discipline of supervised instruction plays a vital role, what is learnt from peering over each other’s shoulders are lessons far more valuable than those via a constructed syllabus.

Today from this group of five friends, many of us are either close to, or over the half-way century mark on our personal calendars. So the idea to once again don the apron and perch upon a high stool at a work table in a collective space; to peer over each other’s shoulders and re-claim the intimacy of unguarded communication, became a proposition that appealed to the imagination of our sentiments.

To the group of Walter, Veer, Ramesh and I who belong to the class of 1981 from the Baroda faculty of fine arts, we had the chatpatta energy and dynamic spirit of Anandjit, to make up our own “Famous Five”. Only here we were characters of an adventure where the potter’s wheel spun for us and our stories were laid out on clay beds. The Platypus Studio, for those eight days in the peaked heat of June 2009, became our entire world; and as we worked from nine am to nine pm each day, with an intensity of focus that shut all else out, we made a space of learning that was relevant to each of our specific needs.

Most of us have dabbled with ceramics during our college days, and few from this group have done occasional work with this medium since then; but none of us are practised or accomplished ceramicists. Therefore in choosing this unfamiliar medium, it allowed each of us to become novices all over again, where through trial and error we examined the potentials of what this experiment could offer us.

Mr. Prakash Vani, Mr. Harshad Vyasa, and Mr. Mahesh Vataliya were our technical advisors from whom we pieced together information regarding the facilities and the ongoing ceramic work done at the Platypus Studio. We were repeatedly warned rather ominously of the uncertain outcome of glazing, and so we each got down to work with fingers crossed and Dutch courage up our sleeves.

With the constraint of time, the execution of the glazing was conducted almost completely in our absence by the Platypus team, who were helping us with this process. They had prepared a sample set of glazes and stains from which we then chose the colours we thought most appropriate. As a result it became difficult to intervene with the process, especially as four out of the five of us do not reside in Ahmedabad. So, instead, we chose to rely upon Prakashbhai to interpret all our numerous instructions written down, and as the legendary prophesy proved, the kiln finally really does have the last say with the way the glaze turns out!

But that aside, the synergy during the workshop between the five participating artists was effortless and hugely productive. With cigarette smoke wafting in the air, and cups of chai over shared tools that date back to pottery classes from the ‘70’s and 80’s, each of us worked long hours in the studio; only to wind up each day with more time spent over sumptuous dinners, endless banter and the nasha of mindless mazza.

The outcome of this workshop is a body of work that is not intended to be viewed as an exhibition in the conventional sense. The intention was for friends to be together: where time spent in interaction and exploration became the key to the experience; and to which we now invite you, to view the work we have done as a consequence of this interlude. To outsiders who do not know us well, we may appear to be quite different from one another; but in truth we share many commonalities as artists and friends: either directly related to our art practice or to situations and circumstances of political or social concern.

At a glance the five of us would all be viewed to be unconventional, non-conformist and unwilling to be type-caste. Self possessed individuals, and with personal journeys that have defied the norm, we each are secular in our political beliefs and fiercely protective regarding the freedom of expression of art in India. We each have chosen personal positions of resistance that attempt to confront the systemic onslaught of cultural vigilantism by fundamentalist agencies in our country today, and will not compromise to the dictates of state sponsored agendas at any cost. We all feel strongly regarding the infringement of constitutional rights on minorities and are vocal and visible when need be, to combat these issues. For most from this group, home has become dislocated from childhood cultural moorings; and this re-location is a result of direct and subtle variants of exile.

Ahmadabad is home for Walter D’souza. In the climate of aggressive hindutva agendas witnessed over the last decade in the state of Gujarat, his personal cultural space as an individual became suddenly compromised. Impacted by these events as an artist, he continued to use a playful language to hint and suggest at the darker side of these occurrences. The geometric devices employed or everyday objects or idealised landscapes, though deceptively simple at first glance, allow you to unravel his satirical commentary only when you begin to recognise the irony and humour of their suggested implications. His Goan -Portuguese cultural heritage is a quiet subtext he carries with him and which informs his visual language unobtrusively. His work can sometimes be like puzzles that configure together components and elements, and where the completeness of their meaning only gets grasped when you accept that it needs your undivided attention to fully comprehend it. Then suddenly, it all comes together, and the edginess of the work reveals itself.

Veer Munshi lives and works in Delhi. Leaving his birthplace overnight in the exodus of Kashmiri Pundits fleeing from the persecution that drove them from their homes, he carries a spirit of reconciliation with him without ever mitigating the essential memory of his ruptured history with his homeland. In the recent past he returns frequently to Kashmir to spend time there with himself; not to reclaim anything specific but because this land holds his spirit in indescribable ways, that are personal and private. For Veer the growing violence that lies hidden in the underbelly of our nation today, and which surfaces in the different avatars to divide its people, is not a new nightmare for him. Recurring in his work, we see his view of a fractured land where his protagonist offers the compassion of understanding, whether it is Gandhi or himself; or a metaphor like the three monkeys that acts as a contemporary parable, through his play with it.

Ramesh Vedhanbatla lives in Vishakapatnam, which has been his home since his years at college in the 70’s. But perhaps because his conflicts of moorings lay in other areas than in the politics of geography or cultural issues, his sense of belonging was never quite complete till he found his spiritual anchorage in the teachings of Ramanamaharishi. Tucked between Chennai and Pondicherry, this small town of Tiruvanamalai is the retreat that nurtures the wisdom of Ramesh. The act of engagement with art becomes a meditative space of mediation where he speaks to his own conscience. Completely naked of any pretensions, his works are a process that is the truth of his own journey: simple, uncomplicated but resonating with a quiet depth that holds you rooted in their silent stillness.

Ananjit Ray lives and works in Baroda. An artist who was always special right from when he was a student, his imagination comes from the meticulous compilation of information, that translate into visual metaphors that are often quirky and bizarre at first glance. But do not for a second be fooled into believing that the real world is ever absent from his personalised lexicon, where black humour becomes his preferred currency of communication. Because tucked into his work this artist will slip a suggestive evocation of such exquisite tenderness for you to chance upon, only if you care to be drawn closer into the narratives he authors like enchanting fables. Despite the posturing of the bratty-boy image he holds dear to his heart, Anandjit draws with a line that has a sensitivity which is similar to the miniature traditions of Indian art. Whether it is the red hibiscus from a water colour or the subtle line that wanders under the skin of a pale glaze on a ceramic plate, Anandjit is uncompromising in his belief of what he does, and will always remain an eternal maverick.

Baroda became my home way back in 1967. A long journey unfolds from then till now, but consistent within this are the discoveries that engage with knowing myself. Devising a personal politics and situating it as the pivotal axis to all that I apply myself to; perhaps would be the most accurate way of introducing myself to any audience. Gender politics and concepts that deal with the ideals of humanness are two broad territories into which many other subtexts exist within my work. Pattern, design, the human figure, animal forms, objects, architecture, nature, colour; all collude to give meaning to the metaphors that are conjured. Like a theatre stage, I often place my image central to the space; in confrontation with an outer world. In witnessing life, the essential need for me is to always preserve a window of hope and optimism.

Five friends together.
Five artists at work.
Experiments, trials, failures, success.……
in the line of fire.
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