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Nestled in the streets of Lado Sarai, surrounded by galleries, cafes and a bustling street, Exhibit 320 presents the perfect backdrop for the stated purpose of the exhibition - finding beauty in the mundane. Lado Sarai, once a village set in the midst of the capital, is now a hub of activity for urban arts and culture. And somehow, this shift from rural to urban, from nature to concrete, is reflected in the exhibition as soon as one enters the space.
Nayanjyoti Barman, A Demolished City, 2021
The gallery opens up to the works of Nayanjyoti Barman on the side wall, opposite the curator’s note stating the intent and purpose behind the exhibition theme. A Demolished City, created using destroyed cardboard in three white frames instantly evokes feelings of hopelessness and despair, as well as the fragility of modern architecture and urban life. His works simultaneously glorify the beauty in destruction while condemning the nature of that destruction wrought upon humanity. This “inherent contradiction” speak to the larger idea of beauty and glory in differences and the deconstruction of otherwise ordinary objects of everyday life.
Suryakanta Swain, Silent Landscape, 2021
This ode to urban life, with all its listless mundanity and destructive capabilities, is reflected in Suryakanta Swain’s works as well. Standing behind the wall separating Swain’s and Barman’s works, Swain depicts the maze-like symbolism often associated with modern-day concrete jungles to a grim yet apt depiction in graphite. The monochromatic renditions of maze-like structures in a series of artworks titled Silent Landscape perhaps speak to the larger confusion and restlessness of urban life, with its constant ephemerality as a result of a cycle of creation and destruction, represent the ordinary experience of living in an urban settlement with almost dystopic existentialism.
Suryakanta Swain, Ground reality, 2020
Interestingly, alongside his renditions of urban landscapes, Swain also presents a series of watercolour paintings, titled Ground Reality, of old, discarded objects that make up modern urban living. Akin to spots of colour on an otherwise earthy swatch of natural land, these dilapidated objects make up the adornments of an urban space, and giving them that reverence speaks to Swain’s attempt to make the discarded object “an object of desire”, and the shifting ideals of beauty in the face of changing landscapes and the realities of life contended by people.
Pappu Bardhan, Untitled
In conjunction to the aforementioned symbols of urbanism, the recurrent motifs of nature and natural objects permeate the exhibition. As one moves away from the greys, browns and neutral tones of Barman and Swain, they are greeted with Pappu Bardhan’s works depicting organic beauty. The movement from the starkness of urban cityscapes to Bardhan’s depictions of nature in a larger-than-life persona, represents a shift from the destruction of the urban to the undeniable symbiosis of nature with man. In a series of untitled watercolours, Bardhan presents flora and fauna of his childhood, speaking to a time lost to the presumption of development, and shows what nature could be to humanity, had it not already been lost to time.
Sonali Sonam, Reimagining the Mundane (series), 2021
It is this train of thought that also carries over Sonali Sonam’s works. Inspired by Indian miniatures, she showcases what can almost be termed utopic in its depictions of nature within urban spaces. It is an interesting intersection of conflicting ideas, as it forces a change in perspective for the viewer as they engage with this strange phenomenon, almost mundane and ordinary in its application, yet so antithetical to one’s own expectations and experiences of urban living. Her series Reimagining the Mundane, reflects exactly what the title suggests - a very simple idea of mundane reality that somehow feels out of reach and improbable within current socio-political contexts.
Khageshwar Rout, Annex & Disssever Code II and Annex & Disssever Code III, 2019
In the midst of all these contradictory, discomforting and strange depictions of urban life and reimaginations of beauty within it, stand Khageshwar Rout’s Annex & Disssever Code II and Annex & Disssever Code III. Two sculptures, made out of terracotta and shellac, reflect a desire to create out of the basest of materials, used since time immemorial to create structures that have stood the test of time. It is both a celebration of the ordinary, while a reflection on the absence of concrete and inorganic material in nature to create foundations strong enough to last millennia. It's a statement of intent, and of proof in how organic and natural materials are intrinsic to citing beauty within the natural world.
A theme that resonates throughout the exhibition, and perhaps speaks to the inherent inclinations of the curators and artists when it comes to questions of mundanity within their own larger contexts, is that of urbanism as an antithesis to the beauty of the non-urban. Or perhaps the irreverence of concrete to humanity and life as compared to the devotion of the natural order to maintaining beauty in its basest forms. The exhibition presents a very specific notion of what beauty can be cited within, and uses the inherent antithesis of city life and nature to represent larger ideas of what can be considered beautiful for a beholder. The curator states that the exhibition does not intend to debate man vs. nature, and yet, for the gallery-goer, that is exactly what they’re left debating at the end of this homage to natural beauty in contrast to the grim and dreary urban landscape. The initial renditions of urban living and beauty within it give way to the misgivings with that very idea and reflects on the age-old dilemma between urban development and a loss of natural beauty in urban landscapes and everyday life
The exhibition is still on view at Exhibit 320, Lado Sarai, New Delhi. For more information about the exhibition, visit Exhibit 320’s website.