The Art Review | Phantasmagoria | Latitude 28, New Delhi
Reviewed by Chahak Agrawal | 2 November, 2021
Featured artwork: Dileep Sharma, The Portrait of Frida Kahlo
For a closer look at the exhibition, check out our video on our Youtube channel
Four walls that form the dreamscape of four artists, Phantasmagoria is a voyeuristic journey of brazen consumerist fantasies, urban disenchantment, and unseen realities.
Converting the walls of Latitude 28 in Lado Sarai, New Delhi into an escapist fantasy landscape, Phantasmagoria is a reflection of contemporary life with its commodification of experiences and identity in a hyper-capitalist world. The multitude of colours and pop-culture motifs envelop the observer into a wormhole of escapism, with contemplations of urban life, as artists Dileep Sharma, Farhad Husain, George Martin and Pratul Dash bring their own renditions of phantasmic thoughts and emotions onto a canvas.
George Martin, Kinder Than Solitude, 2019
The hallway leading up to Latitude 28's main gallery is lined with the works of George Martin and Dileep Sharma, with Martin’s Kinder Than Solitude becoming an evocative beckoning of flâneurs flocking to this spectacle of capitalistic identities in bright hues and glossy veneers. The title, too, foreshadows the experience of living and experiencing both the show and life, with the momentary thrill of material realities and fragile connections to objects and experiences being safer and kinder than the crushing solitude of urban living.
George Martine, Loops and narrative beads 1-7, 2021
Walking into the main gallery space of Latitude 28, the wall on the right is lined with seven diametrically different yet mutually coherent frames by George Martin. As if continuing his frame of thought from Kinder Than Solitude, his series Loops and narrative beads are a collection of disjointed, mutilated and contrasting images that together form the physical manifestation of thoughts and emotive ideas. With motifs ranging from the human body in all its dimensions to hyper-realistic fauna, household objects, pop culture references and geometric shapes, these works are a study in thought-formation and the ideological structures that govern the inner workings of our minds. It is as introspective as it is evocative, with bright colours contrasting with dark inks and black outlines, delineating the gaps between real and unreal, and creating a piece of art that reflects the fluidity of thought and human experiences.
Farhad Husain, Magical Childhood Memories, 2021
To the left of the entrance are works of Farhad Husain. Husain’s works involve humour and the caricaturing of a people entranced by the offerings of a consumerist society that lives and breathes through images, ideologies, thoughts, and experiences wrought by the hands of capitalism. To live is to be brutalised by the inescapable benefactions of modern-day consumerism, and Husain attempts to deconstruct the constructions of happiness, adventure and sexuality within this structure. For instance, Magical Childhood Memories is a satirical display of happiness peddled as a consumable commodity through fleeting experiences by a company that sells joy and the perfect notions of “childhood” in a carefully curated collection of nostalgia and memories. Husain looks at the correlation between urbanisation and westernization of thoughts and ideologies of modern-day millennial culture, one that works both with a western ideal of childhood memories and joy, with the Indian desire to appropriate the same within their own contexts. Hence the line of adults outside a theme park meant for children, with popular iconography associated with Disney and the culture of monetization of experiences and happiness.
Dileep Sharma, Amrita Sher-Gil, 2021 and The Portrait of Amrita Sher-Gil, 2021
Dileep Sharma’s portraits line one side of the gallery, with blown-out portraiture pieces of pop culture icons in the art industry - Frida Kahlo and Amrita Sher-Gil, answering a simple question - what does it mean for an artist, or rather an individual, to manifest their own sensibilities through the visage of popular personalities? Placed beside the pencil etchings of their visages, the large watercolour pieces are painfully familiar yet alien in their depictions of these two women. With green and red skin, brightly hued hair, anachronistic clothing and familiar facial expressions, these works categorically critique and appreciate the lens through which popular personalities can exist within popular conscience, wherein they become objects of public display and manipulation, working with individual renditions of their person - so much so that they cease to remain individuals of significance but yet another motif of a larger culture that objectifies and deifies them. Sharma points to the larger culture of voyeurism and tantalization offered to patrons of culture that seek to co-opt popular public imagery into their own fantasies, and he does this with humour and keeping in mind the spirit of the individuals he uses as motifs in his works.
To that end, having etchings of his colourful works in monochromatic hues of white, black and grey can be a comment on the state of phantasmic identities associated with popular figures, which in this case are radical artists of their times. The beauty, colours and glory associated with the larger watercolour pieces are toned down in the etching, perhaps suggesting that to be the natural state of existence for these women who lived difficult lives. By elevating them for the consumption of the masses, the shadowy lives of popular personalities become irrelevant in the face of outward appearances of aspirational and larger-than-life manifestations of people’s fantasies. It is also a comment on the choice of aesthetics for a viewer, wherein they might resonate more with the coloured visage of Kahlo or with the grey and white renditions of Sher-Gil, based on their own contexts and experiences.
Pratul Dash, The warrior; Bonsai; The warrior; Mongoose Black Carpet and the golden cactus (in order)
At the far end of the gallery, Pratul Dash brings together the various notions of phantasmagoria through his collection of works that blend hyper-realistic works with strange contexts and contrasting imagery, presenting an overall sense of discomfort and dysphoria that is characteristic of a dreamscape or utopian fantasy. With the brightness of shapes and colours associated with phantasmic realities, Dash’s works are divergent from the rest in his use of muted tones, earthy colours, focus on individual motifs and a sense of melancholy with the state of things as they are and a desire to subvert one’s own reality. His series of works, including Mongoose, black carpet and the golden cactus and Bonsai, made with gouache, are set as if viewing a scene outside a port window - circular, futuristic and ultimately, dystopic. His works evoke discomfort with the way things are, a sense of helplessness reflected in his motifs of animals and plants in massive yet barren landscapes, forlorn settings and dark colours. In an everchanging landscape, how does one reconcile with their own stagnancy and obsoletion, as the very meaning of reality changes by the seconds, is something Dash intends to force the viewer to ponder over.
Pratul Dash, Beyond the blue hill, 2021
In working with an ephemeral reality, Dash’s Beyond the Blue Hills is a question and a political statement at the state of change and the inevitability of it. It is a subversive image of reality that displays not what is, but where we’re heading. It is a comment on the nature of proverbially burying our heads in the sand to avoid the illusion of the world around us, in the comforts of the “now”, and in the careful rejection of anything that seeks to break the illusion.
Farhad Husain, Couple flying fish, 2021
Phantasmagoria is about bright colours and phantasmic synergy between four artists and their own respective dreamscapes, all coming together to form a disjointed yet coherent rendition of fantasy and the imaginings of the world around them. Popular symbols of mass consumption coexist, meant to titillate and discomfit, demanding introspection on the nature of urban fantasies and consumerism plaguing every aspect of the human experience. It is an evocation of ecstasy for the modern boulevardier that can resonate with the renditions of the experiences showcased on canvas. It is also a journey of contemplations, wonder, and despair for the urban flaneur within the macabre yet joyful images, working within the juxtapositions of modern iconography and lived experiences.
Phantasmagoria is on view till the 15th of November, 2021. Find out more about the exhibition on Latitude 28’s website.