The Art Review | Rehang | Anant Art, New Delhi
Reviewed by Chahak Agrawal | 27 October, 2021
Featured artwork: Arshi Irshad Ahmadzai, Untitled (from the series Al-Nisa)
For a closer look at the exhibition, check out our video on our Youtube channel
Displaying a journey of the south-Asian subcontinent and threads that connect us all, Rehang works with issues of identity, body, sexuality and politics through textiles and contemporary south-Asian art.
REHANG - Curated by Uthra Rajgopal
Displayed at Bikaner House in New Delhi, Rehang is a series of contemplative contemporary artworks that deconstruct what textile and fabrics can embody when used as a form of art and as motifs of south-Asian identity. Textile in itself is a political object, with a complex history in relation to the people of the subcontinent with its history of colonialism and the golden age of trade and commerce, the use of it to lay bare the identity of a people and of an individual is what curator Uthra Rajgopal presents in this collection of works from 15 subcontinental artists.
Boshudhara Mukherjee, Egg, 2018
Set across the sprawling property of Bikaner House, New Delhi - standing tall as a monolith of arts and culture in the city, the 2-storeyed exhibition forms a melange of expressions, working with textile and fabric arts of the south-Asian collective. We visited the preview show on the 31st of October, and on entering the space, the works of Boshudhara Mukherjee frame the entrance foyer, with a deconstructed canvas that is and isn’t at the same time, embodying the very nature of a piece of fabric that represents both the past and the future within itself.
Sunaina Bhalla, Mammogram Series, 2020
The exhibition is divided into three larger sections, representing elements of human expressions and identity that are displayed through textile art. On the ground floor, the larger ideas of “Body” are embodied in the works of Gurjeet Singh, Arshi Irshad Ahmadzai, Bushra Waqas Khan, Sunaina Bhalla and Shivani Aggarwal. 5 artists, all working within the politics of the body in relation to fabrics and textiles, indicative of their own experiences and socio-political contexts. The hallway, leading to individual displays by some of the artists, is lined with Sunaina Bhalla’s take on the body, with prints of mammograms overlaid with cotton or silk thread. It is a reverberation of the fragility of human life, held together by the strands that make up humanity and the body, personified within a series that brings that metaphor to fruition.
Arshi Irshad Ahmadzai, Untitled (From the series 'Al-Nisa'), 2019
It is in working with the politics of the body that Arshi Irshad Ahmadzai’s series An-Nisa stands out as a stark reminder of the control and power clothing can have on a collective. Hailing from Afghanistan, Ahmadzai’s works speak of an Afghanistan of the people, free of arbitrary and esoteric ideology attached to the political entity of the country. The display echoes with the heart and language of the Afghani people, with words written in their traditional script on bolts of fabric hanging from the ceiling depicting traditional Afghani garb. It is brutal in its honesty and direct in its expressions, with bloody and beating hearts - real and not the assumed motif, painted over each garment, connecting the artist to the collective, and breathing life into what otherwise could have merely been sterile representations of clothing.
Gurjeet Singh, Oreo Shake - II, 2021
Beyond the human body, one of the most fascinating features of the show was the study of the body of the textile themselves. Malleable and transient, the fabric is not a static object of distanced observation. It is meant to be touched, felt and worked with to create something larger than itself. It is fluid in its identity and exists in a state of constant flux. Gurjeet Singh taps into this feature of textiles, and with his background in traditional Indian textile art and embroidery such as the famous phulkari work of Punjab, works with textiles, embroidery and textile art to create motifs of human sexuality - repressed, objectified and ultimately unshackled. His work Oreo Shake is accompanied by a story, both in English in text and in Punjabi narrated by Singh himself, adding a sense of intimacy into the whole display. And it is a story of love and discovery of repressed sexuality in a society that devalues the feminine and the “queer”.
His works then become emblematic of freedom and love, expressed in vivid colours, loud features and abstract, conceptual pieces that take you on a journey of a man finding himself and all his colours in an ostentatiously colourful and diverse society that actively rejects expressions of the self and diversity of identities and sexualities, while simultaneously celebrating one’s background and family that allowed the artist to create their works of art.
Ashfika Rahman, Files of the Disappeared, 2018
Moving to the second floor of the exhibition, one is greeted with a hallway lined with photographs overlaid with threads of silk and cotton. Home - the theme of the display states. Perhaps not an obvious ode to contemporary textile art, it is notable that home plays a part in Rehang as a deconstruction of clothing, textiles and threads that create the ideas of home, or the lack thereof. It then becomes clear that the section is an evocation of the pain and brutality of displacement, war and loss of the only place one can call their home. How does one remember and honour something which has been lost? Artist Ashfika Rahman’s photographic works line the hallways, forcing the viewer to reconcile with the atrocities of displacement, as her series Files of the Disappeared presents photographs of people with faces covered in gold thread, and evokes images of the loss and despair of Bangladeshi displaced people.
Chathuri Nissansala, St. Mary’s Church, Biyagama- II, 2020
In talking about Home, and what it means for people, Sri Lankan artist Chathuri Nissansala provides a veritable pagoda of idolatry and religious spaces, with his ceramic and beaded pieces of idols and symbols often associated with Christian places of worship. Reconciling notions of home and religions, Nissansala depicts an idea of home within the boundaries of religious spaces and uses beads and textile elements to present both the desolation of the white and austere idols and the devotion of the people, represented in all its diversity and hues, that make those idols worthy of veneration.
Yasmin Jahan Nupur, Velvel Roses, 2015
The last section of the exhibition states that it intends to portray the inspiration artists often draw from the natural world, or the larger idea of the “garden”. What can then be seen within this space is the bifurcation of the room down the middle, with one side representing the more manicured elements of the natural world, with carefully chosen flowers, as seen in the installation of Velvet Roses by Yasmin Jahan Nupur, or the intricate threadwork of flowers by Sumakshi Singh in her series Thread Drawings. These are desirable natural elements, carefully cultivated by human hands, and subsequently the artists in their depiction of the natural world. The room also contains Madiha Sinkander's Lada I and II, a carefully crafted bowl made out of cloves and beads. A mix of organic and inorganic materials, the cloves provide structure and integrity to the piece while the beads stand as joints between each clove.
Dhara Mehrotra, Coalesced II, 2018
The other side of the room, however, suggests a wilder and more carnal depiction of the “garden”, with a skeletal thread painting from Sumakshi Singh’s series In The Garden, deconstructing the ostentatious beauty of a garden created for and by individuals, by exposing the bare bones of what becomes natural beauty and a source of inspiration. The room is framed by Rehana Mangi's work Memory Lane - I and Memory Lane - II, where the artist has used human hair as an the thread for embroidery, creating familiar and tiled patterns that seem traditional and yet are anything but.
Moreover, Dhara Mehrotra’s works on the opposite wall present a rarified presentation of what natural beauty can entail. Akin to cultures on a petri dish, population heat maps on a blown-out map of the world or simplified depictions of nature, her works subvert traditional ideas of the garden questioning what exactly counts within the larger frameworks of a garden. And strands of thread become the medium through which the artist is able to present their visions of an organic space.
Ashfika Rahman, Redeem, 2020
Clothing, especially for women, has always been political - something worthy of comment and consideration by the larger patriarchal structures of society. A piece of clothing stops being just that, evolving into a political statement the minute it’s revealed to the public eye. But textile is also malleable and transient, with no innate identity beyond what can be attributed to it by a collective, and an individual. A 5 yards piece of cloth can be a bolt of unused fabric, or it can be a piece of clothing in the form of the Indian saree. It is this nature of fabric and textiles that the exhibition taps into, utilizing it as a medium of art and expression in much the same way traditional mediums are used. Moreover, clothing can and has always been symbolic of the society it functions in and presents a socio-political commentary on the collective it represents. And Rehang is a display of the South-Asian collective, with all their nuances, cliches, glory and atrocity, in a stark reminder of the threads that bind us all together.
Rehang by Anant Art is still on display at the Bikaner House, New Delhi till the 31st of October. Find out more about the exhibition and the artwork on their website.