Constellations, now on view at Emami Art, Kolkata brings together eight contemporary artists from Bengal featuring Jogen Chowdhury, Shuvaprasanna Bhattacharya, Arunima Choudhury, Chandra Bhattacharjee, Arindam Chatterjee, Anjan Modak, Tamal Bhattacharya and Soma Das, and presents a range of practices. Although no stylistic grouping or common thematic ground holds these artists within the exhibition, the varied practices appear as eight distinct conceptual postures or constellations in the curated space of the gallery.
These artists address diverse concerns, exploring meanings, implications and the politics of our anxious time. Swathed in rich tones of grey, calibrated between pearl white and charcoal black, Chandra Bhattacharjee’s paintings of a nocturnal forest combine the delicacy of a painter’s hand with the alert gaze of a photographer. The forest in the night, however, is not an unadulterated natural world of beasts and savage tribes, but a vulnerable frontier in which the wilderness is threatened by the expansionist pressure of modern civilization. The terror is strikingly captured in the single, spectral image of a deer whose innocent eyes gleam in the glare of the headlight.
Arindam Chatterjee’s paintings based on the lockdown migration of labourers appear bathed in a subfusc, sooty light. Deploying an allegorical and metaphorical approach, Chatterjee exposes to the bones the agony and tragedy of migration recurring throughout human history.
A huge heron silently witnesses the endless march of the displaced people; a gigantic snake follows them. One could read deeper connotations into these paintings, but, as Chatterjee says, he is concerned with making art politically, rather than making political art.
The adverse effects of the pandemic-induced lockdown on ordinary people is clearly visible in the works of Soma Das, Tamal Bhattacharya and Anjan Modak. Working in the meticulous, tranquil style of miniature paintings, Soma Das looks into abruptly changing patterns of life in the low-income suburbs, mildly satirizing the newly imposed safety norms of social-distancing. Her paintings, while defining her own social and gender positions, show a deep sympathy with the people she depicts. In making sense of the life under lockdown restrictions, Tamal Bhattacharya, the sole ceramicist in the exhibition, inspired by the folk art of Bengal reinvents his style by incorporating new imagery and materials. His works speaks of personal experiences of being confined to the home, a limited and distant interaction with the familiar world and people, and how life during the lockdown has increasingly become dependent on technological gadgets as a means of communicating with the larger world beyond. Anjan Modak, known for his work about construction labourers in urban centres of India, feels deeply about the intensities of suffering and the ill effects of the pandemic. Poverty, anomie and deaths are nothing new for the poor and the downtrodden, but because of the pandemic, their life was stripped of dream, hope and rhythm, becoming ugly, palpably biological.
The crises-laden world that mirrors brokenness also mirrors hope. The paintings of the celebrated senior artists in the show reaffirm this deep-rooted truth. Arunima Choudhury’s paintings in vegetable colours on handmade papers, create a languid world in which the figures are variously portrayed in their intimate, private spaces, undisturbed by the noises of the modern world. Alongside her work, the familiar, chromatically vibrant cityscape of Shuvaprasanna and the elegant ornamental exuberance, irreducible forms and entwined linearity of Jogen Chowdhury’s work delight us, reassuring us of the eternal aesthetic values that make us feel at home in the age of discordance, drastic change and disappearance.