It is truly flesh, said French sculptor Auguste Rodin of the antique marble copy of the Venus de Medici. “You would think it moulded by kisses and caresses… You almost expect, when you touch this body, to find it warm.”
That was sculpted perfection.
Then, there are universal shapes to which everyone is subconsciously conditioned. The chaos that emerges out of the universe is not usually in broad linear strokes, but in rounding off human perfection — right down to chiselling its in-the-bones imperfections.
In India, the sculpted chaos is yet to settle into an organised order. But for the first time in the new millennium, our sculptors are getting a platform to flesh themselves out: in human form. It’s being called the movement from abstraction to the figurative.
Organised by Gallery Threshold, curated by Marta Jakimowicz,‘The Human Figure’ will showcase the human dimensions of 18 artists — at the Lalit Kala Akademi, from August 6 to 11. (Among them are the likes of Jitish Kallat, Alex Mathew, G Ravinder Reddy, Iranna GR, TV Santosh and Shanthi Swaroopini.)
But first, there’s human angst — artistic, not existential. Shillong-based Prithpal Singh Sehdave Ladi is angry about the “lopsided” artistic landscape here, ruled by the “painters’ mafia”.
According to Ladi, in India, the painters:sculptors ratio would be 10:1. “Sculpting is the first form of art. It’s about physicality, as opposed to the 2-D illusions that paintings are made up of,” he says. “But people don’t want to take up sculpting as it’s rigorous, and one doesn’t get time to network.” He talks about the ‘hand of the maker’ phenomenon that’s sweeping Europe. “There’s a sculptural renaissance happening out there.” What about India? “Things are getting better… but there has to be more communication.”
What better way than to get physical, give human-to-human resuscitation? So the first thing that greets you is Baroda-based Dhruva Mistry’s adaptation of Picasso’s giant-sized mural Guernica (1937), depicting the Nazi bombing of the eponymous Spanish city. “This sets the tone for the human form as it talks about human expressions — the parts to the whole,” says organiser Tunty Chauhan of Gallery Threshold. Mistry says the “work befits our reality”: a scene of death, violence, brutality, suffering and helplessness without the portrayal of their immediate causes.
A few of the works are notional. In her 7-minute film Facing the Wall, Bangalore-based Smitha Cariappa treats her face as though she’s sculpting in reverse order, moulding it from smooth to rough, layering it with sandalwood paste, honey and multani mitti till it becomes lumpy and distorted, “the way the human face would be when a sculptor begins the motions”.
In one of his works, Ladi depicts the presence of a man who’s not there: there are the props, and the trappings, but no human form, “thereby reinstating the obvious”, he says.
In another, he shows the flight of the human soul, somewhere along the evolution of man. “The body is just a vehicle. It’s bound to leave you at some stage — suddenly, without notice,” he says.
But not before it has made its point.