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In the name of the father

Two artists look at Bapu and his nation from sharply different angles, reports Amitava Sanyal.

india Updated: Sep 25, 2010 01:13 IST
Amitava Sanyal

One is a 34-year-old Kashmiri Pandit who considers himself a pukka Dilliwala; the other, born 52 years ago in north Rajasthan, has made Jaipur his home. The former trained in architecture in Gurgaon and in digital media at the University of California, Los Angeles; the latter honed his skills painting film-sets and sketching passers-by on Mumbai’s Juhu beach. And this October, these two artists sporting different lengths of hair are trying to decode the legacy of the biggest bald, Brown brand — Gandhi.

Unsurprisingly, the outcomes are wildly different.

First, the elder artist. Gopal Swami ‘Khetanchi’ has worked in a style he’s known most closely — calendar kitsch. Khetanchi, who worked for art director Manzoor ul Haq on the sets of films such as Muqaddar ka Sikandar and Kalia, has come out with large canvases — the largest being 15x6 feet — that juxtapose Gandhi’s face alongside those of common people, many of them women. There’s hardly any gap for imagination between the images and their titles — ‘Empower the women to empower the nation’, or ‘Communal harmony, please’.

The multi-media works of Vishal Dar, on the other hand, are variously layered and provocatively tongue-in-cheek. Visitors to Gallery Espace will be greeted first by an 80-second animated clip, ‘C for Cutter’. It’s a flick-through of 500-rupee notes in which Gandhi himself scans the watermark, cries ‘Fake’ and and then eats his words.

To the visitor’s left will be a garland of 2,000 five-rupee notes — a tribute to the “beautiful work of art” draped around Mayawati not long ago. It’s hung on a white frame that simply says in embroidered relief “My life is my message”, and is signed M.K. Gandhi.

Dar, who faced post-9/11 racism in the US as a student, goes on to question notions of a ‘Brown’ identity, both within and without national boundaries. His ‘Flag of Brown Nations’ is a 4x8-foot digital print in which the colours of the South Asian national flags have been “drained”, leaving only the symbols in black on a brown canvas.

These are among Dar’s more accessible works — his other series have included hypnotic bugs made of car tail-lights and large sculptures made of steel plates textured like “snake-skin”. He says, “It’s easy to intellectualise... Here I have reduced my ideas like cooking kheer, so that non-museum-goers aged 6-to-60 can start a conversation.”

Dar’s “kheer” provides a welcome refresh to a conversation that’s actually six decades old.

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