Artworks of Sudhir Patwardhan, Reena Kallat on display in Mumbai
Two Mumbai artists have shows opening this Saturday. At the National Gallery of Modern Art, Walking Through Soul City is a retrospective of Sudhir Patwardhan’s paintings. Not far away, Reena Kallat’s show Blind Spots, opens at the Chemould Prescott Road gallery, with works that contrast manmade political borders with nature’s boundaries.
Mumbai residents new and old will find immediate familiarity with Patwardhan’s works. For five decades, he’s captured city life, its everyday tensions, and the burden of surviving the metropolis they help operate. The show, curated by Nancy Adajania and supported by The Guild art gallery, displays more than 200 paintings.
“People across classes can relate to Sudhir’s work, it is very legible,” says Adajania. “We think we know the people in his paintings. That City Girl (2012) whose shadow walks faster than her or that wounded worker. One of the aims of this retrospective is to defamiliarise the familiar. Show the viewers a Sudhir they think they know, but do not actually.”
The retrospective covers distinct phases of Patwardhan’s career. His Marxist phase during the textile strikes of the ’70s and ’80s, the Bombay riots, the onslaught of globalisation in the ’90s, and the breaking up of unions. In his most recent work, he has trained his eye away from the street to his own space, to produce biographical works that deal with being an artist, the working of an artist’s studio, ageing and family.
One 2017 work, Erase, features the artist at home, a paint-stained rag in hand, getting ready to wipe off something – we never know what. Accident on May Day, from the ’80s, depicts a crowded train at a busy station, passengers and passersby carrying on, as an injured man is carried away on a stretcher.
“Walking is a recurrent trope in Sudhir’s work. Walking to express solidarity or as an existentialist declaration. I have inserted the word ‘soul’ into the exhibition title to reveal the metaphysical dimension of his practice. I read Sudhir’s art as an interplay between his stated Marxist position and his affinity for philosophical idealism.”
At Reena Kallat’s show, bird songs, the alphabet and demarcation lines feature in the four works on display. “The attempt is to look beyond the political borders, divisive histories that have shaped geographies to find continuities within natural boundaries created by mountains and rivers,” says Kallat. “We might claim ownership to these natural forms, but essentially the landscape, as with the birds, are unaware of our politics and seamlessly go across them.”
The sound installation, Chorus, uses machines that tracked enemy aircraft sounds during World War II. On them, Kallat plays birdcalls to simulate interactions between the national birds of warring countries. Leaking Lines made from electric wires is a nod to borders such as the Radcliffe Line and Maginot Line. In Shifting Ecotones-2, fragmented images of rivers represent the instability created by tributary disputes.
Her title work, Blind Spots, is a video work in which Kallat unfolds the preambles to constitutions of seven warring nations. But they’re presented as eye-exam charts, letter by letter, side by side. The common words are changed to braille, indicating that we’ve lost sight of the shared values of equality, fraternity and liberty.