Gallery Espace presents ?BROWNation’, a solo show by Vishal K. Dar

He refused to put up his work for sale, even though it was his debut art show. His art outings are far and few between. Yet, 34-year-old architect-turned-new media artist Vishal K. Dar is a name to reckon with, both for having designed exhibitions for stalwarts like Nilima Sheikh, Amitava Das, Nagji Patel and Mrinalini Mukherjee to name a few & for establishing himself as a curator-artist, especially in the field of new media art. Darhad curated one of the first new media (interactive art) shows for Apeejay Media Gallery in 2005 and has presented the city’s largest interactive public art work (commissioned by the British Council India) in 2009.

As he prepares for his solo show titled BROWNation at Gallery Espace, 16, Community Centre, New Friends Colony, New Delhi (Tel: 26326267) from September 24 to October 23, 2010, Dar is all set once again to grab eyeballs with a series of prints, videos and installations where he makes Mahatma Gandhi the protagonist who questions, mocks and despairs the socio-political flux that the country finds itself in today.

Says Renu Modi, Director, Gallery Espace: “Tackling issues of corruption, farmer and jawan suicides, agrarian unrest, Kashmir conflict and intra-national identity, Dar’s new media works have been made using material as diverse as salt, heater rods, tin sheets, currency notes and zardozi threads.”

Having studied new media for his masters at UCLA, Dar seeks to present himself as a “citizen artist” who explores and debates the internal flux in relation to national identity, one that is not just about being Indian but also about inhabiting the region of South Asia, the land of the brown skinned people.

While Dar’s work takes roots from the very history of our independence struggle, when speaking before 3,000 Indians gathered at a theatre in Johannesburg, Gandhi proposed a strategy of non-violent resistance to racist South African policies, he places them in the contemporary world that has not quite got it right.

A century later, do we need to ask ourselves if this ‘truth-force’ is still relevant?
South Asia finds itself in a state of continual flux. In our efforts to find meaning, can the ideal of satyagraha (truth-force) be mapped onto the practice of art?

If not answers or solutions, at least some of these questions find their way into Dar’s solo show at Gallery Espace.

Says the artist, who pragmatically combines his sound architectural education with his fascination with cinema in all his work: “BROWNation” seeks to address certain issues that wedeem important in the above context and within our experience of contemporary India and the South Asian peninsula. BROWNation bolsters ourbelief that art, among other productive forms of human work, will not cease to be socio-politically engaged, and the hope that its experiments will travel farther and wiser.”

To give an insight into Vishal’s work, here is a brief note on each of his work that is part of the show

1. C FOR CUTTER ( Single-channel video animation, 2009; 1 min 17 seconds)

This digital animation invokes Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange (1962). Alex, protagonist/ antagonist of Burgess’ seminal novel, and his peeps communicate in a trenchant combination of Nadsat – their language for an ultraviolent future – and English. The word Nadsat is the Russian equivalent of teenage. A considerable number of the words that belong to this violent verbiage have Russian roots, some go the French way and fewer still tread the English road. Burgess, a keen linguist, also invented several terms, whose origins have thus far remained unknown. And into this final slot falls the coin of Cutter.

In the book, ultra-violence is occasioned by components such as cutter, vacuity, ennui and misanthropy. By employing the word Cutter as the title of this nuttily anthropomorphic Rs 500 banknote, the artist evokes undeniable tensions between the ultra-violence as engendered by cutter and the incommensurable pacifism of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. It is a given that the father of the nation would not have been terribly approving of the many posthumous honours that have been uneasily placed in the lap of his legacy. Needless to say, his presence on the Indian banknotes and coins would never have gone down well.

In this animation piece, Gandhi takes it upon himself to calls the bluff of the Republic of India.

Accompanying the video are three digital prints that utilise the actual size of Rs 500 notes and are titled “Bura Mat Dekho”, “Bura Mat Bolo” and “Bura Mat Socho”, each having Gandhi in various postures of distress and concern!

2. FLAG OF BROWNATION: (wall-mounted frameless canvas)

In this 4 x 8 feet work, we see the residue of the flags of all the countries of our subcontinent, after their colours have all evaporated and just the symbols remain. Is the work unifying us all by removing the separatist colours, or are these remains of what we used to be as a unified whole? is the question the work asks of its viewer.

3. WE THE PEOPLE: (triptych print mural)

In this print mural, that is a triptych measuring 12 feet x 6 feet, Mother India is charging forward, alone. Dar explains: “This work is about the cinematic representation of who we are. Mother India embodies the ethos of the South Asian peninsula. She proclaims ‘I AM A MONUMENT’, reclaiming her rightful space in the colonial golden triangle (India Gate / Presidential Estate / Connaught Place).

4. KHWABISTAN: (Installation in tin-sheets and heater coils)

While one side of the installation portraying the state of Jammu & Kashmir in tin sheets is painted black, the other side is fitted with red-hot heater coils. Dar says: “To many of us, beautiful locations are a strange creature. They exist in our memory that is made up of photographic documentation, literature or as explained by those who have been there. Much like how it happens in our dreams. In the installation titled KHWABISTAN, I explore this dream-state a bit further.”


5. TRAVELS OF THAT STRANGE LITTLE BROWN MAN: (5 photographic postcards)

This is a series of 5 photographic postcards that take us through the various sites that the little brown man has been to. Dar has used world-renowned icons like Abraham Lincoln, Michelangelo’s David, Auguste Rodin’s Thinker, Saddam Hussein among others in each of the postcard that Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi seems to have interacted with much before he became Gandhiji!

Each postcard bears a title that is a dialogue from Sir Richard Attenborough’s GANDHI. The titles of the postcards are “bapuji, the whole brownation is moving!”, ‘he has become quite good at this’, ‘you’re an ambitious man, Mr. Gandhi’, ‘it takes a great deal more than a pinch of salt’, ‘I am a Muslim and a Hindu and a Christian and a Jew and so are all of you’.

6. SUICIDE CHRONICLE (3 video works in loop, duration 2 mins 34 secs)

This is a series of three animated video works on three monitors that showcase imagery from the Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan, Jai Vigyan trilogy that remains a mere boast in a country of farmer suicides and rotting foodgrains!

7. NANGA MULK: (2 videos in a loop, duration 30 secs)

Inspired by a scene of naked children from the film Prahaar, the video uses the scene graphically with Gandhi looking on in the foreground.

8. MERA JEEWAN HI MERA SANDESH HAI: (canvas and currency notes)

In a work that truly symbolises the secular ideals of our Constitution, Dar gets Muslim karigars to embroider in real gold zari Gandhi’s immortal line “Mera Jeewan Hi Mera Sandesh Hai” on a hand-stretched canvas that is then adorned with a Rs 5 note garland made of nearly 2000 notes!

Mocking the money-laundering politicians of our country, in a not so subtle reference to Mayawati’s mala-saga, Dar empties the canvas frame of Gandhi’s picture instead using only his message. “Where is the leader”, is his question!

9. A Great Deal More Than A Pinch of Salt: (Installation with salt and weighing balance)

Dar uses common salt, and nearly 20 kilos of it, to create a 3-feet high mound of salt piled on a 6 -feet wide balance (tarazu) in fibre glass. Suspended from the ceiling of the gallery, the work encompasses his reflection on the relevance of the Gandhian way of life. The work re-evaluates Gandhi’s act of breaking the salt law and takes it a step further by putting the salt in a weighing balance!


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