Artists

Manjunath Kamath’s “Era Elsewhere” begins by concluding a moving narrative - Ego Icon, a painted terracotta sculpture of a big-cat defeating a bull, moulded into a single structure. It is placed right at the centre of the main entrance foyer. It is structurally complete, with no missing pieces like his other works in the exhibition and narratively concluded, binding the two characters of the story in an eternal loop. The sculpture inaugurates the exhibition, to further unfold a series of unfinished terracotta sculptures and paintings made on silk and paper. The artist’s finesse rests in building a fictional history. Taking mythology as its central reference point and creating metaphors, “Era Elsewhere” bears in it a quality of eternal resonance, a quality elemental to both myth and history.

On the right-hand side of Ego Icon, mounted on the white walls, lies a series of seven glazed terracotta figures of unfinished torsos and limbs, painted in black. Skin of a Myth visually implies a sudden break of bodies in action, broken from their respective forms. If observed as a narrative structure, the objects have been taken from various representations in mythology and history - where on one hand there is a faceless and limbless figure of a woman holding a child, on the other there is a reclining torso of Buddha with an unfinished head. Drawing from popular Hindu and Buddhist iconographies, Kamath uses his signature style of unfinished sculptures; thus keeping the narrative open to multiple receptions like the double-edged existence of history being part-fact and part-fiction. In the process of reimagining these objects through digital apparatuses, Kamath mocks and distorts, placing “odd resemblances, disruptions and moments of unexpected recognition”. [1]

Kamath’s drawings embody the quality and contents of visual representations familiar in fables - depictions of animals, inanimate objects and anthropomorphic bodies in an alternate time and space, firmly establishing his repertoire. The artist uses elements from classical literary form in his sculptures, only to counter-position this methodology in his paintings. One encounters the possibility of open interpretation through his illustrations which omit the classical trope of maxims, the core of any fable’s literary structure. These drawings use the medium of gouache, acrylic and gold on paper and silk. Behind the Clouds, Ritual Drawings and Drawings 2019 amongst other untitled works in the exhibition, showcase intricate designing in gold and detailing through vibrant colours, each frame, consisting of incomplete illustrations.

The artist’s take on multiple and ambiguous narratives, reflects through his sculptures, where he chooses from a palette of forms, drawn from several traditions and amalgamated on the medium of terracotta. The most revealing work to validate the assertion will be Unfolding Moon, a terracotta disc-like structure, containing several patterns and drawings - floral motifs influenced by ceramic painting in the Chinese tradition, motifs and patterns drawn from Mughal and Persian architecture’s non-figurative details, Naga carvings influenced by Hindu temple iconography. The moon-like sculpture, melded from different pieces, comes together with an unfinished outer layer, painted half-way on each fragmented part of the disc.

Kamath’s story-telling has no heroes and neither does it intend towards the process of catharsis. The building blocks of unfinished works and narratives simultaneously create a feeling of both belonging and alienation. His sculptures are like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle put together, drawing its links from various popular sources and morphed to an otherness- “a hand from this source, the tilt of head from that source, the curve of the chest from this other source, resulting in a form that becomes a shimmer of memory rather than a precise reference. It becomes something that we feel we know but cannot quite identify”. [2]

Here and There, recreates the story of Vishnu’s Vamana avatar transforming into a giant cosmic dimension and defeating Mahabali by placing one foot on the Earth and the other on the king’s head, sending the ruler down to patala (netherworld). Though the narrative and visual implication seem quite familiar, yet Kamath’s brutal ability to rip his sculpture from its source leaves the process of signification unfulfilled. Balanced on a pillar-pedestal with one leg placed on the surface and the other tautly postured high in the air, the head of the sculpture and a hand remain buried upwards in a mound of clay moulded to the ceiling. The dynamism of this sculpture makes space for several interpretations of the familiar myth, posing a challenge to its classical existence. Similarly, Oondhu, a painted terracotta sculpture of a man mounted on a mythical four-limbed amphibian, strikes the chord of familiar feeling with that of the Priest King from Mohenjodaro, yet at the same time, it seems starkly different. Is it the eyes or the pointed nose that mark a similarity? Or is it the posture, the torso or the painted beard, that makes it so unfamiliar? The answers remain equivocal. His other exhibited sculptures are Pokkadettaya, and Shwanapani.

His use of terracotta, one of the most archaic known medium for sculpture-making, naturally bears in itself the feeling of past. Given the fragile quality of terracotta, Kamath “oscillates from one form to anotherand works on them later, almost like working on a puzzle, by not just joining, but by breaking as well. Carefully cutting away portions of sculpture and breaking them open to allow a peep inside, treating the sculpture’s interiors as architectural forms.” [3] To be Continued, a life-size, painted terracotta sculpture of a headless man and a beast caught in a tussle, explores Kamath’s sculptures as works of architecture as well. The iron rods sprouting upwards from the sculpture, gives an impression of a building ‘under-construction’. One can explore the interior of the work and leave the unfinished parts to recover in one’s imagination.

When one enters the gallery, one is genuinely transported to a different time and space - not of the present, neither of the past. Questioning the accuracy of history, which is established based on missing links, incomplete narrative and layers of unearthed facts, Kamath treats history as fiction. The exhibition has its own mythic time and space, entangled with contemporary commentary on both the past and the present.

NOTES

[1] Gayatri Sinha, Wall Text, ‘Postponed Poems’, Gallery Espace, New Delhi (2015)

[2] Kavita Singh, Overview of Manjunath Kamath’s works, Gallery Espace, Art Basel, Hong Kong (2018).

[3] Wall Text, “Era Elsewhere”, Gallery Espace, New Delhi (2019).

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