The exhibition space at Gallery Chemould was transformed into an unusual setting inviting the viewer into a dialogue with the artist’s rites of passage and experiences. Blurring the boundaries between artist, curator, gallery, collector and museum, (Un)MYthU questions the existence of them - all through a staging of the artist’s visual poetics. The title is also a play on Mithu Sen’s own name, proclaiming it as a self-portrait that critiques her own practice as mythmaking and tries to (un)mythify the politics of the art mythos [1] as a contractual self-declaration. Large vacant spaces create the hum of an unheard sound [2] that serves as a channel to enter the works, which were unobtrusively displayed in the silent corners of the gallery. Each work was laid out like an archaeological site making references to past histories and theories, with current socio-political nuances.

Mithu Sen institutionalises the exhibition by regulating it with a contractual binding as part of her process. She merges the two (contract and process) and unnerves the relations between art and law thereby creating her own mythical legal agreements that form the foundation of the experience. By doing so she is inviting the viewer to legally partake in her process of deconstructing the norms of art and aesthetics. Each of the five contracts are titled, Museum Piece 1 - (Un)Do’s and (Un)Dont’s, Museum Piece 2 - (Un)MYthU, Museum Piece 3 - (Un)Poetry, Museum Piece 4 - (Un)Drawing and Museum Piece 5 - Return Gifts for Sale - all based on the five museum pieces that she portrays as her retrospective by exhibiting in Mumbai after 20 years.

Museum Piece 1 - (Un)Do’s and (Un-Dont’s) is a series of fictionally animated drawings laid out like carved scripted blocks, each one narrating an incident, that demands the torch on your mobile phone to unravel the playfulness in the work. Each block presents a slice of satire on the current socio-political temper gripping our nation that is eroding the tenets of democracy in the name of religion, caste and other regressive ideas. And yet the playing with the torch is the only way of seeing and unseeing the reality, perhaps hinting at the convenient cloak of ‘wisdom’ worn by one and all - scene unseen or seen (un)scene. Light as a metaphor for the highest intuitive intelligence [3] is often wrapped in layers of false perceptions. However, the artist is actually inviting each viewer to draw upon their own fictional impressions based on the use of their own light (technically and intuitively). The carefully crafted blocks were created using thin plexi sheets with a white paper framed an inch below the sheet, combined with collage and painting. Both the plexi and paper sheets have subtle drawings and texts engraved upon them, the fusion of which, along with the added element of paint and collage creates different animations based on the play of light, thus revealing numerous myths from a single narrative.

Museum Piece 2 - (Un)MYthU is another example of classical notions of aesthetics being remoulded to suit contemporary ideas of (un)beauty. In this work, Mithu Sen refurbishes all the finished works from the past 20 years by blackening them with paint, charcoal and velvet fabric. The works lose their initial compositional aesthetic and create a different visual disorder that collectively represents itself as an aesthetic revolution. The frames are stacked against the wall instead of being carefully hung, with a flickering light that goes off completely for a few seconds reminding you of a garage sale. The works reflect differently in the dark, revealing the original older works created by the artist, once again giving the viewer an animated experience of light and darkness. Part of this installation is a work on the opposite wall which maintains its original demeanour of colour and conversation, of two parrots woven in a palette of contrasting colours, seated on a branch, reminiscent of the traditional Upanishadic tale [4] of the self and the other. Reinterpreted by Rabindranath Tagore as the act of seeing as more important than the act of knowing, the parrots in this installation are transfixed by nothing but the gaze of one another, not knowing, only seeing and unseeing. Mithu Sen has remodulated the aesthetics of seeing and unseeing by layering her own practice with a colour that carries its own history of chaos and disruption.

Museum Piece 3 - (Un)Poetry is an unscrolled map of an imaginary landscape that is bleeding signified by the colour red that is strewn across the work divided by eight by eight inch square grids (as in modern maps). From a distance it is just a droplet of colour. As you get closer the colour is a marker on a beautiful imaginative landscape, populated with birds, trees and poetry written by the artist which can only be read using a magnifying glass.

Each grid will be randomly removed/cut apart from the landscape and given to the rightful owner of the work, thus creating multiple owners of a single art work. The collector cannot choose the grid, it is left to the artist’s choice and is bound by an agreement to return the grid in case the landscape needs to be recreated for another such event, which the artist is proposing to art institutes and museums. (Un)MythU becomes a preview for an uncertain future museum exhibition, making the process of application too an exploration of performance of identities and the spaces. (5)

Adjacent to the landscape is a square acrylic pillar holding a hundred acrylic boxes, each of which contains limited edition hand crafted copies of (un)poetry with customized doodles and drawings that the artist will give along with the grid to the rightful owner of the piece. This entire work disrupts the idea of the collector getting a chance to select the artwork, instead the collector here is transformed into a silent participant, witnessing the artist’s act of creation and recreation.

In (Un)MYthU, the artist is reversing the ideas of ‘art mythos’ surrounding the creation, display, market and promotion of art. Mithu Sen, though revolutionary in her execution, is idealistic in trusting in the necessity of art (6) and believing that man reveals himself and not his objects through art [7]. She subtly binds the viewer into her own deconstructed aesthetics converting them into mute performers of her mockery of institutionalised display. An aesthetics still exists, with life as the medium [8], within which roles are reversed and objects are re-objectified and the landscape that is mythified strives to (un) become an organic whole.


[1] Mythos - a set of beliefs orassumptionsaboutsomething: the rhetoric and mythos of science create the comforting image of linear progression toward truth, Oxford English Dictionary Online

[2] Hum of the unheard sound - The Hum is a phenomenon, or collection of phenomena, involving widespread reports of a persistent and invasive low-frequency humming, rumbling, or droning noise not audible to all people. Also referring to the Anhad Naad, which is internal sound of the body and universe. One can hear these sounds with the practice of meditation and spiritual advancements.

[3] Asato ma sadgamaya, Tamaso ma jyotirgamaya, Mrtyorma amrtam gamaya -Taken from Brhadaranyaka Upanishad - I.III.28. "Tamaso ma jyotirgamaya " means "From darkness, lead me to light"

[4] The parable of two birds from the Mundaka Upanishad.

[5] Mithu Sen’s statement for the exhibition (Un)MYthU

[6] “Art is necessary in order that man should be able to recognise and change the world. But art is also necessary by virtue of the magic inherent in it.” Ernst Fischer, The Necessity of Art, Verso, 2010

[7] From the English Writings of Rabindranath Tagore

(8) Interview with Mithu Sen

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