New Delhi: Discovering Pushpalama N.

POSTED: Tuesday, February 26, 2019

 

 

Situated in one of New Delhi’s blossoming ‘boojie’ areas, Nature Morte is hidden off an unassuming street, it is bordered on either side by dentists and doctors and screened by an enormous white gate. With a feeling of trepidation and a fear of trespassing my friend and I were soon welcomed warmly into the gallery, while the lights were hastily turned on for our benefit. We found ourselves in an exquisite two-story space (which we had all to ourselves) to wander with increasing disbelief through an extraordinarily eclectic, imaginative and thought-provoking exhibition. Like India itself, the exhibition presents a multi-faceted, complex and experimental concoction of goodies. 

 

 

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It was with great surprise that we discovered the work was all the product of a single artist: Pushpamala N. (born Bangalore 1956) who has been labelled 'the most entertaining artist-iconoclast of contemporary Indian art'.  She lives and works in Bangalore and has exhibited widely across India and internationally. Her pieces are in major collections including the MoMA, the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art in New Delhi, and the Royal Ontario Museum in Canada. Photo-and video-performance artist, sculptor, writer, curator, and provocateur, Pushpalama N. seeks to subvert the dominant cultural and intellectual discourses and is famous for her strongly feminist work, her exploration of multiple realities and a bold rejection of apathy and convention. 

 

 

 

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This show, entitled 'Body Politic', included short films, photography, set-design, sculpture and painting, all centred around the artists signature practice of 'photo performance'. Pushpamala N. recreates previously existing images for the camera, she herself appearing as the protagonist within these ornate tableaux, in order to critically investigate the visual symbols that have come to represent power and control, ideas of purity and the concept of plurality. The artist herself represents many different visual personifications of India, and, through dark humour re-enacts changes to the body politic throughout India’s vibrant and violent history. 

 

 

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In 2016 Pushpamala N. came across a book called ‘The Colonial Eye', a collection of ethnographic photography from the Indian Sub-Continent in which she found a 'wonderful set of images of an early Sri Lankan Tamil Theatre group'. She was particularly fascinated by two rare 1900 studio photographs by the famous Sri Lankan photographic firm Plate and C. which are now in the collection of the Ethnological Museum in Berlin', and her staged photographs recreate them with 'elaborate painted sets, and cast and crew of artist friends'. 

 

 

 

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Alongside these photographic re-enactments, the exhibition included a set of 100 hand-etched copper plates based on ancient land grants. Pushpamala came across a collection of plates recording land grants given my the kings centuries ago, during a visit to the archaeological museum in Bangalore. ‘fascinated by the forms and their histories, the artist recalled her days as a sculptor and decided to create a hundred of them as a pseudo-archive’. Originally intended as a comment of land-issues today, Pushpamala became enamoured by the beauty of the sprites themselves, and they became a celebration of the elegance of language and the rich heritage of a nation where people crisscrossed throughout the subcontinent and the free-mixing of cultures through trade. 

 

 

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It was sheer luck that brought us to Nature Morte in New Delhi, and, in typical Indian style, we were immediately overwhelmed by a rich array of ideas, colour, imagination and creativity. However, in the cool and tranquil setting of the contemporary art gallery, we were able to slowly and calmly engage with Pushpamala’s wild and innovative ideas and were treated to a politics lesson, a crash course in Indian history and an aesthetic smorgasbord.