Adopting idealism and panache
By Marta Jakimowicz
“Face Two Face”, the exhibition of photographs by Shivaraju B S at Sumukha (May 5 to 26), offers a good example of a mutually enhancing interaction between the artist and the curator, Sandhya Annaiah who ventured to explore the phenomenon of ordinary people with ambitions impersonalising great heroes.
The show which revolves around two local men who have dedicated themselves to playing the roles of Mahatma Gandhi and MG Ramachandran, may not be perfect both craft-wise and theoretically, nonetheless its idea addressing a vital and touching issue in real life make the spectator respond to it better than many a conceptually and aesthetically sophisticated event.
In fact, the amount of direct and sincere naivety, along with a certain roughness of the finish, that remains throughout in the end gels well with such qualities represented by the popular culture subjects of this document-enquiry.
The curator rightly stresses the connection between the mediating of the dual identity by the artist who is also a policeman, the teacher Bagedehalli Basavaraju who becomes Gandhi and Vidyasagar who has internalised MGR. She dwells too on the transformation of the actor’s body into a vehicle for another personality.
Performance, acting with make-up and costumes, has parallels to contemporary art-making and is part of the two men’s routine, but the actual spirit behind it and its manifestations should be linked, rather than with theatre or art proper, with the kind of popular culture paradigms Pushpamala N refers to, from mythological garbs in private rituals to official parade tableaux and to intimate appropriation of cinematic characters.
Eventually, one tends to see the roots here, on the one hand, in the normal prevalence of acting out prescribed roles in political, social and personal areas and, on the other, in the longing for idealism, genuine feelings, individuality and adventure that, against the surrounding materialism and conventionality or paucity of means, finds a vent in imitating mostly film heroes.
One may guess that the starting point for these works were photographs taken by Shivaraju who perhaps instinctively responded to the aesthetically spectacular, within its literal and kitschy nature, and emotionally charged strangeness of the MGR impersonator whom he encountered in his own locale.
His sensitive but still somewhat amateurish way with the camera which oscillates between the straight, even obvious, of description-documenting and focussing on the formally weird proves to be suitable to the endearing naivety and the flourish of the coarse typical to the object of his attention.
He captures in filmy colours Vidyasagar putting on make-up and MGR’s costumes as an actor and a politician, in fact, living as MGR even when among the modest interiors of his family home. The interesting thing was that the curator picked up on this and suggested a confrontation-complementation through Bagadehalli Basavaraju, the more conscious and idealistic Gandhi impersonator who occasionally goes among ordinary people dressed as his silver monument hoping for the tangible presence of the great man’s memory to trigger a sense of values.
Adequately black and white, the shots bring images of preparation, of warmly amusing silver Gandhi going through the normal city to centre round the performances of walking and sitting among school children and humble urban folk. Again, the sincerity of the performer assures that his well practiced, if possibly intuitive, method of staging becomes registered and translated onto the photographic language.
The “4 Strokes” exhibition at the Karnataka Chitrakala Parishath (May 10 to 14) came from four young artists based in the city whose educational background is either in painting or in applied arts.
Representing a technically quite sound but vision-wise perhaps middling level, their canvases, irrespective of the formal training in each case, appeared to aim at evoking not really tangible sensations or referring to broader, concrete issues but turned out oriented to different design effects. One may find the compositions of Srikantha G. and Sunitha Naidu comparatively more competent, the former dealing with problems of a materialistic society introduced by significance-bearing motifs and stylised human or animal figures against flat planar divisions of contrasting hues, the latter preoccupied with her inner moods and excitements symbolised by bright, quick-rotating fans and wavering ribbons whose rhythmic dynamism too becomes framed symmetrically in colourful rectangular segments.
Whereas Sripad Kulkarni’s images of forceful horses are professionally rendered yet tend towards conventionality as he juxtaposes their innate freedom and widow bars, Sahan Sarvi’s inner moods amid natural expanses sincerely assimilate amateurish paradigms combining mannered plant elements and textured pigment areas divided into a little too regular and predictable patterns.