Scenographer Swarup Dutta raises questions of identity at new solo show, KAW in Kolkata
Renowned scenographer, photographer and designer, Swarup Dutta will be holding his one-of-a-kind, painting exhibition in photographs from mid-Novemebr in Kolkata. Named KAW, the first consonant in Bengali alphabet, the exhibition addresses identity through everyday objects. The set identity of an individual or an object has always disturbed Dutta as an artist and through Kaw, he attempts to crush all preconceived notions and the way we perceive things and gender identity.
The name KAW, too, is very significant since all the interrogative words in Bengali and Hindi begins with the letter “Kaw”, for example, Ki / kya? (What), Key / Kaun? (Who?), Keno / Kyun? (Why), Kokhon / kab? (When?), Kothay / kahan? (Where?) and Ki bhabey / Kaisey? (How?).
The body is a reservoir of memories and is subjected to gaze, presumptions, judgements and biases. Dutta has attempted to question this process of subjection and explore whether it can be freed from all kinds of identity associated with it through ages, in the realms of artistic suspension of disbelief.
Dutta has woven in this labyrinth of interrogation questions about our identities and how we manifest them in our displayed and secret lives, how our identities are constructed and how they gradually dismantle.
KAW also explores the topic of our encounter with nudity in India. We usually stumble before we engage with this volatile pretension. “We are not comfortable with nudity as a society since we always perceive it through the prism of sex, but there’s more to nudity than that. It can be pure and innocent, too. KAW is a personal journey questioning who we are, the customs we follow without questioning, the mythologies we live in and invent every day to survive,” says Dutta, who started thinking even more deeply about nudity and gender identity since his days as a student in the UK, where one of his foreign batch mates mocked at the India practice of phallic worship.
A series of three works – Khelna Bati (Toy Utensils), Armour of Weaknesses and Otherwordly – KAW progresses thematically from a space of androgyny, to the periphery of struggle, eventually evolving into a mutant, ambiguous in both gender and identity.
The three bodies of work raise questions about a few dominant ideas. First being ‘play’. This theme becomes a juxtaposition of child-like indulgence, unfettered dalliance to play-acting in a performative sense. In his work Khelna Bati, the bodies play with each other, with themselves, with an odd collection of kitchen props, which when placed out of the usual sets become weapons, sex organs, costumes and anything imaginable. There is play of power and light.
Armour of Weaknesses show the struggle that the bodies undergo to assume identities other than their own. The slipping in and out of painfully and expertly crafted bamboo costumes in Size 8 is almost like slipping in and out of the real and assumed realities and identities.
Otherwordly takes it to the other end of the spectrum where all lines blur and become hazy. The social construct of identities is relegated to the background to create a world of phantasmagoria. “Mutiny at any level is almost always spearheaded by the outsider, the pioneer, and the mutant,” avers Dutta.
Androgyny is the binding agent in all the three series. “I think we all are a bit of both male and female. The bodies don’t conform to type, shape and size. Issues of identity are leading to conflicts across the globe. It’s time we address these questions of identity and the problems surrounding it, be it sexual, social, political or religious,” feels Dutta.
But Dutta doesn’t want to confine his exhibition to discussions in the drawing rooms of the enlightened middle class. “I want the mass, the very ordinary man to see my works. I want each of us to think and that’s the aim of art in any society,” he reflects. To that end, Dutta has slapped posters in the alleys of Bashonpara in Burrabazar and Banshpara near Sovabazar, in central and north Kolkata respectively, to trigger questions among the locals to attract them to his exhibition.
KAW, Questioning the Identity, is a solo exhibition by Swarup Dutta, curated by Dr Paula Sengupta.
Where: AkarPrakar, Kolkata
When: November 17 –December 14, 6.30 pm to 9.30 pm (Sundays closed)