Art exhibition, In the Land of Downside Up, celebrates 52 years of Birla Academy, Kolkata

Curated by Nancy Adajania, this exhibition celebrates 52 years of the Birla Academy, showcasing works of satire and black humour by a host of reputed artists

Sharmistha Ghosal Published :  04th January 2019 12:00 AM   |   Published :   |  04th January 2019 12:00 AM

Sahej Rahal's work

The Birla Academy of Art and Culture will be celebrating its 52nd year with a special art exhibition curated by cultural theorist and art critic Nancy Adajania. The upcoming exhibition, titled In the Land of Downside Up: Adbhut Lok, will showcase art works steeped in satire and black humour. Adajania has shortlisted works of a number of Indian contemporary artists, who employ satire to depict the current socio-political fabric of the country and the world in general.

Sumik Nandy's Obsessive Disorder Terracotta and Found Objects

"We are living in an age where our composite and inclusive culture is being torn apart by polarizing forces. These are times when a duck can only be a duck and cow can’t mix with a rooster," says Adjania. Based out of Mumbai, the young art critic tells that since historic days bahurupis and vidhushaks have resorted to dark humour, satire and absurdity to express reality. A rising number of contemporary Indian artists are also employing these strategies to articulate their responses to the world in which they live and must function avers Adajania.

Artist Arpita Singh, for example, overturns the logic of everyday life in her tableaux and seasoned artist Atul Dodiya resorts to humorous Gujarati poetry. Artist Mithu Sen reduces language to echoing sound while N Pushpamala falls back on flamboyant personalities drawn from history, cinema and ethnography.

G NTagore's Millstone of  Castle

While this exhibition will focus on the work of contemporary artists, it will draw sustenance and an archival dimension from the work of the legendary writer and poet Sukumar Ray (1887-1923). A poet, an illustrator, a short story writer, playwright, and editor of the historic children’s magazine, Sandesh, Ray’s semantically robust collection of nonsense verse, Abol Tabol (1923), presages our present condition, feels 47-year-old Adajania.

In the surprising and wonderful universe of Abol Tabol, the rules of grammar are bent to produce a hybrid zoology in which the ‘stortoise’ and the ‘duckupine’ can roam freely. Ray’s compulsive need to mix and meld, twist and join, ensures that nothing is what it seems to be, which acts as an inspiration for the new generation  artists, who are committed to the idea that ‘absurd is the new normal’.

Orijit Sen's Love in the Time of Climate Change, 2014

“When the right to dissent is greeted with grave consequences and an individual or community’s food habits or dress choices can cost them dearly, we can lighten our load, if only for a moment, with satire and humour of the darkest shade” adds Adajania.

The exhibition, Adajania says, aspires to create space both for social and political satire, as well as for reverie, whims and the articulation of private mythologies – all of which are equally important in our time-deprived, work-obsessed late-capitalist economy. “I propose to include artists who work in various locations across India, as well as some who shuttle between India and Europe” she informs.

Artist Sarnath Banerjee's work

 Besides the works of contemporary artists, such as Atul Dodiya, Pushpamala, Mithu Sen, the exhibition, which will be on from January 9, will display works by historically significant painters, such as the eclectic Gaganendranath Tagore, who excelled in social satire. It will also showcase archival material including a facsimile edition of Sukumar Ray’s Abol Tabol; Satyajit Ray’s typeface Ray Bizarre, and his storyboard for Goopi Gyne Bagha Byne, copies of Sandesh edited by Sukumar Ray, Satyajit Ray and Sandip Ray, Satyajit Ray’s documentary on Sukumar Ray, issues of Awadh Punch and Kalighat Pata paintings among others, tells Adajania.

The exhibition The upcoming exhibition, titled In the Land of Downside Up: Adbhut Lok will be inaugurated on January 9 at Birla Academy of Art and Culture. On display until February 9