Sumedh pursued his B.F.A (Sculpture) from the College of Arts, Thiruvanathapuram (1994). He went on to obtain his M.F.A. degree from the Delhi College of Arts, New Delhi (1999). He mounted his first solo show titled Pseudo Homelands, Rohtas Art Gallery, Lahore, Pakistan (2005). This was followed by Street Fuel Blackout, Sakshi Gallery, Mumbai and Vadehra Art Gallery, New Delhi (2006), Maarkers, curated by Bose Krishnamachari, Bodhi Art, Mumbai (2006), Double Enders, National Gallery of Modern Art, Mumbai (2005), Span, Sakshi Gallery, Mumbai (2005), Are We Like this Only, Vadehra Art Gallery, New Delhi (2005), Absolute Equity, Anant Art Gallery, New Delhi (2005), Khoj Open Studio Exhibition, New Delhi (2003), Invasions, a poster show organised by the India Habitat Centre, New Delhi (2003), Heat, India Habitat Centre, New Delhi (2002), Masters Guild, Lalit Kala Akademi, New Delhi (2001), The National Exhibition of Art, New Delhi (1999-2000) and Regional Art Exhibition, Chennai (1994-95) among many others. Sumedh also attended the Khoj International Artists’ Residency, New Delhi (2003) and thereby was granted the Junior Research Fellowship from the Ministry of Human Resources, Government of India (1998) and National Scholarship from the Ministry of Human Resources, Government of India (1993).
As you navigate Sumedh Rajendran’s provocative and challenging sculptural installations you are reminded of J G Ballard’s evocative phrase, ‘atrocity exhibition’. As someone deeply committed to the larger social implications of art, Sumedh has been critically engaging with the pervasiveness of violence in our urban spaces. Given our increasing fascination with large scale, spectatorial violence, where global wars are fought over the shimmering desert of the real, we often tend to overlook this violence in our own by-lanes.
Rajendran sharpens his political critique with an interesting deployment of unconventional materials like ceramic tiles, leather, perforated iron etc. His choice of material is often guided by the social context that a particular material alludes to. For example, in India, one cannot think of leather without engaging with Dalit history and the question of caste. Similarly, the large scale use of iron in our everyday lives encapsulates a larger history of modernity in India and the manner in which it re-configured the contours of our material universe. In his recent body of work, he has been trying to arrive at a radically refreshing formal language that references the everyday with forlorn poetry that reminds you of the wail of an ambulance, as well as the pregnant silence of a forensic lab. Rajendran’s buses, bridges and prosthetic limbs can be read as the carcasses of our urban violence. Perhaps these carcasses can only be cremated in the crucible of our own mind where we are forced to confront the truth, unfettered by ‘fact finding commissions’ or other such fraudulent mechanisms of a treacherous state.
Rajendran’s sense of politics is richly nuanced and he doesn’t necessarily view formal experimentation and political engagement as dichotomous polarities. His approach to object making could be seen as an interesting comment on the very practice of sculpture. Though his objects engage us in their three dimensionality, you realise that formally very few of them are ‘proper’ three dimensional objects. Sumedh extrudes the flatness of a two dimensional form into the solidity of three dimensions. Could one then read the schematised, simplified forms of his cut-outs as a reference to another, equally intense form of violence: the symbolic violence of an erroneous representation? When we start associating a certain kind of urban violence with a particular community, do we not gloss over the complexities and contradictions of a given scenario to create a reified construct that is far removed from reality? The depressing fact is that because they exist as simplified schema, these constructs begin to have a disproportionate influence on our imagination: we start extruding the schema into a paranoid simulation of the real.
There is definitely an unrelenting quality in his work: there is calculated manipulation of highly charged objects that are geared towards making the viewer uncomfortable. And the degree of that discomfort is such that you can never engage with his works within the solitude of private contemplation. The barrage of questions and dilemmas that engulf you as you try to read the immaculate shine of his charred bus, force you to engage with the people around you in the hope that a discussion might ease out some of that discomfiture. One realises that there are perhaps multiple ways of exploring the interactive possibilities of public art.
The artist lives and works in New Delhi