In the contemporary capitalistic dictionary the meaning of love reads ‘a mass produced, large (size varies according to your credit card balance), red, velvety heart shaped cushion.’ The red roses, the CD of assorted romantic numbers, the happily ever after ends of romantic comedies and other market driven forces collaborate to construct and reiterate a meaning of love that has good sales value. Avni Doshi, in her curatorial venture seems to be reminiscing the song written by Bob Dylan in the 1960s which described love as — “just a four-letter word” accompanied by illusions which eventually “blow up in smoke” (Dylan). In “Love is a Four Letter Word” Doshi weaves together the divergent semantic possibilities of the word ‘love’. The artists exhibited mock and satirize notions of love as eternal and sacred. They strip it naked of its lace and scent, leaving it profane in its threadbare four-letter form.
As one enters the gallery space one comes face to face with a pitch black wall that spells “love” in white Braille letters. This untitled work of Bose Krishnamachari questions the dominant notion of love at first sight by endowing meaning in his work that makes sense only when one develops a tactile relationship with it. The work turns the tables on those who singularly rely on the visual to create meaning as meaning is denied to them. Krishnamachari brings forth the aspect of love that can only be known through the tactile else it is a black wall.
Manjunath Kamath’s digital print “Fake Love Story” turns the grandeur of love into a surreal scene. In a room with checkered flooring, Kamath throws in several signifiers of love from various cultural contexts satirizing them in their absolute absurdity. A bride looks into the mirror to find her other half but is met with the horrifying reflection of a husband with an ass’s head. A man ducks under a red sofa to shield himself from Cupid who seems to be aiming at him with his arrow like a vengeful enemy. The perfect world of love seems to have gone completely awry— Pandora, represented as a blonde woman stands next to a pillar opening a box, the man on the white horse is no knight in shining armor but a man in his boxer shorts feeding a branch of red roses to the horse, the carriers of love messages- pigeons flutter all around the room, the resplendent symbol of love – the peacock looks out of the frame, disinterested in shouldering the weight of any such symbolic significance.
Chittravanu Mazumdar creates a massive chariot of plastic roses—love fetishized and frozen in time. The artist seems to suggest that if love is a bed of roses then in times governed by commodity culture, love is a bed of fake roses which ensures no wilting or stench due to rotting. In an oil and acrylic on canvas, “With Love to Sweet Devil”, Chintan Upadhyay explores the theme of violent fertility through the figure of a vicious looking baby crawling on and emerging from the flowers in a bouquet. Below the bouquet is a pool of blood indicating the dark side of fecundity, often associate with love.
There is a suggested link with profanity in the title of the exhibition (“four letter word”) as Doshi attempts take the word outside the sacred box and links it with violence, plasticity and absurdity. She brings forth the idea of love as a construct whose meaning is culture specific and not eternal and universal.
-- Manjari Kaul
(All images courtesy of Latitude 28 and the artists.)