There is something eerie and disquieting about Procheta Mukherjee’s images. Not that they are macabre or violent in either conception or execution. And yet, the dark subliminal undertone in her works lends them their distinctly esoteric quality. As the young artist remarked: “My images are coloured and fired by my subconscious, dark and scary sometimes and playful at others...They exist in a dreamlike state, hovering on the brink of darkness and light, always trying to grow stronger and wiser.”
Each of her images, be they large canvases or small sketches, come with a tag: not quite a caption, really, more of a quote. It’s difficult to tell whether it is the written word that inspired the image or the other way round. Hence, one can’t quite call them illustrations. "Visual narratives" may be more accurate, as she confesses that she “can’t seem to escape narrative. A need to tell, to show, to delve into and then pull out from seas of faces, masks, persons and places…sadness, happiness, the cycle of day and night, engines, motorcycles, music, water, animals, especially animals and humans... they inspire me.”
Procheta Mukherjee, Furlough; Courtesy of the artist.
It’s not difficult to see reflections of such myriad inspirations in her work. And perhaps because of her grounding in philosophy, apologetics and literature, coupled with a bittersweet past, there is a seamless sense of blurring between the real and the surreal in her images. Utterly believable because of the rootedness in realistic depiction, the manner in which Mukherjee’s subjects float in a mystic fable-like ether lends them a rather Kafka-esque tone. How her figures easily – even animatedly – traverse human and animal forms is a grim and often disturbing articulation of all that lies beneath.
Cities with a strong colonial hangover seem to be another of the artist’s haunting passions. Where narratives are not provided on a platter, she fills in the blanks by imagining the what-could-have-beens. “I walk through a place like Burrabaazar (Calcutta) and find it very difficult to escape the haunting architecture, drawing me to it like a moth to a lamp; a rundown, beat, sullied existence of what used to be full of grandeur, pricks me with questions of what was it like here before, who were the lovers who courted secretly in these lanes, who were the fat-bellied businessmen and money-lenders who lived in these houses, what were their wives like, did they look out these windows?” Yes, there’s an unmistakable stamp of Bikash Bhattacharjee in the oily darkness of such portrayals.
Procheta Mukherjee, I Love You I Don't Want You; Courtesy of the artist.
Her pen and ink sketches, done in “miniature formats”, are a detailed study of architectures – both physical and metaphysical. Almost diagrammatic in their execution, they leave an imprint stronger and sharper than her coloured images. It may have something to do with the painstaking and meticulous attention to detail, or perhaps the stark contrast between the broad swaths of black and white. "I’m sure I’ve read this story somewhere: A fable? A limerick?" is what you’re likely to muse once in front of these images, but the intriguing part is there may never have been such a direct literary reference at all! Chances are you may have had a dream that this young girl just managed to re-create while you stare in full consciousness at its frozen version.
(Image on top: Procheta Mukherjee, The Beautiful and the Damned; Courtesy of the artist)