You step into a room as white and stainless as the background of this page, and recoil as the canvases pierce out from the serenity of their host walls Their sharp, jagged, raw, skeletal angles converge right between your eyes, krishsh: you have been shot.
You die and are reborn: Asim Waqif’s sculptural canvases are simultaneously jarring and hopeful. In “Build-Quake” above, he utilizes museum board to create a protrusion from the canvas, such that its normally flat layout forms a three-dimensional perspective in the triangulated shape of a dog’s skeleton. The background is a photo of an abandoned site, and from behind the jutting bamboo strips emanates the light of a CFL light bulb, thus commenting upon the sustainability of both physical architecture that shelters us and the fast-depleting natural and human energies that keep us alive and compassionate.
Waqif’s canvases entitled “Dress My Bitch Up,” make deliberate the lines and perspectives of abandoned buildings by tracing wire and metal (found on-site) along the structure’s framework. Then, a physical skeleton of a dog (also found) juts out from the photograph, and tracing its shape are the imagined walls of growth. The entire canvas comes alive in a deathly way, transforming into the skeleton of a decayed, rotted being.
But the artist’s work is not simply a large metaphor brimming with symbols and social commentary. Rather, its startling aesthetic of darkness and light, of fractals and texture, and of the physicality of the work’s multiple dimensions draws you in. Remarkably, the path between dimensions is concrete: the wire in the photograph extends off the canvas as the “real” wire that powers the light bulb.
Waqif’s video takes us on a guerilla journey through an abandoned site of Delhi, where the artist began constructing an elaborate installation with materials found on-site. He narrates his woes about illegal buildings, about abandonment, about lack of shelter and destruction in general. At the end, it seems as though his own installation is crumbling. To create a foundation from withering stone is like frying an egg in no oil: the result will be scrambled and useless, he seems to hint. His politely sarcastic “Thanks to the Supreme Court for Listening” cuts you hard, and threatens no less than the sharp canvases themselves.
As a student and now a visiting faculty member of The School of Planning and Architecture in Delhi, Waqif seems to be intimately familiar with space and how is it misused in a city that has yet to house millions. He explores, successfully, our dependence on architecture, and how the spaces we inhabit reinforce our socio-economic identity. Just as the found objects on his canvases are displaced from their original site, so are the thousands of people on the sides of Delhi streets. But when we look further, into the ‘skeleton’ of these structures, we realize that we must begin again. In rebirth there is transformation.
The juxtaposition of Waqif’s shambles of buildings with the almost angelic whiteness of the clean, blank gallery walls is stark. Perhaps this contrast sets the stage for the curator of this exhibition, Heidi Fitchtner, to introduce Prayas Abhinav. Abhinav creates a site-specific installation of a white, thermo core wall, punched in by a fist (the process of punching is displayed through a video beside it), exposing two drawings lit up from behind. The installation is called “Breaking a Wall is like Breaking Silence,” and though the work claims to tease out a variety of social issues, in this particular setting, it seems to mock the illusion of cleanliness and permanence of the gallery itself. Asim Waqif’s dilapidated structures, thus, extend into the gallery, which has itself been deconstructed with a false wall, pleading with institution: “can art really make a difference within the safe, white walls of a gallery?”
The answer, at least for Seven Art Ltd, a small basement gallery that somehow seems to generate an energy much larger than its space, is “Yes!” In questioning larger ideas of time and history and destruction and construction through such microcosmic visual anecdotes, this art will make you step outside and question every iota of space that you inhabit. You may have been reborn indeed, with new eyes in a world of bright, white, energy-efficient light.
(Images courtesy of Seven Art Limited and Asim Waqif.)