Are cute animals the best way to promote environmental awareness? Well, perhaps. Why else would environmental agencies have a much easier time raising money to protect individual “charismatic species” as opposed to funding holistic attempts to foster the ecosystems that support them? This very logic has been followed to a T by Pradeep Mishra, who is not an NGO grant writer of any sort, but rather an up-and-coming young visual artist. His most recent show, “Love to Live” which just opened at Palette Art Gallery in Delhi, features a number of large and small-scale portraits of various animals, mostly at maximum cuteness.
Upon entering, the viewer is faced by a crowd of tightly cropped single-animal portraits clustered together on the right-hand side of the gallery. A playful parrot, a thoughtful giraffe, and an inquisitive pink pig all gaze out from their Chinese red backgrounds. While the animals are rendered realistically enough, they are also shamelessly anthropomorphized. A tawny puppy looks so beguiling with its big blue bedroom eyes that one is hard pressed to decide whether the pup is the stand in for a sultry shampoo model or the belle of a hallmark birthday card. It’s too picture-perfect not to be selling something, whether it’s soap or sentiments.
Across the gallery, Mishra offers a startling second set of animal portraits. This time the animals rather than their backgrounds are deep red, and their faces and bodies are made of a sort of dripping and splotchy wash. These are not portraits, but archetypes—silhouettes almost, each one a stand-in for its species. The message is clear. This wall bares witness to the all-too literally bloody demise of these creatures. Perhaps most disturbing is the inclusion of a human fetus among this set of canvases.
Besides it’s shock value, the inclusion of the fetus makes clear the artist’s commitment to life in general as opposed to his making a more specific point about vegetarianism, for instance. Otherwise, many of the non-edible animals such as the puppy or crow would also make little sense. One might argue that this theme has special resonance in a country where philosophies of non-violence and the practical disregard for individual life co-exist with such little visible tension. However, I think the very general way that the question of life and death were juxtaposed do not lend themselves to so specific a reading. While universality in art may be desirable, it ought not be confused with generality.
-- Sophia Powers
(All images courtesy of Pradeep Mishra and Palette Art Gallery.)
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