With the Asian Games less than 50 days away, and India’s capitol in a state of utter disrepair—not to mention the scores of underpaid and overworked migrant laborers who have flooded Delhi, as well as the country’s other metros, to build not only shabby stadiums but countless high-rises - one would expect a few more signs of popular outcry. But street graffiti is conspicuously absent. The buildings, even when crumbling and monsoon-stained, are largely left unmarked by political slogans, declarations of love, philosophies of life, or even the simple sentiment of narcissism expressed with the signing of a name. (1)
The Guild’s latest show, “I Think Therefore Graffiti,” is an interesting institutionalized response to this rare activity or, considered within the gallery context, “underdeveloped genre.” The show is studded with big names such as Atul Dodiya, T.V. Santhos, Bose Krishnamachari, Mithu Sen and Riyas Komu, along with some slightly less established figures from across the country. Much of the work is instantly attributable, as it has been done in the respective artist’s signature style. Dodiya, for instance, contributed a garage door, while the panel done by Sumedh Rajendran looks like a straightforward translation of his sculptural forms into 2-dimensional silhouettes. It was clear that some artists, however, took the unfamiliar terrain as a cue to get a bit playful. Along with his spray-painted garage door, Dodiya contributed a smaller block of cement with a miniature copy of one of Motherwell’s most recognizable designs dripped onto the surface in muted grey. This little gesture towards the size-obsessed masters of gesture-based expression gave me a little art historical grin—a Mona Lisa smile for modernism. There was also a video that emphasized the process-based nature of graffiti, as well as an attempt at post-modernizing the whole endeavor by installing a computer into the space and having a facebook “wall” for graffiti. While I’m all in favor of the idea, it was not clear whether there was enough engagement to really justify the avant-gardism.
If viewers are perturbed by the irony of some of India’s biggest names taking up this inherently anti-establishment non-art in one of the most established art galleries, then good! And good for Guild for inciting such questions and entering a decidedly charged and uncharted realm between art and something else.
-- Sophia Powers
(1) The exception, of course, would be Calcutta, where political slogans abound. In fact, I was surprised that there was not more of the show that explicitly reflected on the political tagging culture of Cal.
(All images courtesy of Guild Gallery and the artists.)
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