It’s an understatement that Anita Dube is a mistress of metonymy. Even the fact that she lifts and airdrops the viewer in the uneasy boundaries of thoughts and things, is also routine by now. Yet, while marvelling at the Lakeeren show of five installations made with ceramic votive eyes, one can’t but state the obvious. What’s not obvious is that, in spite of experimenting with these ready-mades since the late 1990s, she still inspires a fresh pair of eyes.
All five works on display are made with the ceramic enamelled eyes glued on the white gallery walls. These eyes are used primarily across South East Asia as eyes of divine idols, both male and female and are said to hold the essence of divine presence in these mundane objects. The artist first worked with them around 1997 in Intimations of Mortality and Friend and Enemy, Enemy and Friend (both on display here) the former being an angry hive of eyes gathering in a corner where three walls meet. To quote the artist, it was a “huge liberatory moment” for her. Not only this liberated the architectural from a neutral, asexual entity to a sculptural, feminized one but it also liberated the votive eyes from their context of religious darshan to the sexualized gaze. At that junction, along with the three walls, sacred met profane and the profane met ominous.
Yet, just like the darshan of the divinity, these eyes are there to see as well as to be seen. Ache (2012), might seem to have lost one plane in its fifteen year separation from Intimations of Mortality but it has gained in the layers of meaning. The only vaguely decorative piece among the five, it brings up in the mind myths of vulva-encrusted Indra or eye-spangled Jupiter and their aches of lust ricocheting in the bodies of Ahalya and Io, leaving aches of ignominy in its wake.
Though Friend and Enemy, Enemy and Friend (1997), Disputed Territory (2004) River Disease (Version 2) (2010) are years apart in making, all of them raise the artist’s gaze from the personal to the communal. Like in River Disease, a second edition to Disease (River) (1999), the ceramic eyes move across the wall like tributaries of doom. The lines are sharper and angles are more acute in the second version, mirroring perhaps the pessimism of the artist. As Dube suggests, “The eyes are like people for me and this could speak of large migrations in history.” This is as close as it gets to life seen as a sexually transmitted disease. Individuals are reduced metonymically to their eyes, the ghosts in our rotting shells.
Disputed Territory opens up the parallels between the female body and land as territories for acquisition and dispute, misshapen and split asunder by thorny gaze or barbed wires.While Friend and Enemy, Enemy and Friend mirrors the deeply ambiguous relationships of India with her neighbours. The impossible trident like growths at both ends, underlines the absurdity of it all.
A companion exhibition to the Art Entrance Gallery show, this show at Lakeeren might lack the presence of mind-altering Via Negativa (2006), but it’s essential viewing for those who are enthralled by Anita Dube’s characteristic lightness of touch in bringing alive weighty and tangled questions. Here’s to being pushed deeper into the marrow of complexity, with eyes wide open.