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Red velvet, grey shades
Sakhshi Mahajan, a young Delhi-based curator, has long admired the work of Jean-Michel Basquiat, an American graffiti artist who lived in a cardboard box in Washington Square Park, New York City. Basquiat used his art to make strong political and social statements focused on "suggestive dichotomies", or the polar differences between classes and societies.
It was this divergence that Mahajan focused on in a show she recently curated. Called Suggestive Dichotomies, it was atypically conceptualised as a "theatrical experience" aimed at controlling or guiding audience reaction. For this, Mahajan brought together two very disparate artists - veteran artist Kanchan Chander and fashion photographer Ridhima Sekhri. Mahajan's idea of playing with a duality was to use two separate works by the two artists and a third work in which both of them worked together. The three distinctive and opposing viewing stations were termed Vainglory: The Outer World;Rebirth: The Inner World and Deconstruction.
The styles and medium of the two artists are completely different. Chander works on iconic photos of celebrities such as Greta Garbo, Audrey Hepburn, Madhubala, etc. and then uses discarded, everyday objects such as wrapping paper, kitsch stickers, sequins, old keys, nuts, bolts and spoons to embellish her globally recognisable portraits. The work is dense and has a traditional Indian look.
Sekhri, on the other hand, plays with minimal colours and prefers the washed-out look. Rebirth is made up of black-and-white studio portraits of models in headgear from around the world. "I used black and white because I wanted to put them in a studio space and explore how a white background constitutes a neutral territory. I removed colour completely because colour is very suggestive of race and culture, " says the 23-year-old.
Chander and Sekhri met at Deconstruction, where Sekhri's portraits were ornamented by Chander, but only the headgear bits. Was it like walking on eggshells when it came to playing around with someone else's art? Chander agrees it was not easy to work together;especially when it meant altering an object permanently. "I go overboard sometimes, " she says. "I am not really a minimalistic kind of person, so I had to stop myself. I didn't want to do injustice to someone else's image. " Sekhri admits that initially she was a little concerned as well. "She does heavily embellished stuff and I didn't want it all over my images because the value and quality of the images are very high. They are shot on a Hasselblad camera that uses medium format film. So we collectively decided that she would embellish only the headgear. "
But what set the exhibition apart was the way it was staged. It was laid out as a guided tour and viewers were not allowed to wander at random. Maintaining the sequence of viewing was essential. So, while Chander's section on Vainglory involved red velvet and tight, focussed lighting, the collaborative section was doused in dull, neutral, grey tones, and Sekhri's was completely desaturated, except for a few shades of red.
The exhibition is on at A-10 /6, Vasant Vihar, New Delhi, till November 5
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