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Khaki shorts and tinsel plots


She clumps gently around the gallery in her long divided skirt, heavy booties and thick pink socks, her neck rising gracefully out of the wide dêcolletage of her feminine shirt. She's a woman looking for something only she can see but which her audience can only understand with explanation. Like her art. Vasudha Thozur, now based in Baroda after life in Mysore, Madras, Croyden and beyond, has a field of vision that transcends the ordinary, delves beneath the obvious and opens into a process of thought that, in its turn, makes the viewer think of more than what is present in line of sight. And what she has presented in her current show at the Sakshi Gallery in Mumbai, The Anatomy of Celebration or The Party Plot, provokes not just thought but reactions, pushing the mind to look at what lies beneath.

There are various aspects to the works on show. One that does stand out and that the artist speaks of is the 'art' plastered on the walls around the vacant lots generally used to host weddings and other public events. There are rows and rows of underwear-clad behinds, attaining a special significance, Thozur feels, with the 2002 Gujarat carnage, when fundamentalist Hindu mobs murdered Muslims in retaliation for a train that had been set on fire, though no one knew by who. The attackers wore their 'Hindu uniform' of saffron underwear, headband and khaki shorts, and saw themselves as upholding Hindutva by ridding their world of anything that could threaten it. The images she uses are underwear advertisements that sprung up almost overnight around the time, she says. There is, in fact, a kind of darkness that hangs over the show, a cloud that creeps into the space unexpectedly, sneakily, spreading from the bone-yard, where the only life is the predators of various shapes and sizes, into the celebration as patches of light and shadow within which anything could lurk.

This progression is shown off in her larger works, strips of images that were not meant to be connected, she says, but made sense when put together in the way they are displayed, one atop the next, becoming 'micronarratives', as she calls them. The digital photographs are given a panoramic spin and stretch not just reality but realise the scale on which these events occur, stretching as they do across the party plot, occasionally into forbidden, unexplored territories that could hide secrets. The out-of-focus pictures add more otherworldliness, allowing the imagination to take over from the intent of the work and the artist's point of view. It all comes from an interesting situation that Thozur finds herself in - she lives next door to a 'party plot', a public space that hosts weddings, parties, celebrations and other gatherings that inevitably involve preparation, people, panic attacks and, always, noise. There is glitter, a degree of glamour - generally of the small town and very tinselly variety - and incredibly high decibels of music, firecrackers and conversation. And, Tozhur asks, does all that add up to 'celebration'?

All this comes to life in her video installation - a small room becomes the party plot, with the viewer immersed in all the sounds and sights of a celebration. The noise is on the edge of being louder than tolerance will take, the images in the video blurred, visually painful, just a collage of flashing lights and sounds that schmooze from Bollywood blockbusters to an emcee to ghazals to people talking about other people. While 16 minutes is a mere moment during a celebration that could be in progress on the party plot, it becomes an irritating eternity in an art show where comprehension is any which way limited by repetitive and oversizedly pointilist images of light through venetian blinds or pictures that have more technique than story-telling to their credit. "There is such violence, " Thozur says as she watches her own work, when money is stuffed into the mouth of a reveller in a wedding procession. And there is indeed violence, in the feeling and the reactivity that all that she presents evokes - the bones, the blurred lights, the unfocussed photographs, the concept that remains, to a great extent, buried within the artist's mind.

('The Anatomy of Celebration or The Party Plot' is on at Sakshi Gallery, Mumbai, till October 29 )

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