Susanta Mandal and Ram Kumar | Reflected Verses II

22 October  - 19 November, 2016


Continuing our series of conversations between artists, we bring together works by Susanta Mandal and Ram Kumar. The exhibition presents two takes on the grid, the device that art historian Rosalind Krauss declared as the ‘modernity of modern art’. Landscape in Ram Kumar’s works is distilled into a grid of dynamic lines and planes, always askew and in movement. In Susanta Mandal’s installation it returns to the mundane world, as a series of exposed pipelines, the invisible and precarious lifeline that keeps our homes running. 

Susanta Mandal’s kinetic installations include both ephemeral materials and low tech contraptions with their exposed mechanics. His primary interest is in movement and his installations explore both virtual and physical movement through motors, videos, photographs, light and shadow, among other materials. 

On exhibit are two works - It doesn’t bite II and How long does it take to complete a circle? – that juxtapose the static structures made from glass pipes, steel plates and rods with ephemeral materials like bubbles. They take on a performative quality: In this quasi-scientific, lab-like-setting, the bubbles escape from the structure to explore their own free form, if only for brief moment, before dissipating. Another work looks at a series of drawing that explore the physicality of compressed air.

On another wall hang five drawings by Ram Kumar from the early 1970s. By the early 1960s Ram Kumar had already abandoned the figure inspired by his travels to places like Benaras, Sanjoli, Kashmir, Ranikheth and Greece. These drawings speak of the underlying structure, the grid that Ram Kumar deploys in his paintings which suggest a hint of landscape now turned into a system of interlocked lines and planes. Always askew, the drawings suggest movement and exploration. The link between the perceptual and the conceptual, between semblance and structure, in these drawings and in Ram Kumar’s works in general is something which critics like Ranjit Hoskote and Richard Bartholomew, have written so eloquently about.  

The phrase Reflected Verses comes from the cult literary figure Anna Akhmatova’s homage to her friend Boris Pasternak. Four poets meeting secretly in Stalinist Russia, consigning each other’s poems to memory so as to allow their works to live on. Poetry acquires another dimension when spoken in the presence of someone, tinged with the sharpness of memory and experience. Soliloquies turn into intimate conversations, incomplete utterances, spirited debates, even strident manifestos that remind us of the ambition of art to outlive its makers. They spill over time and place, shining light on forgotten corners, animating new readings and urgencies. Reflected Verses is a series of juxtapositions that act as provocations to the works on display and the spaces they are exhibited in.

Susanta Mandal (b. 1965) studied painting at the Government College of Arts and Craft in Kolkata (BFA, 1990) and the Benares Hindu University (MFA, 1993). Mandal has worked as artist in residence at Khoj International Artists’ Association in Delhi and Britto in Bangladesh. His work has been shown in several exhibitions both in India and abroad and acquired by prestigious art institutions, including the Guggenheim Museum, New York. Most recently he participated in Kochi Muziris Biennale 2014 titled Whorled Explorations.  He is also part of the artist collective Layout, formed in 2012, that is interested in working with construction materials and developing site specific installations which respond to existing architectural structures. Susanta Mandal is the recipient of several national awards and was artist in residence at the Khoj International Residency, New Delhi (2007) and the Britto International Artists Workshop, Tepantor Film City, Bhaluka, Bangladesh (2008). He has had solo exhibitions at the Academy of Fine Arts, Calcutta (1992); Art Heritage Gallery, New Delhi (1998); and GALLERYSKE, Bangalore, India (2007). He also participated in the Nanjing Triennial, China (2008), and SH Contemporary, Shanghai (2008). In 2015 Mandal also showed at the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa, in an exhibition titled "The Contemporary 2: Who interprets the world?" and just last week participated in the festival Intersect, organized by Gati Dance Forum and Devi Art Foundation, where he collaborated with contemporary dancer Rajyashree Ramamurthi to explore the potential languages emerging at the intersection of contemporary art and dance. 

Ram Kumar  (b. 1924) shared with his other contemporaries, the generation of modernist artists in Delhi and Bombay, whose careers as artists coincided with the independence of India, the dream of working in an art language that would be as comprehensible in London or Paris as in Delhi. He left for Paris in early 1950s and studied painting under Andre Lhote and Fernand Leger.  The human condition is the main concern of the painter manifested in his early works by the alienated individual within the city, from the city as well as from himself. In the transitory period, the lines gave way to sweeping strokes of blue and golden yellow lending buoyancy to the painting. In the early 1960s Ram Kumar took to abstract painting after a pivotal journey to Banaras and never returned to figural painting since. Since 1960 his paintings have opened out in sweeps of ochre, viridian and aquamarine, as he mounted his contemplations of the cosmic cycle of creation, dissolution and regeneration. In his paintings of last two decades, a residual geography and a notational architecture have crept into his landscapes. Ram Kumar’s landscapes often straddle the boundaries between abstraction and naturalism, quoting both but succumbing to neither. Ram Kumar has participated in various exhibitions in and out of India, including the 1958 Venice Biennale and the Festival of India shows in the then USSR and Japan in 1987 and 1988.  Ram Kumar has held a spate of solo exhibitions at the Vadehra Art Gallery since the 1990s. An accomplished writer, eight collections of his works have been published in Hindi, as well as two novels and a travelogue. Ram Kumar recieevd the Padma Shri in 1972 and more recently received the Padma Bhushan in 2010.