To home page

Annual Display in Baroda »


Annual Display in Shantiniketan »




Darpan - KS Radhakrishnan Eunuchs- Pablo Bartholomew

Darpan: Problems of Gaze

Darpan, a group show curated by Uma Nair problematizes the issue of ‘mirror’. Though her concept is strong, the show as a whole fails to handle the issues of ‘gaze’ and ‘other’, feels correspondent.

Thirty two artists and mirror as a philosophical metaphor; that is the essence of ‘Darpan’ curated by Uma Nair for Delhi’s Nvya Art Gallery. The show was inaugurated at the ball room of the Imperial Hotel and later it was shifted to the Academy of Fine Arts And Literature a k a Arpana Gallery at Siri Fort. A show seen in two different settings makes a lot of difference to the viewing experience. The show that looked ‘curtaed’ at the ballroom space now looks a bit cramped and arbitrarily done at the limited space of the Arpana Gallery. Space as a problem becomes so pivotal and pertinent especially when the show is predominantly wall based.

My intention here is to overlook the issue, ‘space as a problem’ and debate the theme of the show. Uma Nair in her well documented and argued curatorial note has brought out the relevance of Darpan, ‘Mirror’. Right from classic literature to modern art, mirror has played the role of a metaphor as well as a philosophical issue. Freud and Lacan place mirror as a surface of reflection that imparts the sense of identity to the developing human being. And as a metaphor, mirror functions as a ‘space of refection’ itself. It not only asserts the identity but it facilitates the consumption of that asserted identity. Mirror ceases to be a mirror when the thin line between the subject/object binary is collapsed in the act of identification and consumption. Narcissism becomes a 24x7x365 ritual if one is forced to live in an environment where the facades are made of mirrors.

Mirror could be a surface of alienation. It creates the ‘other’ or in other words, it creates an ‘other’ out of the subject who gazes at the mirror. In modern art, we see the employment of mirror as a metaphor contributing towards the other-ing of subjectivities. Subject becomes an object of gaze within its process of gazing. The mirror image renders the subject into the realm of object and the reflected image becomes another object of gaze. Gaze as a powerful weapon of the subject to negotiate its social positioning becomes weakened in this process. The woman, who sits engrossed at her own image reflected in the mirror, becomes an ‘other’ to herself and to the reflected image.

In this alienation process, the external gazes that objectify the subject and its reflections come to have an upper hand. Most of the artists in this show are seen working on the theme of the woman looking at the mirror. They try to negotiate the gaze using certain pictorial devices. However, I would say that Darpan as a concept has forced most of them to deal with the female body as an object that gazes and being gazed at. Very few of them have tried to problematize the concept within the pictorial format.

K.S.Radhakrishan, in his sculpture, very consciously deals with the issue of ‘other-ing’ by creating the illusion of a mirror using space and by placing his favorite characters Musui and Maiya as mutually reflected images. They are not objectified in the process. The photographic works of Pablo Bartholomew deliberately resist external gaze. In one of the works, he portrays his own room with a mirror and a reflection of his body on it. Though the self/body is brought in to play, the subjectivity of the artist is asserted with the paraphernalia of his studio, which is shown in the forefront. A counter gaze is well placed in the form of a switch that doubles up as a mechanical device as well as the artist’s phallic other.

Iranna’s work titled ‘U-G’ seems to be neutral as he deals with the myth of Narcissus in his personal style. Here neither the subjectivity of the artist nor the objectivity of the images holds the attention of the viewer. Ram Rahman uses an album photograph as a ‘mirror’ to reflect on the socio-cultural and political fabric of the country. As usual his is an intelligent take on the image in question and the artistic cleverness should be appreciated. Krishen Khanna (though Uma Nair’s inspiration came from his work) and A.Ramachandran are veterans. While Ramachandran clearly objectifies the woman’s body (unlike the woman who looks straight back at the viewer from her mirror reflection in his famous Yayati) Khanna philosophically deals with the nature of reflection. How does one hold the sky/moon that is reflected in a pool/pot?

With due respect to Uma Nair, my friend and fellow writer, I would say fifty per cent of the works could have been edited from this show though they have suitably reflected the curatorial note (as if it were a mirror) in their works. They did not find this curatorial mirror is concave and convex at different places, offering opportunities to have varied reflections. Pradeep Das Gupta could see it. He takes out the mirror from the closets and sees images reflected on the metro rail windows and urbane facades. Why couldn’t many artists in this show think differently like many contemporary artists who have used mirror (or polished surface) so effectively? Names like Subodh Gupta, Chintan Upadhyaya, Jagannath Panda, Ashutosh Bhardwaj come to my mind, but they are not in this show.



Home About us Contact