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March '07

art gallery
New Delhi

Curated by
Johny ML


  • Charming Nation
  • Come Have A Meal With My King
  • Copy Of Poetics of fear
  • Greenwich mean times
  • Mama My Kite Is Still Flying
  • Necessary evil
  • On my way to museum
  • Poetics of cosmic orphans
  • Smoke Goes Up Smoke Goes Down Your Search For Me Is Always On
  • They Will Manage My Hunger
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Can our Histories be re-written?

Asks Amrita Gupta Singh in her thought provoking review of the latest works by N.S.Harsha, presented at the Chemould Gallery, Mumbai.

“Anyone with the slightest understanding of how cultures work knows that defining a culture, saying what it is for members of that culture, is always a major and a democratic contest. There are canonical authorities to be selected and regularly revised, debated, reselected, or dismissed. There are ideas of good and evil, belonging or not belonging (the same and the different), hierarchies of value to be specified, discussed, re-discussed and settled or not”. – Edward Said

Charming Nation, N.S. Harsha’s first solo show, presented by Gallery Chemould, articulates a microscopic scrutiny of the whole debate of “belonging or not belonging”, of traditional or colonial heritage and the glocal reality, and anxieties of the post-colonial self. Is the world flat? No, its not, it is decidedly spherical, with competing identities. Do we have the choice to define our own realities and futures, what are our constraints and freedoms, what are our gains and losses and what is charming about our nation? Globalization is the word that describes the changing relationships between governments and global businesses, its contracts define lives of the so-called Third Worlds, and its modules impact the ingrained aspects of host societies. In this exhibition, Mysore-based artist, Harsha raises these questions and takes a categorical political position, mediating aspects of the global and the local via the sieve of his native city- Mysore. Harsha, after graduating from Baroda, did not migrate to the metropolitan art centres, but returned to this temple town and made his subject, depicting its everyday realities while locating his larger concerns in Mysore’s dialectics of internal and external identities.

A painter who has explored installations, site-specific and collaborative events, Harsha’s art is intricately bound to his environment, and the traveler in him carries memories of his journeys across continents, of encounters and contexts that change with time, space, gaze and glance. Not a fulltime studio artist, his journeys weave into his artistic process as experiential dialogues with objects, people and places, where pasts and presents meet, “of eternal rhythms that bind the human to the organic, the personal to the cosmic, and the social, even the political”-(Marta Jakimowicz).

Drawing is the preliminary site for Harsha’s work, of the rhythmic, lyrical line rendering humans, animals and objects, underscoring an intuitive spontaneous approach. The pedagogical approach in Baroda that stressed on the miniature traditions as an alternative modernist paradigm definitely left an influence on his art practice, but he has looked beyond, to both Western and Eastern art practices, folk forms and popular art, including school textbooks, calendar art and street graphics, taking what becomes him and discarding the rest. One could relate the calligraphic lines that contour his forms to be an amalgamation of miniatures, popular Chinese art, and the South Indian clay dolls/toys that sit on the shelves of his studio. As Harsha says “ I consume, I like spending time with all kinds of art…doesn’t matter from which part of the world, I have all these characters from different places/contexts/art historical references…because I am a traveler, I just can paint anyone now”. Another source of his images is the Internet, from which he downloads and redefines their original contexts. Revealing an interrogative and playful sensibility, Harsha is also interested in the creative connections between art and science, in the consciousness and thought processes that delineate creativity with his work crisscrossing in both the lab and the studio.

The present suite of twelve paintings were made between 2004-2006, when Harsha was traveling frequently, and the works portray myriad images from distant lands and his home, sometimes intimate, sometimes fragmented, with Mysore becoming the prism through which he articulates concerns of the nation-state vis-à-vis globalization. Being a place of tourist value, the pace of change in Mysore is not frenzied; the supplements of new images, concepts and technology transform the everyday in multi-directional ways. Departing in many ways from his earlier work, the paintings do not vary in size or compositional format, painted as they are in the form of a room, in the colour of the soil. As Harsha says, “I wanted to create a small little happening in my studio, hence created this room, a theatrical device, which allowed me not to think about space for every painting, these are investigations of the global in local… I read theories about globalization and went out to the streets of Mysore, to find out what is the universal and global in my surroundings”. Human figures, white, brown and black, act out their roles like actors, with props, scenery, banners and a painted backdrop that contextualizes the various stories that Harsha tells us. These paintings function “like the elements in model boxes of the kind that theatre designers use to simulate the stage on a miniature scale- the artist himself describes these spaces as court rooms where things are brought together to be judged” – (Grant Watson). As these paintings were done over a period of two years, such a compositional scheme allowed Harsha to spontaneously insert the memories of his sojourns, where some paintings have coherent stories while in others, multiple ones are enacted.

As India progresses from a heritage-nation to a technology savvy one, its integral traditions, religions and cultures, aspects of its grand civilizational past that exist effortlessly in the present become increasingly commodified. From Colonialism to Neo-Imperialism, the politics of power, its shifts and maneuvers, the deceit and intrigue, the gains of the influential at the cost of the masses, both in historical and real time, coalesce in Harsha’s paintings. The cow, a sacred symbol in India, hemorrhages while being bathed, the farmer is in handcuffs as he is unable to pay off his debts, while school-children carry a banner – They will manage my hunger- while pointing out to a painted representation of the World Trade Center. The snake-charmer, sitting on a broken temple pillar gets bull-dozed; will he remain only a memory in history textbooks?

An exposed human brain lies idle, while characters from Indian mythology and across geographical boundaries gleefully take part in a dark dance of shooting arrows, spears and rockets, pointing out to the mindless violence that saturates human existence; what is the future of our charming nation and the world at large? Heritage is glamorized in order to bring revenues, an empty throne of the monarch of Mysore, like a picture-postcard, flanked by elephant heads and gate-keepers, presides over a traditional Indian meal laid out to be consumed; A human skeleton (the impoverished masses?) sits beside a group of Brahmins performing a yagna with the Columbia rocketshooting up to space in the painted backdrop, but there is also hope in the fires/smoke of the yagna which meets the fires of the rocket; the hope for new cosmic energies, for a redefined human consciousness that would restructure the parameters of national vis-à-vis global developments, there is hope in the halos of the many school-children who appear in the paintings,  there is hope in the peaceful sleeping figures who are all dressed alike in white, traversing barriers of geography, culture or identity while the cosmos with the earth waits for these figures to wake up and re-write their histories. Through such profound visual poetics, Harsha imagines of an alternative world order, waiting to be healed, waiting to be restored.


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