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Kitschy divinity!

The attempt to place an age-old art form in a contemporary context is acceptable and even welcome. But the manner in which it is done can be questionable, and, at times, even laughable.


THE WALLS of Atrium at Alliance Francaise de Bangalore are filled with pictures of gods — Rama, Krishna, Shiva ... making one wonder whether it is another attempt at the time-worn theme of East-meets-West. In more ways than one, the Baba Anand exhibition titled The Credo Collection is or tries to be. How successful is the attempt could, however, be a matter of debate.

One is first struck about the form. Each of the fairly large-sized works primarily catches attention through its somewhat garish construct — the typical 2D calendar god placed inside and in the centre of the frame around which lies an outer frame. While the inner frame is dominated by typical Indian god figures drawn from early calendar or poster art, the outer frame holds several "floating" objects — mostly European symbols — thus concluding the East-West union. The deep-set box structure and the somewhat gaudy wrap up complete the construct in an attempted 3D format. Thus, and in effect, Baba Anand takes some typical posters/calendars of Indian gods and first decorates them with glittering glass, glamorous beads, alluring metal, and other glitzy-kitschy material. One can also see that little bit of extras — red colour on the lips, for instance — in many of the works. Anand then builds on his works, incorporating or rather decoratively scattering, some typical western symbols on the fringes.

In this exercise of transforming the good old calendar art and embellishing it with kitsch, one cannot lose sight of the inherent playfulness, subdued humour, and even a glimpse of creative energy. The artist also does not indulge in anything that is blatantly and culturally insensitive. He does not, for instance, distort images or mutate expressions. In fact, in most of the pictures, if one were to ignore the peripheral transgressions, the god is thankfully left alone in the centre.


But the question still remains, what do these works purport to convey? They cannot certainly lay claim to be spiritually "evolved" or any such hi-fi bunkum. The attempt to place an age-old art form in a contemporary context is acceptable and even welcome, but the manner in which it is done can be questionable and at times, laughable. Further, while one could swallow the garish twinkling adornments of the godly figures, what is perhaps difficult to digest is, for instance, the stitch of twinkling beads on a Niradambara Shiva, particularly on his forehead, which is considered to be the trademark site for his famous third eye.

The figures of Rama and Krishna are more suited for Baba Anand's decorative impulses. The image of a lonely and longing Krishna fondly, if unconsciously, caressing the sheen of a calf is by itself quite alluring. But suddenly one's attention is jerked by a Mona Lisa picture stuck on the outer frame of the same picture where other objects like the grape bunch, ceramic tablet of a windmill, and gold tinted strawberries along with a pair of boots float around!

Objects just outside the inner frame sometimes jell, but often don't. For instance, in another work, while the Krishna worships the cow, garishly painted dry flowers butt outside and even inside the frame, which is all right to an extent. But what are these other objects — the obvious `European symbols' like the painted kite, penguin, eel, scorpion, tortoise, dolphin, fish, etc. — doing here?


While looking good and pleasant, most of the works do not appear to make any real sense, both in form and content. Is this the only way to make East meet West? one could wonder. Or is this an easy path, nay, a short cut, to take and please the Western world and become `internationally' recognised?

The Credo Collection carries on till May 27.

ATHREYA

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