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A radical in Rome
by Muhammad Yusuf May 29, 2014
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Chittrovanu Mazumdar, the Kolkata (India)-based artist, who has been active in the contemporary Indian art scene for more than three decades, and who is represented in Dubai by 1 x 1 Art Gallery, is poised to have an exhibition of his works at MACRO, the Museum of Contemporary of Rome, Italy (Jun. 12 – Sept. 15). Titled ‘And what is left unsaid….’, it is curated by Paola Ugolini, and is the artist’s first solo show in Italy.

Mazumdar’s exhibition will consist of installations, digital works, collages and video and audio installations, among other leading edge works. ‘Undated: Nightskin’, one of the art pieces, has a darkened chamber, filled with looming metal towers mounted on wheels. Disorienting music and inchoate sounds add to a feeling of menace. Military-like in their appearance, the towers symbolise fragments of human experience.

An untitled piece will hang in mid-air. It involves a series of black boxes, which, according to the artist, “float beyond time, finding an existence of their own”. The boxes contain collages of landscapes, jotted notes, anecdotes, body images and also a blank, black frame.

A four-channel video installation has large screens on which, as per the artist, “streams a restless flow of images and sound, interspersed with text”. In accompaniment are flowing water, cries, the lights of a city at night, the wail of an infant, sirens, traffic sounds, stained walls, doors and windows, a female voice pleading, fragments of a diary … in the background the poignant tunes of a sarangi (a South Asian stringed musical instrument) will be heard.    

‘Nights of Matryoshka Dreaming I, II, III & IV’ is a new series of videos, created in 2012. It is made of wood, metal, video and speakers and can be viewed through a small peephole – which makes for very intimate viewing. “It ultimately reflects the viewers’ emotions”, says Mazumdar.

“Their reference comes from the early cinemavala (the person who carried around film images in boxes called ‘bioscopes’), just before the advent of television in the city of Kolkata”, he says.

‘Manifesto’, made of mild steel, copper, lead, archival paper and wood, is Mazumdar’s way of questioning the ephemerality – or endurance - of manifestos. “Is it the nature of the manifesto to be challenged, denied, marginalised, erased – or even resurrected, proclaimed, discovered and then forgotten?” he wonders. “Is there the impossibility of the manifesto?”

Mazumdar shot to fame with a series of large-scale solo exhibitions in Kolkata, Delhi and Mumbai from the mid 80s to the end 90s. They established his reputation for innovation. His multicultural upbringing in a family of artists and writers in Kolkata and Paris, and his own restlessly seeking temperament have led to his developing an international vocabulary and grammar of art which draws on a spectrum of aesthetic, literary and socio-cultural sources and influences.

Starting as a painter, he has explored a broad spectrum of media and technology in his work. His art incorporates inputs from his culturally varied upbringing and a range of eclectic reading in three languages - French, English and Bengali.

His work is characterised by major shifts in style and form – from painting to multimedia environments and sound sculpture. He uses sound, light, videos, photography, paint and other mediums to create works that may not adhere to accepted ideas of art.

He thirsts for new measures and methods and is constantly pushing the boundaries. His paintings can be found in the National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi and several private collections in India and abroad.

“This exhibition is an aesthetic and intellectual journey”, says Malini Gulrajani, 1 x 1 Art Gallery founder. “The title ‘And what is left unsaid...’ points to the unspoken words left unsaid, the words that were never uttered and the pain of not being able to.

“The imagery of Chittrovanu Mazumdar’s work invites us to explore the ambiguous territory of the unexpressed and the uncharted, like clandestine love that cannot be revealed”, she adds.

During an event held to honour the artist, Indian Ambassador to the UAE T P Seetharam, put the matter in wider regional context. “The UAE has a vibrant Indian art community”, he said. “It strengthens Indo-UAE ties”.

He hoped that Emirati artists would show their work in India just as Indian artists showed their works in the UAE. “We are excited about the new government in India and we think the art market will boom like the stock market”, he said.    

MACRO is housed in an important early 20th-century structure located in the northeastern part of Rome. The origins of the museum date back to 1983, when the City of Rome bought the site and decided to transform it into the new Municipal Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art.

In 2001, it changed its name to MACRO, the Museum of Contemporary Art of Rome. The Paris-based architect and urbanist Odile Decq rose to the challenge of creating a contemporary art gallery within a historic industrial structure. He has been spoken of as having managed “the perfect integration of the old and the new buildings”. MACRO is now a meeting place and point of reference for the national and international contemporary art world.

Established in 1996 by Gulrajani, 1x1 Art Gallery has won a name for itself as the hub of Indian Contemporary Art in Dubai and the UAE. It provides established and emerging artists a platform for projects and exhibitions, while engaged in the exchange of ideas with the international art community.

The gallery shows works by Indian artists M F Husain, S H Raza, Akbar Padamsee, J Swaminathan, Biju Joze, Chittrovanu Mazumdar, Mithu Sen, Simrin Mehra-Agarwal, Bose Krishnamachari, G R Iranna, Justin Ponmany, Shibu Natesan, Ravinder Reddy, Riyas Komu and N N Rimzon, among others.

Over the last few years, it has expanded its exhibition programme to include Emirati artists as well as other artists from the region. It has conducted group/solo exhibitions for Hassan Sharif, Mohammed Kazem, Cristiana de Marchi, Layla Juma, Alireza Fani, Khosrow Hassanzadeh and Shaikha Mazrou, among others.

For the last two years, 1X1 in collaboration with Empty10, has been developing an exhibition programme which has been trying to create a dialogue between artists from Dubai and elsewhere. Since its conception, the exhibitions have been supported by a series of critically acclaimed publications, which document exhibitions as well as artists represented by the gallery.

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