Exploring India’s rapid urbanization, alienation

by J.M. Hammond

Special To The Japan Times

The art space now known as Espace Louis Vuitton Tokyo was originally part of the luxury brand’s store, designed by Jun Aoki and opened in 2002 in the fashionable Tokyo shopping district of Omotesando. It was reimagined in 2011 as a space for the company to showcase contemporary art, and is now holding its sixth exhibition, “Urban Narratives.”

Eyeing the Kolkata area of West Bengal, India, the glass-walled rooms of the gallery are filled with 11 works, eight of them newly commissioned for the exhibition, by four artists from the region. Curated by art historian and critic Nanak Ganguly, “Urban Narratives” is designed to present contemporary India as it is seen and experienced by Indians today.

Sekhar Roy confronts concerns of alienation amid encroaching modernization through images of city sprawl in his painting “Urban Landscape.” Providing an abstract, evocative contrast to this work is the same artist’s “Skyline,” an installation consisting of acrylic sheets, aluminum and painted panels. At over 6 meters wide and 4 meters high at its peak, it is one of the most immediately arresting pieces in the exhibition.

Snehasish Maity, on the other hand, engages with environmental and other rapid changes taking place in the region, utilizing a spare, graphic visual language replete with symbolism — as evidenced in his painting of a man attempting to smell flowers through his gas mask. In another of his works, Maity makes reference to a leading anticorruption activist, painting her image on a pile of stacked newspapers carrying the various stories of gender discrimination and other forms of inequality that makes up a large part of life in the Indian sub-continent.

Gender issues in the region are further evident in the work of Piyali Sadhukhan. The heads of her fiberglass sculptures of the female form are shrouded in outgrowths from their bodies, making for bloody red veils. Although it is disturbing and uncomfortable, the artist increases the ambiguity of the piece by suggesting a sense of comfort through its title, “Rather Protecting Dream.”

A century ago, the artist Marcel Duchamp showed us how an everyday object can be viewed in a completely new light when shown in a different context. Here, Adip Dutta’s “Untitled” demonstrates the importance of size, taking a common hair clip and sculpting it in fiberglass at a scale of over 1 sq. meter. Turned upside down and opened outwards, the clip’s huge jagged teeth and protuberances look like the teeth and claws of some terrible dinosaur perched on the veranda of Espace Louis Vuitton Tokyo. The inclusion of such works in this intriguing exhibition indicates that while artists may be influenced by the social context in which they work, they are not necessarily bound it.

“Urban Narratives” runs at Espace Louis Vuitton Tokyo till May 6th; open 12-8 p.m. Free. www.espacelouisvuittontokyo.com