Art of Installation Samuel Thomas

art of installation
samuel thomas for nepali times 2000
(two young nepali artists come of age with breath-taking exploration of identity and space)

now, this was an exhibition with a difference. it departed from tentative attempts and was possibly kathmandu’s first effort at “firming the ground” for installation art. but above all it was an innovative exploration of ideas and interactive space that is so crucial to this genre.

the artists, sujan chitrakar and binod shrestha, underwent formal training at kathmandu’s fine arts campus before pursuing further studies at a couple of india’s finest art institutes.

confluence, as the exhibition is aptly titled, mirrored this assimilation of a varied artistic and human experience, tempered and filtered through a modern consciousness. the themes draw inward (with that sense of drifting, of moving back in time, exploring questions of identity) and also looking outward at experience, at the morphing of ideas in the crucible of our time.

the core ideas in the exhibition dealt with experience and the search for ones identity. both artists repeatedly use masks (365 in all, one for each day of the year), to explore the question of identity in time and space.

with sujan, the masks that represent our multiple identities are innovatively presented to highlight the “phantasmal realm into which one plunges, on adorning the mask…the false reality one projects in order to hide the dark demons which lurk below, and the mirror as the projector of that dark truth.”

the bhairav mask represents an inward experience. the symbol of the divine protector becomes a metaphor for the protected inner self which can either be false, evil, good, wise or a beholder of the truth.

e deliberate use of the red mask, contrasted with the black (to symbolise the artists self), represents the true self reflected by the truthful mirror.

an interesting exhibit of sujan’s redefines gallery space. a white room is used as a painting as a whole, and the deliberate use of colour to mark cardinal directions and the placement of masks on the panels form parts of that whole.
the artist also experiments with modern technology (the use of a video monitor to capture the moment and recreate it, the use of photographs and the use of contemporary materials).

another of sujan’s interesting works, titled “which one shall i wear”, had a man lying under a glass table propped up by beer bottles, the masks of nine colours atop the glass top representing the navarasas (the nine emotions of art, according to classical indian tradition).

a friend confessed he “felt like a fool” when he looked into the “room with a view”, an exhibit that takes you back to that part of childhood (through a recurring metaphor-a paper boat) and yet invites you to look inward through the fractured images of yourself in the mirrors and through the mask that stares back at you.

its varied themes, drawing from history, myth and contemporary life, give this exhibition an added dimension. the first exhibit, titled “fish, pyramid and sea”, is an aquarium-topped brick pyramid with the sound of the sea in the background, combining an early christian theme (the fish associated with both christ and bio-history) with the pyramid as a symbol yearning to reach god.

another, titled “are you the betrayer: the last supper”, has 11 moulds made of different materials, with christ represented by an empty gold frame crowned with thorns. the exhibit is complete when the viewer places his face in the empty frame (making him the last disciple). the question then follows: is he the betrayer?

says binod, “it is not the end product that matters…but the process, the process in which i develop a relationship with the surface, material and the subject.”
this consciousness, from which emerges the sound that accompanies the pyramid exhibit, drew him to record the sound of the sea off the southern coast of india, and thereby imbue the exhibition with its recurrent theme of the paper boat-signifying experience, the fragility of a life afloat, of journeying and drifting.

this fine creative effort called for a refined artistic sensibility without being obnoxious. its communicative strength, subtle and strong, marks an adaptation from the rarefied and extremely abstract nature of installation art in the west.
the response has been mixed, and whether or not the exhibition conveyed its true character and message in a place where the first looks appeared quizzical, it stood up and applauded itself.

the exhibition was well presented and curated by preeti joseph, art historian and critic. the exhibition was on at the nepal art council last week, and may be extended if there is popular demand.

the artists held interactive sessions with visitors during which they discussed the exhibits, and are more than pleased with the response.

samuel thomas |