The Observer’s Reflection
The human face is extremely enigmatic. What impact does a painted, drawn or printed face have? Can an artist’s rendering of a portrait go beyond its surface likeness and convey something deeper, more meaningful? Could a face become a comment on society, a world event, or say something about the inner world of the character depicted?
On May 1, 1954, Akbar Padamsee was asked to remove two paintings from his exhibition at the Jehangir Art Gallery in Mumbai (then Bombay) on charges of obscenity – “Lovers No. 1” and “Lovers No. 2”. Both works showed nude couples. Padamsee refused. A famous court case followed and the judgment given by M. Nasrullah, stated “…the pose, the posture, and the facial expressions which I must say are calm and devoid of any glamour, I fail to see how these pictures can come within the purview of section 292 of the Indian Penal Code. I must therefore acquit the accused.” Padamsee, and possibly art, was acquitted based (partly) on the expressions the faces of those lovers communicated.
Artists across the globe in every medium imaginable, have been fascinated and challenged to capture the internal state of mind that facial expressions can reveal or hide. In the terracotta works of K G Subramanyan which were the artist’s response to the Bangladesh war of 1971, Subramanyan fashioned leathery faces with clay, some screaming in agony, others expressionless, revealing the politics of that time. Another arresting image of the most famous visage that came to represent the Bhopal gas tragedy in 1984 was a photograph taken by Pablo Bartholomew of the frozen face of a dead, blinded child. This devastating image shook the world as it powerfully depicted the callousness of large industries in their pursuit of power and self aggrandizement. Akbar Padamee’s series of lithographs and watercolours, entitled “Faces” (2000s), were born of his “artistic contemplations…exploring the inner depths of human emotions…and delving deep into the inner anxieties of his figures and projecting their alienation through their faces” (Premjish Archari, 2013).
The Observer’s Reflection asks the spectator to examine the faces staring back at him. In Pallavi Singh’s works, features are clearly defined and neutral expressions seem to be the norm. Does such a treatment reveal the artist’s desire to challenge and question societal expectations, norms, and standardized conventions? Pallav Chander’s energetic brush strokes create images reminiscent of Rorschach inkblots. Can one sense that these frenetic stokes reflect the uncertainty of the individual’s interaction with the world? Susmita Chowdhury’s collages on the other hand, are focused less on the outside world and more on the inner ruminations of a person. And what happens when you strip the face of all its features – replacing it with a series of diagonal and horizontal strokes? Featureless faces in Aban Raza’s serigraphs move us to reflect on fleeting moments that relate to the essence of being. Complementing Raza’s work are the paintings of Avijit Dutta, where the faces of his protagonists are completely hidden. The artist allows us to only imagine what their facial features, expression and intentions could be. On the other hand is Dutta suggesting that the inanimate object, in this case a common shopping bag, that replaces the figure’s face, has become a symbol of want?
26 Apr - 15 Jun 2023
Aban Raza, Avijit Dutta, G. Reghu, Pallav Chander, Pallavi Singh, Susmita Chowdhury
Paintings & Sculptures