Sanjeev Khandekar writes for Chintan Upadhyay 's grand show ahead this week in Istanbul
Chintan Upadhyay is one of the important contemporary Indian artists because he is one of those few artists who could blend the traditional Indian craft with the contemporary concerns and issues in the most pleasant artistic forms. Indian craft has a long sociopolitical history which has been evolving through crafts and art, over a period of thousand years. Art has always been a product of the history which is constructed by several points of political events that coerce and obligate marriages of cultures. Culture as a language translates into art and craft mirroring nothing but our own history.
Chintan's fundamental concern, and therefore interest is the language of art. Hence his art is often a product of his continued anxiety of and about the history. History of his people, history of his region, its geopolitics, and noesis of his own roots are his constant yearnings. He was born and brought up at Rajasthan, one of the regions known for its historical monuments rich in art & craft. From the local vesture to its architecture, and from food preparations to music recitations,Rajasthan is not only brightly colourful, but also displays a passion for a prominent exhibition of colour structures. The syntax and the cytoarchitectonics of his artistic compositions therefore consciously and unconsciously remind us of his regional concerns of local artefacts.
He began his art career in early 90s, when the world was changing. The change was humongous. Politically it was being organised as a unipolar new world. Cold War was over and capitalism had reinvented itself into a new form of crony and carnivalised outlook. Philosophy had begun to think about non metaphysical and beyond human possibilities. Technology of information,digital and genetic invention had created another world within the human world , altering the concerns of body and mind. Virtual was replacing the Real silently. Economies were rebuilt, new money and new rich were appearing on the horizon. The shifting of Sociopolitical plates had begun a new tectonic movement .The world was metamorphosing in a way hitherto unseen by human history. Kafka or Dali, modern or post-modern ,Woodstock or Rage Against Machine were proving to be deficient and not helpful enough to explain the tensions of new world.
Burden of the history and its awareness was reducing thinner,weightless, and blurred. Living in a space,where gravity cannot be felt is not easy. Lightness has become a new property of the emerging world. Chintan is a product of the generation of artists , writers and thinkers, activists,musicians and poets who began to produce in the periods where the weight began disappearing.
Chintan has worked in variety of mediums. Drawings, painting ,sculptures, installations,performances, public art, printmaking, collaborations, - what not is left out? Initially intrigued by genetic revolutionary inventions, and feared by growing capitalistic consumerist never satiating desires, his expression chose to make designed babies, and remained his signature work.The local being threatened, be it be crops, or the food, he understood that the language of life is being uprooted. His computer programmed drawings of babies when became paintings or sculptures began wearing natural and human forms depicted in miniature paintings well known world over as Mughal paintings of Jaipur, Bikaner, Amber, Kishangarh, Ajmer and several such small Rajput States of Rajasthan. Miniatures became his moral choice, a kind of an immediate recluse for an artist to meditate upon.
Dichotomy and duality is what contemporary times present before us again and again, as an identity of our existence, where virtual ‘ real’ presents itself as a real. ‘Real’ blurs or deforms. Not mere contradictions, but the dichotomies of present living in every aspects have been nightmarish blessings in disguise for the new man . He is torn and rebuilt by their repelling forces constantly . Chintan, like a few others of his contemporaries has realised it , his designer Babies, born out of some repetitive computer generated drawings 'avtared' with the skin of five hundred years old decorative miniatures. These miniatures though produced by humble artists & craftsmen had always remained stored in palaces of nobles ,Royals and aristocrats. They bear the signature of feudal past and an aesthetic of Mughal Power. Chintan uses them as a skin-strategically and intelligently almost like a decoy to lure the viewer, the way packaging and advertisements function in the society of consumerism. Many a times, therefore , when he is charged by a section of critics ,as a painter of decorations,I am sure he must be feeling happy inside and laughing mirthfully.Designer Baby, as he rightly calls it, is a saga, a narrative of an absurd repetition, a germination deliberately effected to achieve an effect of a rhetoric , a place to gain its special emphasis. He began his narrative in 2004, producing a few canvasses of these babies, and then till today his 'factory ' of making babies has not been shut down. He refers to his studio as a factory, not exactly in the same way how Andy Warhol called it ; may be something similar to what Hirst practices. The 'studio factory' has several craftsmen each possessing special skills, who work together to produce the design into a piece of art. He produced several hundreds of them in the form of paintings and sculptures in last ten years.
The beauty of an art object is vested in several factors, one of them is its not being what it is called or what it is seen as. Placing a smoking pipe in front of you and not calling it a pipe is one of the extreme examples. Chintan employs the same principle in more dramatic way. Whenever we have encountered his Baby, the first response of the viewer is of that , it is not a baby. It does look like a baby however has been consciously deprived of its ‘baby’ness. So what we have before us is a baby, that does not read as a baby- A baby without a baby in it.
First its supersize alienates it from its being a baby, then comes sometimes an army or a swarm of super-sized baby like objects coloured in bright gold or silver, bearing images of ancient miniature paintings showing animals, gods, goddesses, couples copulating, kings hunting, or women dancing so on and so forth. Each baby having an oversized head on its shoulders, busy doing some meaningless act , and wearing a cold, demonically beautiful and therefore a discomforting smile on its face greets the viewer to its world of wicked absurdities. His babies not just surprise you, they create a subtle sense of fear, ringing an alarm in your senses that something unnatural is on your way to meet you. Each baby is produced out of a calculated computer program, which facilitates artist's ability to bring about numerous and subtle anatomical changes without disturbing its overall appearance as a baby. Therefore the viewer experiences an aberrant and anomalous movement (in the baby as an art object before him,) which is capable of producing even a vicarious pleasure or a feeling of an urgent anxiety. Each movement is mechanical ,each gesture is coded with robotic appearance and each baby representing an alien extraterrestrial being, is what Chintan wants us to encounter with?
Interestingly Chintan's each baby is a male child. It playfully brandishes its male genitals. Question is why does he not create a female form of baby?
One of the explanations has its roots in Chintan's political position, and the other originates from the indian mythological traces that he might be carrying with him. Rajasthan, the region from where Chintan comes from is known for a high number of female foeticides. If a child is identified as a female while doing ultrasound tests many families abort the foetus itself. Many incidents are reported where new born baby daughters are destroyed by the families in most gruesome manner by drowning or poisoning.
Chintan had devoted a separate large solo show coupled with a performance to underline the evils of patriarchy and female foeticides. In this sense of social practices , Chintan's emotional world has no place for a female (child ). The demand for a male child and its delivery through medical science and genetics by charging huge price in terms of money and in terms of resources might have made him create a beautifully ugly and mechanically insane unending narrative of a male Designer Baby. The second reason can be mythological. One of the most popular Indian Gods , across the castes, the creeds and classes, that has even crossed Indian borders to reach and spread in western world is Krishna. The popular household image of Krishna as a child, standing, creeping, crawling or dancing, killing, playing or suckling, swimming, jumping, stealing, or playing flute and even wearing a female clothing to look like a drag queen is found everywhere and all over in India. They are worshiped and celebrated forms. Krishna as a super child is an accepted cultural form. We do find its mirror images further deformed and reformed in the construction of the designer babies that he makes.
Several gigantic and phantasmagoric or even pythonesque forms of gods and demons have been appearing in various Indian temples and shrines for last several hundreds of years. They are celebrated, masks of surreal faces are worn and dances are performed as rituals , supersize human forms are symbols for worship. Like any other Indian, Chintan too grew up with them. His creative urge and energy transformed them into various new objects, one of them is Designer Baby.
by Sanjeev Khandekar
(Sanjeev Khandekar is a well known Indian visual artist,Poet, & writer. He lives and works at Mumbai. )