Pooja Iranna and Nataraj Sharma explore common concerns through radically different approaches in their solo shows

Is it possible to have a conversation between disparate works, separated by cities, stylistic approaches, and a whole generational gap? The answer to that question is yes, if the subject that touches both the artists is common. In this instance it is the overlaying of the environment, ensuing travels and the navigation of city and mufassil spaces, and one may enjoy their dovetailing concerns.

Artists Nataraj Sharma and Pooja Iranna are radically different in all the afore mentioned ways and yet one can sense a common concern that runs through both their separate solo shows presented by AICON Gallery, at Bikaner House. The exhibition opened on March 13th and went on till 22nd March 2020.

Pooja Iranna’s quiet protest:

Pooja Iranna, Silently 2020, Video still, 10 minutes

Silently (2020) features a selection from a decade of Pooja Iranna’s work and is curatorially advised by Priya Pall. It explores Pooja’s ongoing relationship with the edifice, the high-rise building and the silently disappearing landscape that is being surreptitiously swallowed by concrete and is played out at a majestic scale in this exhibition. It features a collection of her staple-pin sculptures that have been arranged on pedestals in various configurations, paintings, photo-based mixed media works, drawings and a video work.

Pooja Iranna, Permasive Expansion (2016-2019)
Staple pins and mirror
120x96 inches (Display variable)

This idea of infinite ‘expansion’ ‘progress’ and ‘greed’ is most effectively conveyed through the installation Permasive Expansion (2016-2019), that features the staple-pin sculptures reflected in the shiny surfaces of three mirrors. The work glimmers with the seduction and brightness of the city as the staples-pin sculptures are reflected infinitely in the mirrored surface, indicating that this desire and ability to create high-rises is all consuming and endless.

Pooja Iranna, Assorted Aggregation (2018-2019)
Ink on Acrylic Sheet, 36x72 inches (each panel)

Contrasting this maximalist work is the minimal and deceptively attractive installation titled Assorted Aggregation (2018 – 2019). It consists of finely delineated city grids, rendered with automobile paint, where the tracings of buildings are sandwiched between acrylic sheets and hang from the ceiling on wires. The installation summons the viewer closer and encourages one to mingle among them till one begins to feel claustrophobically enclosed within their close-knit structures. “I want the viewer to be attracted as well as experience the pain of being enclosed and trapped,” said pooja about the work.

In her video work Pooja first pans through gorgeous views of the idyllic forest, with its bird calls, trees, sunshine, hills and verdant pastures. The camera comes to a standstill and is slowly, then rapidly covered with the tell-tale lines of city construction grids which cover the screen and obscure the landscape. This is followed by the warning text: “Forest covers only 30 % of the world’s land mass. According to some studies earth loses 18,700,000 hectors of forest land every year… if this continues, we are in danger of losing our irreplaceable natural resources to the fast-growing urban cover, in only less than a hundred years.”

Pooja Iranna, Intruder Puzzle, 2020
Wooden box with puzzle, 11 x 15 x 3.5 in

Throughout the work, Iranna contemplates the endless process of constructing, deconstructing and reconstructing, and more often than not, just imitating what is going around, even without questioning the need and the purpose of this so-called ‘growth’. We, in this process, quickly outgrow our character and our history, creating clones all around us. In the name of development and creativity we are depleting not only our resources but also not questioning where this is leading us.

Natraj Sharma: The Travelers Log

Nataraj Sharma, Haji Ali, 2020
Oil on Canvas, 72x108 in

On the next floor of the gallery one encounters excerpts from Baroda-based artist Nataraj Sharma’s travel log. “Thousands of kites and crows circling, rising and falling, over the upward thrusting City. Filling the skies with their cries of lament and warning. The view of the megapolis from the sixth-floor window of a three-star hotel…” writes Sharma. Then one is led to his canvas Haji Ali, (2020) a large 72x108 inch work, executed in oils and with photographic references, it captures the thin strip of city sky crowded with images of the kites and crows that Sharma tells us about. We are also presented with low tide at Haji Ali, Mumbai with the little contingent of tetrapods gathered on the shoreline like soldiers from a forgotten army. The sea bed is littered with debris while the water appears in ghostly patches, an apology of its raging selfhood, contained and tamed. And the city looms in the backdrop, it's skyscrapers almost touching the skyline that is infested with the cacophony of birdlife. Sharma presents us with an excruciating likeness of the city and for someone who has lived in Mumbai this image will bring both a lump to one’s throat but also a knot of pain in the stomach, as one becomes aware of how the sea and sky have given way to the concrete; of how the occasional patch of green mangrove trees that used to line the shore have been usurped by the guarding tetrapods.

Nataraj Sharma, Iran, Martyrs, 2020
Oil on Canvas, 72 x 108 in

Sharma writes further: “A cup of tea invites you to pause, sit down, look. A brief journey through the land of true believers. Capitalistic advertisement prohibited billboards proclaim another form of consumerism – that of Martyrdom. Hundreds of snatched in-time portraits of dead young men…” This image of the ‘martyred young men’ appears in another painting that Sharma presents us with. Titled Iran; Martyrs (2020 72x108 inches) this work offers us the slight absurdity of signboards of dead men, in a desolate, slightly arid landscape, where five strange potted plants appear to be standing in the foreground abandoned but also symbolic of the attempt to beautify and ‘normalize’ the precinct.

Sharma’s works have always reflected a multiplicity of influences in its content and form, and are strongly influenced by socio-political happenings across the world alongside his own migrations, since he grew up across Egypt, Zambia and England. He, however, studied and then settled in Vadodara, Gujarat. This entire body of work that comprises large canvases executed in his photo-realist, narrative style that also quotes elements from the Baroda School of painting, is an uncovering of those journeys. Sharma is known for urban landscapes and industrial geometry, as he plays with the various forms that they take, stretching their boundaries and depicting civilization through empty factories and battered machines.

Nataraj Sharma, Urmi School, 2020
Oil on Canvas, 72 x 108 in

In yet another work, (Urmi School, 2020, 72x108 inches) we see an eerie recreation of another billboard with portraits. This time it features school children, who are the ‘achievers.’ They have probably topped in some competitive exams and have been presented as the school’s trophies. It echoes that same sense of a desolate landscape that one feels in Martyrs and we are led to make comparisons between this idea or construction of heroism. We do not get the feeling of a happy playground; instead the figures of the few children who dot the landscape appear bent over with their burden of books. The white school building in the background, cold and impersonal and the school bus appears to hold that same air of abandonment. As is the verdant Persian Garden, an anomaly in the desolate landscape around it, with only the silhouette of ‘G’, (his spouse and fellow painter Gargi Raina) to lighten our mood as she sketches in her note book.

We are left with a mixture of emotions at the end of this exhibition since it delivers its heavy message, that we as a civilization need to pay more attention to our surroundings and our landscapes and our interior geographies as well.

(The exhibition will continue virtually in parts at Aicon Gallery in New York and may be viewed online at www.aicongallery.com)

Text by Georgina Maddox
Images credit: Aicon Gallery

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