Monday, 20 December 2010

The Dark Side of Devotion - [Review -Mona Rai [Verk], Nature Morte

Emphatic tones of red, black, orange and metallic foil confronted you as you walked through Mona Rai’s exhibition Verk at Gallery Nature Morte, New Delhi, from the 30th of October to the 24th of November. The abstract canvases, despite their apparent vibrancy, were dark in mood and texture. Some of them were burned, slashed and roughly stitched up and/or painted over with patches of fabric and foil. Created with a degree of honesty and exuding a sense of candour, these canvases had an immediate appeal.
Painted in silver with a few black patches in between, the central panel of the triptych Kaal had holes burned into the canvas from which black strings dangled, forming a loose web of sorts. Circular mirrors, similar to those used in Kutchhi embroidery, stood out against the black panel on the left whereas the panel on the right comprised red, gold and silver textile. The lush materiality was seductive but seemed to go no further than merely referring to velvety darkness.

The black, silver and white tones of Chandra & Prabha predictably represented a moonlit sky. Small golden patches on uniformly cut black fabric emitted a warm glow akin to that of electric bulbs seen from tall buildings on a dark night. Bageecha evoked nothing more than an aerial view of a massive flower garden, despite being built up using many pieces of multi-coloured jacquard fabric, pigment dots of various hues, and gold and silver rectangles with mirrors. Malaysian temple-kitsch inspired the two-panelled Shraddha. In the panel on the right, Rai created a geometric mihrab-like space using protruding black screws against a vibrant gold fabric-patched background. The rectangular arch-form was echoed in the panel on the left. Thread and fabric strips in red and gold dangled from both areas like rolls of sacred Mauli thread. There was something decidedly macabre about this depiction – was this Rai’s way of referring to the darker side of devotion?

As an exhibition, Verk hoped to explore the textures of life. Inspite of the largeness of scale, an extravagant use of material that called for tactile improvisation and all the glitter in works like the five-panelled Niyati or the eight-panelled Swarna Prabha, the show fell short of providing telling insights into issues of faith or fate.

Abstract ideas cannot only be presented through the mix of colour and texture. Installation and performance art have investigated complex themes like trust, threat and memory within and without gallery spaces. Rai did manage to create a strong visual and textural quality through her use of unusual materials, but the works remained largely decorative and failed to explore profound ideas effectively.

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