BY MOEENA HALIM

India Today - - FETISH -

ccord­ing to the Rig Veda, when a sage opens his eyes to the world, he

all the mul­ti­plic­i­ties of the world with that one look. He in­ter­nalises them and re­flects back to the world as much as is taken in. It is this phi­los­o­phy that lends it­self to the 2016 Kochi-Muziris Bi­en­nale theme Form­ing in the Pupil of an Eye. Mumbai-based artist Su­dar­shan Shetty, who took over as cu­ra­tor of the Bi­en­nale last year, has a par­tic­u­lar fond­ness for Vedic phi­los­o­phy, just as he does for In­dia’s an­cient arts. Shetty grew up in a house­hold rich with po­etry and mu­sic—his fa­ther was a Yak­sha­gana artiste—and it is through his works of art that he re­flects all that he has in­ter­nalised.

His lat­est A Story A Song, a set of films and wooden struc­tures cre­ated in as­so­ci­a­tion with the Rolls Royce Art Pro­gramme, is in­spired by a folk­tale about a woman who holds on to a story and a song un­til one is turned into an um­brella and the other into a shoe. When her hus­band re­turns to find these ob­jects at the thresh­old of their home, he ac­cuses her of in­fi­delity. It is at the house of lights, when he over­hears the lights nar­rate her tale that the truth dawns on him, but by the time he re­turns home, his wife has al­ready lost the story and the song she had sup­pressed.

“The moral: if you have a story, you must tell it,” says the artist. Be­ing ob­scure is not Shetty’s style. It is im­por­tant to him that the story and its mean­ing is un­der­stood. Ap­pro­pri­at­ing a lot of con­ven­tions of Hindi cinema such as the el­e­ment of mu­sic and melo­drama, he tells and retells the folk­tale through two films which he screens si­mul­ta­ne­ously on two dif­fer­ent screens side by side. He in­tends that the au­di­ence lives it by walk­ing through the two an­chor­ing wooden struc­tures—the woman’s house and the house of lights, where her hus­band achieves en­light­en­ment. “Watch­ing the films and then ex­am­in­ing the struc­tures ren­ders the story sec­u­lar. The viewer can be­come part of the story in some ways. It’s like play­ing with the no­tion of what’s real and unreal and thei­dea of myth and the em­pir­i­cal source of things,” says the artist.

Just like the woman in the le­gend, the folk­tale had been brew­ing in the artist’s mind for decades. “I heard this tale when I was a child and it is one that has re­mained with me since,” he says. His first at­tempt at a retelling didn’t quite work out, but when the Rolls Royce Art Pro­gramme came along, Shetty saw it as the per­fect op­por­tu­nity to go back to it. “What I’ve re­alised is that you must tell sto­ries any way you can. Retelling over a pe­riod of time may al­ter the story, but I don’t see it as a bas­tardi­s­a­tion but as a le­git­i­mate change, which is the only way it can sur­vive,” he says.

He looks at the past for in­spi­ra­tion but man­ages to con­tem­po­rise the sto­ries through his art pieces. His other re­cent ex­hi­bi­tions,

Shoonya Ghar (Empty is this house) at the Na­tional Gallery of Mod­ern Art in Delhi as well as Who must Write these Lines, are based on tra­di­tional po­etry. “We have a huge trea­sure of tales and I’ve been work­ing a lot on how to bring these into an­other space, one that comes with a dif­fer­ent set of ex­pec­ta­tions,” ex­plains Shetty.

At the JJ School of Art, he was taught the specifics and the con­di­tions at­tached to mak­ing and ex­hibit­ing art. It is some­thing he be­gan ques­tion­ing soon af­ter he grad­u­ated. “There’s a huge di­ver­sity be­tween what’s in­side the mu­seum or gallery space and what’s out­side. One of my ef­forts has been to bring that life in­side the gallery space, cre­ate some fa­mil­iar spa­ces and talk about larger is­sues that might be un­fa­mil­iar to a lot of peo­ple.

Cinema or dra­mat­ics seem like one way to achieve this, in a way that it per­forms it­self in a gallery space that is meant for con­tem­po­rary arts,” says Shetty. Look­ing back at the past ex­am­in­ing tra­di­tion and his­tory, ac­cord­ing to the artist, is an im­por­tant way of look­ing for­ward.

Aas­sim­i­lates­su­dar­shan sheTTy poses aT The house of lighTs (mumBai) , which rep­re­senTs The puB­lic space in his nar­ra­Tive The in­Te­ri­ors of The house, made us­ing re­claimed wood and an­Tiques from chor Bazaar in mumBai

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