TRUTH AND BEAUTY
Mass propaganda discovered that its audience was ready at all times to believe the worst, no matter how absurd, and did not particularly object to being deceived because it held every statement to be a lie anyhow,” the political theorist Hannah Arendt wrote in The Origins of Totalitarianism. Arendt’s words from 1951 ring terrifyingly true in our posttruth era, when opinions are shaped by emotional appeal rather than fact. “Facts remain robust,” the philosopher Bruno Latour recently told the New York Times, “only when they are supported by a common culture, by institutions that can be trusted, by a more or less decent public life, by more or less reliable media.” As that common culture breaks down, our belief in any statement comes to depend on who is making it and to whom it’s being addressed.
In ‘Babur ki Gai,’ an exhibition curated by Advait Singh now showing in Delhi, 19 artists respond to this ‘general discrediting of the truth’ by repurposing myths for our times. Singh’s individual curatorial notes are informative (and charmingly handwritten). But his conceptual statement is plagued by the repetitive verbosity of contemporary artspeak. Sample: “By locating the point of origination of the myth in the conditional future, the fleeting ‘nowness’ or topicality of contemporary mythologies can be conserved.” The political claims made here—myth-making as a response to the breakdown of facts and science—can feel a little grand for the playfulness of most works on display.
Priyanka D’ Souza’s titular work, for instance, is a Mughal miniature style triptych traversed by a cow turning its rump to us, or half-hidden by the decorative margin. Claiming these as “lost pages from the Baburnama folio” lets the artist tap into our fauxhistorical zeitgeist by adding her own ‘alternative facts’. Priyesh Trivedi’s ‘Adarsh Balak’ series cleverly transposes the poker-faced ‘ideal children’ of Indian school charts into socially-disapproved activities, but feels crowd-pleasingly hipsterish. Waswo X. Waswo’s familiar painted photography turns the colonial collector/scientist into a figure of fun. Shilo Suleman’s embroidered poems “by an imagined [ancient] goddess cult of sexually empowered women” feel comic rather than magical. And Amritah Sen’s accordion-style takes on modern Bengali myths (from Netaji’s return to the RitwikSatyajit rivalry) are affectionate, but could be punchier.
Not everything feels lightweight. Anupama Alias’s rewritings of women into Judeo-Christian iconography, using Adam’s rib as symbol, have undeniable beauty. Manjunath Kamath’s hollowedout terracotta divinities and Kedar Dhondu’s museumised array of displaced Goan deities draw attention to endangered belief systems. Ketaki Sarpotdar’s etchings, using Animal Farm as inspiration for a satirical take on today’s media circus, are sharp. And Yogesh Ramakrishnan’s curious headless figures with Hindi commentary draw one in mysteriously.
Presented by Gallery Latitude 28 in collaboration with Art District XIII, ‘Babur ki Gai’ runs through November 20.
19artists respondtothe post-truthera in‘Baburki Gai’
1. ‘Acid’ Test by Priyesh Trivedi 2. ‘Breaking News’ by Ketaki Sarpotdar 3. ‘The Forbidden Lands’ by Zahra Yazdani 4. Waseem Ahmed’s untitled painting 1