TRUTH AND BEAUTY

India Today - - LEISURE - —Tr­isha Gupta

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

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