Baiju Parthan




ARTICLE: The humorous sketches of Indian life

André Breton introduced the term ‘Black Humour’ in 1940 and, ever since, the artists' joke has been partly mired in the realm of the unfunny— the conventional view would be that art is more concerned with semiotics, small shifts in perception or just plain weird effect than big-belly laughs. Art historian John C. Welchman has drawn on a 1960 interview with Marcel Duchamp to elaborate on Breton's concept. According to Duchamp, 'There's a humour that is black which doesn't aspire to laughter and doesn't please at all. It is a thing in itself, a new feeling so to speak, which follows from all sorts of things that we can't analyse with words.' When one thinks of postmodernism in Indian painting, it is easy to recall the narrative paintings of Bhupen Khakhar, Sudhir Patwardhan, Gulammohammed Sheikh, Nilima Sheikh and others who touched upon socio-political issues through subjective and personal representations in their layered narratives. Then there are those artists who responded to urbanity and technology as postmodern experiences like Baiju Parthan, Ranbir Kaleka, Chittrovanu Mazumdar, Gigi Scaria and Jitish Kallat amongst others. What bring their works together are the presentation of a syncretic experience of modernity in India with its plural idioms, an interplay between the vernacular and consumerist globalism, and readings of the visuality of everyday Indian life. The immortalised ironies Yet there is another strand of postmodern irony that is arguably more pronounced, armed with the subversive capacity that only humour can bring about. These artists instrument the same interplay, informed by history, contemporary realities and icons of globality in local cultures - their contradictions exaggerated, and incongruities heightened —to emphasise the humour that otherwise dissolve into rural and urban landscapes. These are not the slapstick, obvious comical scenarios that Bollywood, for instance, prepares us for. These are the humorous, ponder-worthy anecdotes that are salvaged from an ordinary death in the chaotic everyday and immortalised on canvases. There is a social realist thread that runs through these oeuvres. In the tradition of the responsibility that Indian artists have always exercised towards their contexts and their realities (this lies embedded even in the abstract high modernism of the Bombay Progressives, such as FN Souza's macabre caricatures and the nationalist aesthetic of the Santiniketan artists), these artists channel humour to leave subversive impressions upon our given moral universes. This is not to say that humour itself is a postmodern invention in Indian art. Artists have periodically used subtle satire—in some cases the blatant humour—to critique society and political systems of their times. So at what point does comedy become art and what happens when art takes on comedy? Is laughter necessarily lost along the way? Is humour really something 'beyond language', as Duchamp suggests? Is there an intersection of function for these divergent forms and, if so, then how serious is it? The ordinary of the iconic There is a tradition that runs through from the caricatures of Gaganendranth Tagore and KG Subramanyam as well as the political cartoons of Chittaprosad. It has always, in whatever form, been a way of negotiating and navigating diverse influences within culture. Another enduring vein in contemporary Indian art that employs humorist is the treatment of modernist preoccupations in subversive ways. This is achieved through a humanising of the iconic or mythical treatment of the ordinary subjects. Blatant humour in contemporary Indian art, especially in solo exhibitions, remained absent till Atul Dodiya made a beginning. He not only dared to go beyond the obvious `fun' through the inclusion of flashback technique, but also turned them into kitsch. His series on cinema, Gandhi and Bollywood has everything that one can think of: history, geography, politics, media, cinema, art, billboards, tribute, nostalgia and a lot more. One of his iconic works titled 'Portrait of a Dealer' featured iconic villains from Pran to Prem Chopra, MadanPuri, Jeevan, Kanhaiya Lal, Gulshan Grover and others. Being `kitsch' in nature, his works are multi-layered, multicoloured, and blend many thoughts together, albeit through elements of fun and humour. Bangalore based Nilofer Suleman is one such artist who uses her understanding of narratives to weave together fantastical sights and sounds of roadside Romeos, popular culture and the intimacy of chai stalls. Manjunath Kamath uses interiors of middle-class houses to unveil our unconscious where universes coexist in uncanny juxtapositions. One could spot Superman, Banksy's pink elephant, as well as sadhus and mythical characters coexisting. Mithu Sen's dark humour presents itself in subversive collages and pokes fun at the morality of a repressed society. This presents itself in her series of works that explore the crises and anxieties of the sexuality of the Indian male in, 'Black Candy'. The funny in banal Sarnath Banerjee uses his background as a graphic novelist to provide glimpses of the everyday identity crises and quirks of less than extraordinary characters and contexts. An emphasis on the form, and its particularities is one way in which these artists are able to present their universes in a narrative that encourages a humorous reading of situations and landscapes that could otherwise be rendered prosaic. Nilofer Suleman's caricatures emphasise recognisable tropes of familiar figures that populate our everyday visual experiences of public spaces. Her easy lines and romantic features infuse an innocence, consequently humanising 'stereotypes', attributing to their contexts a certain note of desirability, and agency. Sarnath Banerjee also instruments caricatured forms and panel sequences to set the proscenium for humour and follows the aesthetic that one is used to in comics. Like Banerjee, Mithu Sen also uses text, but her use of it is altered to complement a very different visual aesthetic of anatomical, anti-aesthetic forms or kitschy collages of images from popular culture. Manjunath Kamath's works often use the technique of digital collage formally to create imaginary landscapes where diverse cultural influences and realities collide. His use of a ubiquitous design aesthetic is able to treat the subject matter familiarly, and tries to capture the dreams of middle-class households, constructed out of vocabularies that are immediately available to them. Mimicking the mirror Pastiche or imitation is another thread that runs through the works of these artists — be it through the non-linear, singular universes of Sarnath Banerjee and Nilofer Suleman or the disjunctive snippets of conversations that inform Mithu Sen's work, and the outright interweaving of the elements of history, culture, technology and urbanity of Manjunath Kamath. The extent to which pastiche works as a visual language for social critique through light-hearted contexts, 'presented' without embellishment, but not without the camaraderie of the artists who often implicate themselves even when they are cynical, is significant to the internal logic of these works. Fredric Jameson situates pastiche as an important phenomenon within the cultural logic of late capitalism, citing it as a form of parody, that is not without humour, but is in direct opposition to the ethos of the originality of high modernism, and is a form of ironic mimicry of the "dead styles of the past" as they live on in the "imaginary museum of a now global culture". What these artists engage in is a critique of this late capitalist, global society from a local vantage point, incorporating confused visual, moral and private universes that are earnest and sincere despite the humour that is made possible by an empty parodying that is without the farce, present in the traditional understanding of parody. Their micro-narratives critique these forces as they affect the lives and consciousness of not resilient or heroic individuals or communities, but fallible, often corrupt (through no fault of their own), angst-ridden, confused men and women, both young and old, who we are likely to bump into several times in the course of our lives. - BHAVNA KAKAR, Editor TAKE on art Magazine.


NEWS: Baiju Parthan will showcase artistic works in New York

Baiju Parthan is one of the most celebrated Indian contemporary artists. And he is all set to take the nostalgia of Mumbai to London and New York with his upcoming show titled Mill Junction. This show is about Mumbai as a city that exists in retrospect solely as memory or recollection. It is also how these memories get erased or modified through technology and social change. A total of seven works will be shown at the AICON gallery in New York (March 5th onwards) and later the exhibition will move to London with additional works. Baiju’s solo show after a span of two years was scheduled earlier. But it was recession that postponed it. He explains, “The delay was mostly because I took a while to complete the works. Also, the recession did influence the shifting of dates. I mean, there was not much pressure to adhere to the dates from the gallery side mostly due to the recession.” Ask him what is the USP of the show and he replies with a smile, “I would say, a few good paintings done in the old fashioned way - solely by the artist.” He continues, “This show is a development or the logical next step in what I have been doing - which is the exploration of the ‘image’ within the information space. These are paintings done from photographic references and then the painting is intentionally defaced with over painted ASCII code graffiti. ( Digital photographs/ albums we view on the computer screens are actually made up of ASCII code which is parsed/ translated into the image by the computer). The photo-works try to present the city environment as it could be experienced in First Person Shooter games (FPS computer games).” Lastly, the shy artist makes some remarks about the expectations from the show. He says, “Hopefully, the exhibition will be appreciated for its conceptual and formal strength. It will be accessible to those who are open enough to look beyond auction prices and resale values. On the other hand, to be absolutely frank, I have no expectations. One does what one believes in and hopes one keeps doing it in future.” - Riddhi Doshi

follow & like us on

Nam Jun Paik

Capitol Talkies, 2011

22 x 22/in


Reference Only

Bench: 102 x 16 /In

Art: [art work wale dimensions]


Choose wall colour

Enter hex code

EnTER your wall dimension

default 21 ft x 13 ft 30 ft x 19 ft