| articles

Articles on Indian contemporary art by Swapna Vora

The Baldly Beautiful 108 Dabbas
of Bose Krishnamachari

Talking to Bose Krishnamachari with his Ghosts Transmemoirs paintings
by Swapna Vora

December 04, 2006

Fig. 1
Bose Krishnamachari, bold and bald, sits surrounded by his explosive, multihued art: a perspective on the ghosts of his own practice. He observes bodies in a time warp, twisted and stretched out in the universe’s black holes, he is interested in ghosts, ‘misunderstood, misconceived’, the chaotic order and vibrancy of Mumbai and, astonishingly, attempts to understand and portray other artists. In a world where so much art is simply promotion, and where another artist may not be mentioned within shooting distance, it is amusing to find an artist who executed shows that extolled other artists, even when he did not like them, for he understood they were fraught, simply fraught, with historical significance.

Art can be the one moment that does not whine, refusing to be cowed down, triggering images, emotional baggage, unanchored joy. Where everyone is going digital, synthetic, and creating electronic sculpture, what does Bose do? He sketched other Indian artists, big names and the unknown, real contributors to contemporary art. For three years, he crossed India, meeting, communicating and drawing. He photographed, placed prints on grids, sketched in their essence. The borders were silver leaf and gold, the frames heavy, names carved boldly. It was never an issue of whether he liked their work, but an acknowledgement, a handmade tribute to the whole time artist! And then added his own portrait….


Fig. 2

In a world of museums where you can’t touch, can’t breathe and where curators sigh with relief if you simply stare at monitors, Bose produced AmuseuM: artwork from books, pages opened, painted with oils, destroyed, recreated, written up with poetry, changing the much vaunted museum experience.

He curated Double-enders (after the boats in Kerala’s backwaters, which convey everything and everyone), exhibited Kerala artists, asking: “Do they do art, does it mean anything?” and led some unknowns to the international circuit.

In New York, his huge canvases are covered with jumps, leaps and vortexes of color, Missoni like patterns, for this was what he saw in Mumbai. He finished these large stretches in three hours! Too often his bio mentions the Goldsmith School and rarely the schools which really shaped him: the JJ, the Kerala Art School and Mumbai, his muse.

“A neighbor of contemporary creativity, I seek the missing Self”, he says. He likes the persistence of faulty memory and the inescapable differences as memories sift through the sieve of time and perspective, becoming versions of reality. A picture is not necessarily representative of facts. Anekantvad, a Hindu concept, requests you to see ‘facts’ from another’s eyes. Bose has large stretches of the Hindu trinity with pools and bridges of colors, with mysterious rumors of pralaya, universal dissolution. He lives in his work, in splotches, slabs of color, with no gray areas, no transition.

Fig. 3

No childhood dramas, traumas, no one hung him upside down? An ill child, semi comatose from a blood condition, he grieved over what his family spent on medicine. On becoming well, he decided ‘to live differently’ and skidded into art. The JJ School of Art, refused him entry, then accepted him, showered gold medals and in time honored fashion, forced him out when he questioned their teaching. In colonial times, (90 years), the British had methodically destroyed most local art and only the Slade School version was acceptable. One price of being colonized is losing your language, losing your art and being taught systematically to aspire to a different culture, to praise an alien society. Mumbai artists were now searching, were they to be watery reflections of Parisian ideals or could they invent a contemporary vernacular? India’s art then came throbbing through ‘serious human entertainers’ like Bose Krishnamachari. Could his art have come from any other place, any other time? He said, No, mine is Indian art, bred in Kerala’s waters, with its religious communists, the world’s earliest Christians and the Hindu Malayalis who wrote and painted but had no place to exhibit. His inspiration was and remains Mumbai.

The stretched bodies, the smooth light like flow of colors disintegrating into split light reminds one of black holes where everything is stretched taut, consumed and perhaps rebirthed. His triptych shows Brahma, creation, male symbols, the Mumbai tenements. The blank, Braille like black is the long, dark night of Mahesh, while the colors are glorious Vishnu. This set of six deserves to live together, with its statements about vibration, our human vibration, which is perhaps necessary for all other life. Then there is the amazing, exasperating dabba installation. There are 108 dabbas, insignificant, battered boxes which carry hot lunches to millions. Indians value ‘home cooked’ and hence the dabbas. The boxes are filled by housewives, the dabbaman collects them and they are exchanged, re-exchanged and sorted until the right lunch reaches the right person at lunch time among millions of others. And then they are collected and delivered back for the next day’s meal. To my amusement I recognized one name Somani on a dabba label and knew the people, who live on, arguably, the most expensive real estate in the world. Each dabba has videos of Mumbai’s exhilaration and drama, its laughter, its pontificating elite, its tantrums, its tantra, its vibration, its long drawn out wails, its religious seas.


Fig. 4

So tell me, I ask, your opinion on The Hindu rate of growth, the Hindu mentality? You Midnight’s Child, how dare you talk of Kerala art when we were raised to see all states and all religions as strictly equivalent? The personal, the unsigned was acceptable, the regional, the communal totally taboo. He laughs and points to his happy exhibition with its ghosts, robust creation, and those dabbas.

Articles on Indian contemporary art by Swapna Vora | articles