Mexican art creates new resonating icons in India: Antipodes so close




Madhusree Chatterjee
New Delhi

New Delhi, Dec 2013 

Cross pollination is the new wave in international art. An exposition of multi-media art by nine contemporary Mexican artists at the Vadehra Art Gallery in the national capital brought the geographical antipodes — India and Mexico — on a shared cultural stage.

The works on show have tried to explore a wide range of socio-cultural similarities between the two nations with Indian visual metaphors around Nobel Laureate Octavio Paz’ literary perception of “An antipode So Close”— from his essay, “Antipodes of Coming and Going” in the “Light of India”. Paz served as the Mexican envoy to India in 1962. The curator uses Paz’ essay as a reference point for the show, “An Antipode So Close: Mexican Contemporary Art”.

One of the commonalities that binds Mexico to India — two emerging economies coping with the pace of post-colonial development issues and post modern aesthetic ethos — is environment. Ecology provides sustenance on two levels — as a source of lament because of its degradation and as a fountain spring of artistic expression for a whole generation of socially-committed practitioners of contemporary Mexican art like Marcela Armas, Gilberto Esparza and Ivan Puig. The trio in their series, “Fable of a Comeback”, refers to the vanishing natural ecology of Mexico and India – around the water bodies – as the context for their visual installations.

The Triodo combines fantasy with visual reality in their work, “Fable of a Comeback” — an installation of video, animation and a resin model of whale vertebrae. A video footage shows sand dunes around the coast Baja California – on the Mexican side — where the fauna has changed over the decades with degrading environment. The trio uses the animated video of a “fable” — that narrates the story of a rescue of a part of the natural life which once inhabited the coast. The natural fauna includes a hare, a wolf, an eagle and a whale set against an eco-system of fragile sand and relentless blue sky.

The animation evokes nostalgia for what was there on the coast once upon a time — and now no more. It extends into a solid installation of a whale bone in memory of the mammal that is depleting on the waters off the Mexican coast and showing sunburns because of the thinning ozone layer, as scientific evidence suggests.

Artist Tania Candiani, in her photography-sound instrument installation, made at a residency in Colombia, pays tribute to a scene from Warner Herzog’s movie, “Fitzcarraldo (1982)”. Candiani connects a river, a boat and music as symbols of fragmented progress. A boat cruises on the Magdalena river with a gramophone playing classical music — three contrasting images symbolizing the haphazard drift of development in Mexico, which is said to languish in the shadow of United States of America.

In the Indian adaptation, Candiani uses Sindhi ghazal lamenting the slow decline of the river. The twin problems of modernization and eco-degradation are endemic in developing nations like Mexico, India, south east Asia and in BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) bloc. A gramophone with a vinyl record conveys the impression of sound while the boat denotes movement. Progress has to be imagined — as unrelated as the gramophone and the boat.

Politics is the boon and the bane of the developing world — its consciousness colours the wave arts. Mumbai-based multi media practitioner of arts Armando Miguelez plots a “homogenized set of nation-states in Americas” in his visual collage, “Rorschach America”. Rorschach charts are diagnostic tools for patients with psychiatric disorders. Miguelez distorts the national boundary of a group of 25 American states to comment on the notion of a nation in need of therapy in serigraphic prints on cardboard. He says the political and social hammering of political geographies have reduced nations into uniform shapes – truncated and mutilated.

Sound artist and composer Manuel Rocha Iturbide’s work digresses from Miguelez prediction of a bleak world of political dwarves. He synthesizes sound and vision to create a cross cultural installations in two parts — a sound symphony with three sets of the Indian percussion instrument, the “tabla” and manipulated musical notations, “JS Bach Schriem –Intervened Musical Score”  on musical notion sheets.\Three traditional Indian drums – tabla – play a pre-recorded and digitally reproduced percussion symphony by “a simple electronic simulation” technique. The beats play in three moods on the three instruments — morning, afternoon and evening ragas. The position of the tablas refer to the sidereal day— an element  of astronomy, the curator says. The tabla, in Indian mythology, plays the beats of the cosmos that creates synergy with the rthythm of the universe and parallel worlds and the divine dance of the gods- especially Shiva and Ganesha.

An accompanying paper installation of notation sheets with a series of erasures creates a new visual calligraphy— using elements of fluxus images to open a dialogue on emptiness and void. It works on the principle that “nothing remains the same if something of universal value is erased”— destroying an existing form to create a new one. Both connect to the cosmic —of creation, dance, music, destruiction and emptiness.

Rocha recorded the symphony in a day at a South Delhi apartment where he was staying .

“I wanted the artists to capture the spirit of the antipode and yet highlight how similar the two nations are. India and Mexico have a lot in common socially and culturally despite the fact they are antipodes on the Indian Ocean,” says curator of the show, Julia Villasenor Bell. The history of colonization of Mexico may be older than that of India — but the two nations have the same social and economic contexts rooted in the post-modern.

The disparity between the rich and the poor, economic imbalance and eco-degradation are the threads of a common malaise — of unplanned development — which confront both India and Mexico. “The Mexican art scene is socially and politically charged. The works emerging from the new artists are edgy, playful and extremely poetic. The artists are engaged in social and artistic movements, rethinking Mexican identity while addressing social issues,” Bell said.

The idea was to bring out the contemporary trends in Mexican art that are helping the art forms free themselves from “legacies of history” and create new contiguous iconography with the world, the curator explained.

–Staff Writer


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