This exhibition is the outcome of several stealthy journeys and periodic sorties by Baptist Coelho to scavenge objects and stories away from the Siachen Glacier, one of the most remote battlegrounds in the world. On these white planes national boundaries of India and Pakistan are drawn sharply even as the lines between an individual's sanity and insanity blur. Indian soldiers are willed to spend 3 months on Siachen Glacier as part of their military service 'protecting' these uncompromising lands from encroachment by our hostile neighbor. On this freezing landscape soldiers often lose their lives not to enemy bullets but subzero conditions. Many suffer unrecorded and even unacknowledged hallucinations, delusional episodes and psychological breakdowns. This exhibition is a revealing tale of the Indian soldier whose personal identity and safety gets subsumed in the very powerful rhetoric of patriotism, who suffers unimaginable hardships due to the collective will of civilian Indians, for whom boundaries are lines on maps, territorial indicators of identity and thus pride. The soldier is a puppet imprisoned in a uniform which serves as the misguided symbol of sovereignty and Baptist peels away layer after layer of uniform to reveal the vulnerability of the flesh that pads it.
Baptist uses discarded uniforms, torn parachutes, rusted jerry cans, military provisions along with individual narratives to restore humanity to the soldiers we imbue with super-human ideologies to suffer inhuman hardships. Using an acquired, found and constructed archive of used objects he creates installations, photographs and videos that speak empathetically of the loneliness of the men, replacing national and patriotic fervor with fear and s(m)adness.
Trained in Mumbai and England, Baptist's oeuvre has highlighted the multiple meanings of materials and the wealth of ideas contained in scribbled phrases or captured sounds and images. Journeys - physical, emotional and recollective - have informed his work, whether they are photographs and sound pieces of cities or installations that retrieve forgotten memories from ones childhood. Baptist creates series of works stemming from research-based projects, this one for instance born from trips to Ladakh and interaction with the soldier. Thus each work is a grounded in the reality of experiences and though they are the artists' experiences the audience is not alienated from them. This is because the works speak to us visually, aurally, tactilely and intelligently.