Not an Imitation

Not an Imitation

Curated by Pallavi Paul and Rohini Devasher

To access the virtual gallery, please click here

Globally, the past year has been scarred by a sense of displacement and loss. While for many this loss may have been personal, for others  it has also taken on new connotations. Primary amongst these is the loss of the ‘real’.  We are surrounded by nostalgic recountings of our immediate past. Social contact, physical proximity, ‘normal life’ – in other words the ‘real’; now seems moored to a time gone by. These exchanges between ‘nostalgia’ and the ‘real’, their relationship to history and by extension our contemporary, need urgent attention. 

In the 1946 piece ‘A New Refutation of Time’ , Borges perhaps unknowingly foretells his own impending  blindness. He writes, “I have accumulated quotations from the apologists of idealism to help my reader penetrate this unstable world of the mind. A world of evanescent impressions; a world without matter or spirit, neither objective nor subjective; a world without the ideal architecture of space; a world made of time, of the absolute uniform time of the Principia; an inexhaustible labyrinth, a chaos, a dream.” This world where architecture, space, matter and spirit meld, Borges evokes as a portrait of blindness. A blindness shaped by time but never ostensibly touched by it.   

Munem Wasif’s ‘Borges and blindness’ speaks to this “inexhaustible labyrinth”. We see a luminous sphere refer to blindness. This discrepancy is locative, we are pushed towards simultaneity. Blindness and brightness, darkness and colour attend to one another, not as opposite sides of a rope, but as two kinetic extensions of a torrent.  

The tussle between the real and the virtual has also been playing out in another mode in the last few months. Several students, academics and activists, thinkers have been imprisoned and declared enemies of the state and charged with anti-terror laws.  The question of terror has been radically recast . The ‘real’ finds itself constantly contested and conspiracy theories abound. The citizen has become a shaky category. Untruth passes as truth, and ‘evidence’ is now being planted remotely onto devices, deep fakes are producing alternate realities and the virtual has taken on a sinister tone. 

Anupam Roy’s ‘They Carry life’ apprehends  the ominous edge of this current moment. It draws its life force from poet-activist Varavara Rao’s poem ‘The Other Day’ . An eighty year old Rao alongside several leading intellectuals like Gautam Navlakha, Anand Teltumbde, Sudha Bharawaj, Father Stan Swamy, Professor Hany Babu – find themselves imprisoned and persecuted under draconian  laws. In an open letter addressed to the people of India, published on the eve of his impending arrest academic Anand Teltumbde wrote, “Suddenly, a police posse descends down on your residence and ransacks your house without showing any warrant. At the end, they arrest you and lodge you in the police lockup. In the court, they would say that while investigating a theft (or any other complaint) case in xxx place (substitute any place in India) police recovered a pen drive or a computer from yyy (substitute any name) in which some letters written by a supposed member of some banned organisation were recovered that had a mention of zzz who according to the police is none other than you.” This perversion of state power that wields invented facts to terrorize its own people, is also addressed by Pallavi Paul in her work ‘Terra Firma’. A woven carpet, it has the word secret running across as a leitmotif.  Surrounded by the critical pressure of other words like ‘leaky’, ‘distraught’, ‘open’ – the word secret morphs along the entire weave. Sometimes presented as a question and at others a performance. She asks, “do revelations dethrone secrets?”  

Anupam, They carry life, Chinese ink and googly eyes on Paper, 5 x 33 ft, 2020 

The image is the laboratory of new forms of attention, distraction and violence.  They annotate this time of suffering while also simultaneously making it more bearable by allowing us to enter worlds beyond our immediate material locations. Many eloquent practitioners of culture have shown us how humanity’s  experience of modernity was not just represented by images but also deeply shaped by them.   

Raqs Media Collective’s ‘Do Not Touch the Work of Art’ becomes a prophecy for the current moment. Today  when we have withdrawn from touch is also a time of re-evaluating notions of value and presence. These questions of how we must now re-negotiate touch and feeling are inextricably linked to new registers of imagining value. The relay of value and sensation is  carried forward in Prasad Shetty and Rupali Gupte’s ‘Poky Sphere’. Described by the artists as a ‘transactional object ‘ it foregrounds the tension between ‘settling into’ and ‘dreaming outside of’ urban life. The sphere is  a quirky eruption in the everyday life of a city. 

‘Not An Imitation’ ricochets between interfaces, here and there, then and now. This ricocheting is alive to new forms of practice.  Following the lockdowns across the world, drone footage began to emerge, sweeping views of deserted streets, towns, cities, vast landscapes. In their recently published work Patricia Zimmermann and Caren Kaplan ask if ‘coronavirus drone footage’ is a new genre? On the other side of this hyper-production of video material are reaction videos or videos of people watching other people watching videos. This genre of online content has seen a huge spike in content creators over the last year. As Sam Anderson said “it seems in its potentially infinite regression, to contain the fundamental experience of the internet.” 

The distance produced by the drone footage, points to the planetary scale of this crisis that is almost at the threshold of human experience, while the sense of community created by binge watching reaction videos as a way of capturing visceral experience, locks us into a cycle of consumption that can be hard to see beyond. 

The Otolith Group, Zone 2, Video, 45 minutes 18 secounds, 2020

Zone 2’, a new film by the Otolith Group confronts us with these crucial questions that have marked the past year. Surgical masks navigate a seemingly idyllic scene, flying in and out like visitors from outer space, the word hope dances in a field, a group of protesters in Bristol pull down the statue of slave trader Edward Colston. It has all the signs of a place that exists and is ‘real’ and yet fragile. Through the haunting visuals of the last remaining nature reserves of London, images of the Black Lives Matter movement, and encounters with temporal anomalies, we are taken into a world of strange refractions.  

This drive is mirrored in the works of Sandeep Mukherjee and Khageshwar Rout. Mukherjee describes his piece, ‘Tree Skins’  as a slice of flowing matter, the matter by turns, his body, the paint and the aluminium.  Sheets of aluminium that embody the physical encounter of his body with a tree by physically forming, pressing and moulding the aluminium sheet/slice on the surface of the tree trunk. As we walk around ‘Tree Skin’s’ we see the concave side take on the quality of flesh and skin, while the convex mimics bark, leaf, the earth. Skins of material, skins of history, but also skins which embrace, which hold memories of violence and care.  Khageshwar Rout’s ‘Study of Things, Ridge Gourd Wild’ is a study of architecture within organic forms. Here  terracotta is both scaffolding and skin. A ridge gourd, larger than life is simultaneously exuberant and decaying. The work echoes the themes of erasure, impermanence and transformation.   

Huma Mulji in her series Ode to the Piano Pen describes how “The doing and undoing, writing and unwriting, labour and futility, are both productive and critical, pointing to the process of removal as inquiry.” The work is an inherent critique of big (H)istory where erasure is a process of recovery. For Neha Choksi in her series of woodcuts ‘Repeat Integrity (Oak)’,  erasure is a slow, barely visible process. A circle rotates on a wooden plate, slowly submerging into a dense rich black.  Choksi creates a gradually thickening surface by not cleaning the woodcut between printing the next.  As the ink builds on the woodcut, the matrix on the paper is gradually concealed. Choksi notes, “effacement is a revelation of its own”. 

In Tejal Shah’s ‘Chipko’, erasure takes on a different connotation. As a tree appears and disappears; a woman’s embracing arms are by turns are full and left bereft. The work is based on a photograph from the eponymous Chipko movement – a non-violent protest staged against deforestation in Uttaranchal,  where people hugged trees to prevent them from being felled. Shah’s lenticular print draws our attention to the violence and love that so often marks our relationship with nature.  In Amitesh Srivasthava’s ‘The Librarian and the Anteater’, this complex web of  life which encompasses human, insect, mammal, plant is explored with  vivid painterly gestures. After all efforts to eradicate them have failed, in his imagination  a librarian conjures an unlikely ally – an anteater to counter an army of termites plaguing his books.

Tejal Shah, Chipko, Lenticular print, 70.8 x 47.2 inches, 2018 

 Prajakta Potnis’s ‘Zone Series’, takes cues from history, mythology and memories. These landscapes suspend time and perspective and are created by projecting found footage onto freezer walls. The surface of the light box opens a window to another space, possibly another time. For Potnis they suggest displacement either by choice or by force, the result of which is often alienation. Dislocation is also conjured by Himali Singh Soin’s audio piece, ‘Subcontentiment’, a manifesto that emerges from her fieldwork in the polar circles. A geo-poetical exploration of the idea of the archive, belonging, alienation and the transformative potential of sound. Soin signals to the resonances between her polar recordings and those produced while Delhi was under lockdown.  

Himali Singh Soin, Subconinentment, Audio, 10 minutes 22 seconds, 2020

Shreyas Karle’s ‘Needless Precision’ explores modes of archiving the domestic. Karle asks “If one tends to museumize the domestic, would one contradict the institution or become one?” 

Risham Syed restages the cross talk between domesticity and the world at large, between history and politics and machine and the body. Her piece ‘Sparrows Tongue in Cheek’ is  a material collage of American synthetic wool, digital prints, handloom and embroidery. In using these together Syed invokes the simultaneity of our lived time, while also signaling to the discontents of the 19th and 20th centuries. Hemali Bhuta extends this inquiry into time and place in her piece ‘Grayscale’.  Described by the artist as a “meditative space to contemplate the meaning of small interventions toward beauty in daily life”, Bhuta’s soap sculpture can also be seen in relationship to the history of photography and the calibration of light and color via gray scale. It rearranges space as a formal relay of tones and textures.  

Shumon in his series ‘When Dead Ships Travel’ produces another modality of traversing the world. He is interested in the moment at which time congeals around objects. When it seems to stop. Footprints in the sand almost erased by the ocean, a leviathan on the horizon like some strange beached ocean dweller, another apparition emerging yet trapped by the mist. For Shumon the disused ship, rendered melancholic, ghostly and mirage-like, is the central protagonist in the story of time.  Rohini Devasher’s  ‘Shivering Sands’ produces another articulation of indeterminate time and space. The work emerged out of Devasher’s engagement with the Maunsell Seaforts, which dot the coast of the UK. The site houses huge metallic structures which are relics of the second World War. The film has two simultaneous narratives; the first around the vastness of the ocean and horizon, the approach, sighting, circlingThe second, is a contrapuntal narrative of a text, which guides us through physics, symmetry, pattern, cosmology and poetry. 

ShumonWhen dead ships travel 1, Print on archival rag fine art paper, 23 x 91inches, 2015 

Another order of observation is realised in Mahesh Baliga’s ‘Sea in the Dusk’. The sky is a deep ultramarine blue, and the ocean vivid, rusty, red and opaque.  Baliga describes the work as a  quiet meditation on colour and the sea, and the history of both. It is difficult to look at the painting without a jolt of ‘wrongness’, a sense that we are seeing the aftermath of ‘something’ whether natural or not is unclear. The Kalpana/Goutam Ghosh takes this relay of colour and texture forward with ‘Seat of Darya Devi’ , a mythopoetic exploration of geology. A speculative landscape, an electronic light, abstract and geometrical shapes, come together as interlocutors, locations and inscriptions.  Baptist Coelho too, in his work Ribbons I, also produces a triangulation between landscape, masculinity and violence. Layers of fabric compressed into vertical columns speak to histories  and  memory as a  kind of accumulation akin to  geological sedimentation. 

Finally in his series  ‘Shehri Adamkhor’, Sarnath Banerjee’s puts into play ideas of affliction, transmission and travel. He uses the intersection of humour and everyday life as both points of departure and arrival. He writes “…then one day at the airport a curious incident happened that made my early symptoms not only normal but almost desirable considering what was to come. That was when I went to a therapist. We had eight sessions, they cost me a fortune. At the end she suggested that my syndrome could be motivated by my desire to merge with a powerful other or it could simply be an attempt to permanently escape loneliness. She also said it could be severe Vitamin D deficiency.” 

As all of us re-read our work and practice within the paradigm shift produced by the Pandemic each work imbued the virtual shell with new questions.  A thicket of code and programmes became host to terracotta and wooden sculptures, a carpet, a blanket, faux marble, painting, prints, moving images and sound. Unrestricted by the hard boundaries of walls, columns and girders – this alternate project 88 could grow endlessly to accommodate works and propositions. This horizontal and energetic relay between artists and the gallery’s now fluid avatar- is the adventure of this show. 

Rohini Devasher, Shivering Sands, Single Channel Video, 21 minutes, 2016

Pallavi Paul, Shabdkosh, HD, Color, Hindi, Sound, 19 minutes 15 seconds, 2014


Amitesh Srivastava, Librarian and anteater, Acrylic on Canvas, 72 x 60 inches, 2016 

Anupam Roy, They carry life, Chinese ink and googly eyes on Paper, 5 x 33 ft, 2020 

Baptist Coelho, Ribbons I, 6 bars of various Siachen soldier’s clothing, sponge and wood, 9.5 x 72 inches each, 2015 

The Kalpana/ Goutam Ghosh, Seat of Darya Devi, Riverbed sand stone and light box, Sculpture- 14 x 13 x 4.5 inches, Light box- 12.5 x 13 x 2 inches, 2019 

Hemali Bhuta, Grayscale, Glycerine soap with edible food colour, 10 blocks of 12 x 12 inches each, 2012 

Himali Singh Soin, Subconinentment, Audio, 10 minute 22 seconds, 2020 

Huma Mulji, Ode to the Piano Pen, Digital and manual embroidery on cotton fabric, 15 x 19 inches each, 2020

Khageshwar Rout, Study of things, Ridge Gourd Wild, Teracotta, 48 x 20 x 18 inches, 2016 

Mahesh Baliga, Sea in the dusk, Casein on canvas, 36 x 24 inches, 2019 

Munem Wasif, Borges and blindness, Photography, 40 x 32 inches, 2020 

Neha Choksi, Repeat Integrity (Oak), Seriers of 7 woodcuts, 36.75 x 47 inches each, 2016 

Pallavi Paul , Terra Firma, A loop pile heavy contract carpet, with anti-soiling treatment, constructed from 100% polyamide on a textile polypropylene backing, 13 x 16.4 feet, 2017 

Pallavi Paul, Shabdkosh, HD, Color, Hindi, Sound, 19 minutes 15 seconds, 2014

Prajakta Potnis, Zone series, Photographs in light boxes, 12 x 9 inches each, 2020.

Supported by Umrao Singh Sher-Gil Grant for Photography 2017, SSAF.

Prasad Shetty & Rupali Gupte, Poky Sphere, Paint, wood, plywood, 65 x 65 x 65 inches, 2017 

Raqs Media Collective, Please Do Not Touch the Work of Art, Carved faux marble panel, 42 x 30 x 0.5 inches, 2006/2016

Risham Syed, Sparrows Tongue in Cheek, Acrylic on handloom woven cotton (khes); digital print, embroidery on cotton with synthetic American wool as filling, 42 x 86 inches, 2019 

Rohini Devasher, Elseworld, Photo etching printed on Velin Arches Blanc paper and bubble digitally printed on Kozo Japanese paper – Asuka (bright white 48gsm) and applied using chine collé, 41.3 x 29.5 inches, 2019 

Rohini Devasher, Shivering Sands, Single Channel Video, 21 minutes, 2016

Sandeep Mukerjee, Tree Skins, Acrylic and acrylic ink on hand molded aluminum, 4 panels, each panel 6 x 4 feet, 2018 

Sarnath Banerjee, Shehri Adamkhor 1, Acrylic and Ink on paper, 39 x 27.5 inches, 2018 

Sarnath Banerjee, Shehri Adamkhor 1, Acrylic and Ink on paper, 39 x 27.5 inches, 2018 

Shreyas Karle, Needless precision, Wooden stick, rubber and Johnson & Johnson tiles (4 X 4 inches), 54 x 9 x 1.5 inches, 2017 

Shumon, When dead ships travel 1, Print on archival rag fine art paper, 23 x 91inches, 2015 

Tejal Shah, Chipko, Lenticular print, 70.8 x 47.2 inches, 2018 

The Otolith Group, Zone 2, Video, 45 minutes and 18 seconds, 2020