Balaji Ponna





Born in 1980, Balaji Ponna received his B.F.A in Graphics from Andhra University with Gold medal and M.F.A in Graphics from Visva - Bharati University, Santiniketan. He has been recipient of H.R.D. National Scholarship for young Artists (2004–05). His recent solo exhibitions include Looking is not Seeing, at The Guild, Mumbai; Monuments at India Art Summit 2011 with The Guild, Mumbai; The Things I Say, at Studio La Citta, Verona and Black Smoke, at Bose Pacia, Kolkata, in collaboration with The Guild. Ponna has participated in various group shows over the last couple of years including Art Celebrates 2010: Sports and the Cityan Exhibition of Indian Contemporary Art curated by  Rupika Chawla; Contemporary Exoticism curated by Marco Meneguzzo at Studio La Citta, Verona; Art Basel by Studio la Citta, 2009;  A New Vanguard: Trends in Contemporary Indian Art, Saffronart, New York and The Guild, New York; The July Show at The Guild and Are We Like This Only? Curated by Vidya Shivadas  at Vadehra Art Gallery , Delhi . His works were also exhibited at the France Print Biennial in 2009.

“Responding to the socio-political and cultural realities of the time is one of the modes in which artists engage thematically through work. Within this engagement there are several trajectories of expressions that had emerged corroborating the subjective experiences of the artist in relation to the objective existence in society….

Balaji’s works comprise a crucial relation between the painted text-phrases and the images. In fact this text, composed in two phrases, frames the meanings and the subtext of the visual images. Written in a simple typography, this text does not intervene in the picture format but stays on the surface, by virtue of its flat, two-dimensional nature. In one sense this text is equal to the status of parergon, as theorised by Derrida – Parergon is “neither work (ergon) nor outside the work, neither inside or outside, neither above nor below, it disconcerts any opposition but does not remain indeterminate and it gives rise to the work” (Truth in Painting, 1978). The textual phrase belongs to the work (painting) as well as stays unrelated pictorially to the painting. When a viewer approaches these paintings, the sight is drawn towards deftly manoeuvred images, but quickly, the verbal text catches the eye, as if intervening between the pictorial image and the sight of the onlooker. This moment of rupture is also the moment of introduction of specific meanings to the work. The phenomenological and aesthetic experience of the viewer, in this context, is guided by the text-phrase, written in English. And in this moment of quick shifts between the textual phrase and the image, signification gets complicated and acquires a double signification which correlates each other – the text and the image. At one level the text-phrase puts forward a literal or direct meaning of it. When the signified or the meaning interacts with the image, this signified becomes empty and acquires a second level signification, whose signified belongs to the social and political realms.”   (Excerpt from an essay by Santosh Kumar Sakhinala)

“Balaji takes images from different eras and sources and put them in the contemporary context of viewing in a gallery as a painting. His paintings are ‘anachronic’. By saying this I am referring to the popular signboard/billboard techniques and philosophy. These popular signs significantly underplay/undermine what is ‘high brow’. The practitioners uninhibitingly draw references and images from any source which they feel would suit their need making them “anachronic”. By juxtaposing and overlapping images from divergent sources which necessarily have no relation they break the linearity of the process and the order (even copyrights and patent laws). In a similar way, Balaji also draws reference from multitude of sources which necessarily are not related and puts them together in his works. His works are also ‘anachronic’ because of his persistence with the idea of nation and nationalism.  When even the idea of nation itself is collapsing before the power of ‘capital’, Balaji attempts to play the same rhetoric with a possibility of offering a glimmer of hope relying on the past. Capital has the power to break all virtual boundaries either by negotiating in the adversaries’ guise or overtly colonialising by force. But Balaji undermines this power by opting for a similar version of democratic change.  Often his works pokes the system’s inconsistencies with pun and sarcasm. But interestingly these also refer to the popular/ist ideologies in circulation defining betterment and emancipation. Balaji’s recent take on the concept of nationalism brings through his beliefs on the democratic system and a possibility of reformation within the same order.  By remembering an imaginary past of political and social ethicality he attempts to visualize a better possibility.”   (Except from an essay by V. Divakar)



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