Anant Joshi
  T. V. Santhosh
  Justin Ponmany
  Riyas Komu

Anant Joshi

Born 1969, Joshi obtained M.F.A. with distinction from Sir J. J. School of Art, Mumbai. He is a recipient of ‘Bendre Husain Scholarship’ and Bombay Art Society Award. Joshi has had shows at Gallery Chemould, Mumbai and ‘Biological Coins’ – Site specific works at Thane. Some of the group shows include ’Kitsch Kitsch Hota Hai’ at Gallery Espace, New Delhi; ‘Mumbai Metaphor’ at Tao Art gallery; ‘Ideas and Images’ N.G.M.A. Mumbai; ‘The Human Factor’ at The Guild Art Gallery, Mumbai. Anant Joshi has been selected to work / Study at Rijks Academies Amsterdam during 2002 – 2003.

Justin Ponmany

Born 1974, Kerala. Obtained B.F.A. (Fine) in painting. Sir J.J. School of Art. Awarded Western Railway Centenary Exhibition, N.G.M.A; Fellowship at Sir J.J. School of Art, 1993 and Karnik Prize at the Annual Exhibition at Sir J.J. School of Art. Ponmany has participated in various exhibitions and some auctions - ‘Debt’, The Guild Art Gallery, Mumbai; ‘The 7th Harmony Show’; Workshop with ‘Akanksha’- ‘Kala Ghoda Art Festival’, 2001: ‘Inaugural Show’, ‘Legatee Sir J.J. School of Art’, ‘Excerpt’s from my Diary Pages’, Fine Art Company, Mumbai; ‘Embarkations’, The Millenium Show, curated by Yashodhara Dalmia, Sakshi Gallery, Mumbai; ‘The Mumbai Metaphor’ curated by Anupa Mehta, Tao Art Gallery; ‘Exile & Longing’, ‘Icons of the Millenium’, Lakeeren Gallery; ‘Memos for the New Millenium From Artists of a Moulting World’, curated by Abhay Sardesai, Birla Academy of Art & Culture; ‘Windows to The Soul’, Auction in aid of NAB conducted by Sotheby’s ; ‘Indian Contemporary Art’, The RPG Collection, Germany.

Riyas Komu

Born 1971 in Kerala, and obtained MFA – 1999 from Sir J. J. School of Art Mumbai. Recipient of K. K. Hebbar Foundation Society Scholarship 1997 to 1999; Bombay Art Society Award 1996; Maharashtra State Art Prize 1995. Participated in Video Installation at National Gallery of Modern Art as part of Art & Technology Show in 2000; ‘Critic’s Choice’ at NGMA 1999. Audio – Visual presentations in Lakeeren and Tao Art Gallery during 2000. ‘Engendering – Images of Women’ and ‘The Human Factor’ at The Guild Art Gallery; ‘Excerpts from My Diary’ Fine art company, Mumbai; ‘Ambulance solo show at Renaissance Art Gallery, Bangalore; ‘Harmony’, Mumbai 2002.

T. V. Santhosh

Born 1968 in Kerala. Obtained B.F.A. (Sculpture) from Kala Bhavan, Santiniketan and M.F.A. (Sculpture), M.S.U. Baroda. Recipient of Vishwa Bharati Merit Scholarship; Ram Kinkar Award; Kanoria Scholarship and Inlaks Foundation (Indian). Has participated in group shows at AIFACS, New Delhi; ‘Exile and Longing’ Lakeeren; ‘Engendering – Images of Women’ and ‘The Human Factor’ at The Guild Art Gallery, Mumbai; ‘Excerpts from My Diary Pages’ at Fine Art Company gallery; ‘Harmony’, Mumbai 2001 and 2002. ‘Mela’ a show

Sponsored by RPG and curated by Anupa Mehta.

Paintings in Parentheses: Four Dialogues with an Absent Presence

It would not be inappropriate to say that we live in a visual culture based on image- transfer. We live in an age in which we are constantly confronted with competing procedures and systems of visuality: the reduced and enlarged photocopied image, the digital upgrades and downloads of visual data, the never-blinking translites and the domesticated TV screen image that functions like an audio-visual wallpaper. In such a situation, how does the language of painting collide and collude with the technologies of image-transfer? Does painterly language become parenthetical to the politics of technological production? Or does it bracket such technological possibilities within itself? And, more pertinently, what kind of game of visuality does the artist operating within these parameters play with the viewers?

I will attempt to answer these questions by contextualising the paintings of four artists whose work comprises this exhibition – Riyas Komu, Justin Ponmany, Anant Joshi and T. V. Santhosh, who work within this visual culture of image-transfer – by studying their dialogic relationship with the works of a fifth artist, the late Girish Dahiwale, whose ideas, images and friendship have been an abiding inspiration for them. The exhibition was conceived by these artists as a homage to Dahiwale, who committed suicide at the age of 25 in 1998. In this essay, I will examine the individual as well as collective motivations, the formal strategies and material means employed by these artists to "draft" their images.

In the 1990s, academic circumstance brought Komu, Ponmany, Joshi and Dahiwale together at the Sir J. J. School of Art, Mumbai (Santhosh being the exception to this rule), and that is where our conversation begins. Being more than a century and a half old, their alma mater was already suffering from academic dogma and the lack of critical discussion between teachers and students. "The language of abstraction was the only advocated form of creativity, and as a protest pop and kitsch took over," reminisces Ponmany. It is not as if this sentiment was not vocalised by earlier generations of alumni, for instance, by an artist like Atul Dodiya (BFA, 1982). The difference in response between earlier generations of J. J. alumni (who attempted to extend their painting by reference to other possibilities within the domain of painting) and Ponmany’s generation (which inducts into painting, models from other media and technologies) lies in the fact that the visual culture of image-transfer was coming into its own when the latter were plotting the coordinates of their nascent image-making.

In the 1990s, Xerox machines were already evolving into an everyday medium of data duplication. It was also the decade when economic liberalisation changed the look and content of the print and television media. The technoscape was dominated by big information technology corporations, but their monopoly was challenged by the new heroes of the infotech world: hackers, copyright defying pirates, exponents of free data flows, the brains behind such phenomena as Linux, Napster etc.

These were role models for youth culture generally and certainly for the generation to which these artists belonged. Through the essay we will read the politics of painting in the age of image-transfer. Such a reading becomes even more significant in the age of globalisation where under the guise of democratic choice and infinite visual stimuli, the mediatic image has been blatantly politicised. To combat this politicisation, the present artists have problematised the painted image, placed it in a parenthesis, and thus shown an agency of discernment. Their painterly choices/decisions embody real acts of choice in this world of exploitative and overweeningly commercial mediatic structures.

Now let us read Dahiwale’s paintings through the framework I have proposed: his conceptual moves bear out the fact that he did not want the painted image to be subsumed under the dominant visual realities of our times. His works operated like ruptures: larger- than-life canvases that mimicked advertising hoardings in size but questioned social norms in concept. Here, language in the form of a rock or pop music lyric or an autobiographical notation shared equal importance with the imagery that drew on the forms of hyperrealism and political posters (each visual genre bracketed the other). Dahiwale’s paintings answered the needs of a youth subculture and resonated to the beat of jam sessions and popular music concerts. Orchestrating the public pulse, they not only responded to aspirations, but also playfully turned oppressive social and political hierarchies on their head.

Komu, who was Dahiwale’s junior at J. J., recounts how his late friend had wanted to make "functional sculpture". Like setting up pure water counters at Churchgate station to fight the monopoly of Coke. In fact, ten days before he died, they had wanted to spray a black patch on a Nokia hoarding to protest against the rising power of multinational corporations in the Indian economy. Interestingly, Dahiwale’s political consciousness was not just born of an internationally legislated stance of political correctness, but could be attributed more appropriately to his own subaltern background (neo-Buddhist) (1) combined with his attraction to the universal language of humanism disseminated by rock and metal bands like Pearl Jam and Nirvana and legendary musicians like Bob Marley.

But death turned out to be the greatest leveller and Komu feels that losing Dahiwale is like "losing a band leader". In a large diptych, ‘Decolonising Imagination On Valentine’s Day’, Komu has painted a portrait of himself with his friend at a recording session, a memory which now lives only in a photograph. The garland of mikes in front of them finds an echo-image in the microphone that zooms out left of the canvas – based on the television clip of a Palestinian youth making a protest speech. Here Komu sets up a visual cross-reference with Dahiwale’s ‘Re-bell’ a 8.6 x 9.6 x 8.6 ft fibre-glass bell that was inscribed with toxic tales of everyday colonisations. Even as the continent behind the youth mushrooms into a black cloud, Komu shows on the other side a Lithuanian boy being baptised by a benevolent hand (an image based on a magazine reproduction). The artist thus confronts the structures of violence with the hand of compassion. (2)

Komu’s paintings function like a series of frozen moments, intervals within a larger mediatic narrative. But the visual freeze that he shoots off a TV monitor or borrows from the print media is not treated as a direct download or upgrade for the painted image. In fact he destabilises the solidity of mediatic representation, questions its omnipotent verisimilitude. For instance, the diffused white light streaming onto the boy’s face marks warmth and benediction, but the same white light turns ominous when used to bleach the Palestinian youth’s glasses and his microphone. Other kinds of visual parentheses are also employed: sharp red and black rulings point up the figures, while Dahiwale is portrayed holding the borders of a world map whose scale and dimensions are subverted. Continents shrink and enlarge according to mediatic realities, some are even made to disappear in the global theatre of war and conflict. With crushed marble powder, sandpaper, acrylic and oil Komu disperses continents and languages. You don’t know whether the sounds of the microphone emerge from Palestine or riot-torn Gujarat.

Like Komu, Ponmany likes to work on and with documentary evidence inherent in images appropriated from the print media and photography. However, their modes of drafting the image are very different. Ponmany’s tribute to Dahiwale is called, "I accept." The central image in this mixed-media work is that of birds photographed by the artist at the moment of breaking into flight at

Dadar’s Kabutar Khana. Ponmany revisited this site, which Dahiwale had photographed before his death, and melded the photograph into his painting in such a way that the photograph has become a monument for his friend. Ponmany uses the metaphor of monument not in the nostalgic tourist mode, where public sentiment is manipulated through the official ideologies of the State or of corporate institutions. Rather, by choosing the humble site of the Kabutar Khana (a rare oasis of nurture in a cruel metropolis), he sets up a counter-monument for Dahiwale – one born of brotherhood.

To Ponmany, his process of image-making is as crucial as its result. He manipulated the Kabutar Khana photograph digitally, on the computer, then treated the printouts with developing fluids and synthetic resins, made a transfer on the canvas – after which it was again treated with paint and rust. The image goes through many upgrades and the concept of the original becomes redundant, becomes parenthesised as the source image is processed through many generations and as Ponmany says, "painting happens in the revival".

Joshi’s source images are often rendered anonymous in his paintings, being parenthesised by the symbol of the target. The concentric-ringed targets suggest that all images are equally objects of surveillance and attack, especially those of the advertising world. Joshi’s paintings deal with the ambiguities of identity and belonging, his canvases are mostly peopled with anonymous faces found in cheap tabloids and commercials for soaps and other domestic goods. For instance in ‘The Two Halves of the Half Moon I & II’ two women models with middle-class aspirations stare at the viewers. At the top corner of the canvases, two targets set in quadrant moons mark these mysterious portraits. In our security-obsessed world these targets cannot be seen as benign decorative elements, they carry within them the powers of everyday surveillance that marks innocent citizens as criminals, terrorists, ‘unwanted’ wanted. Suddenly the kitschy moon-faces lose their self-conscious coyness when we are made to look as if through a magnifying glass at their raw pixellated faces—the mark of a deferred recognition.

Joshi, who was Dahiwale’s senior at J. J., had shared a room at the college hostel with him and Riyas for a year. He had been very disturbed on hearing about Dahiwale’s death and even more disheartened by the rumours that surrounded it. That is why the title of his painting plays on the notion of ‘half-truths’ that are even more dangerous than lies.

Unlike the other artists, Santhosh (a sculptor trained at Santiniketan and MSU, Baroda) did not share the J.J. background with Dahiwale.(3) Deeply attracted by Dahiwale’s rebellious personality, in his painting, he shows Dahiwale in his gaunt Christ-like avatar, the one that the late artist adopted in his painting ‘You Impregnated Me’. In ‘How far you fly?’ we witness a migratory bird held in captivity, its wings spray-marked to help in identification during migratory pattern studies. The human agency in this experiment is not shown through active intervention: we only see close-ups of hands, arms or torso. This scene of an anaesthetised laboratorium taken from a magazine is contrasted with a bird that explodes into white flames above Dahiwale’s portrait.

Santhosh’s monochromatic canvases draw on the hyperrealism of Dahiwale’s paintings, but while Dahiwale’s works were like loud amplified statements, Santhosh narrativises with the subtlety of a Zen monk, coins visual riddles with a dialectical deftness, and by trying to portray reality with a camera’s precision turns it into a paradox.

At the end of this analysis, we arrive at an interesting conclusion. The mediatic image, as we all know, has lost its sense of shock value through repetition and the painted image, in recent times, has lost its auratic potential by becoming trapped within a museal context. However, the paintings in this exhibition bear testimony to the fact that when the mediatic image is intersected with the painted image, both the immediacy of the former and the auratic potential of the latter can be magically restored. To achieve this is the aim of the renewed poetics of focused attention, which we find at work in the art of Komu, Ponmany, Joshi, Santhosh and the late Dahiwale.

Nancy Adajania

Bombay, April 2002



1)Riyas Komu, pers. comm. (April 2002): "The Buddhist root goes back to his [Girish Dahiwale’s] grandfather’s attraction towards Babasaheb Ambedkar when they were based in Nagpur. His father left Nagpur when he got a job in the telephone department. Mahad, Palghar and Panvel were the places they lived in before settling in Vasai after Girish’s father joined Indian Airlines. Girish was eight years old when he joined Maharashtra English School, Vasai. Then he shifted to St. Anthony’s School, Kolivada, which is in Vasai Village, and was considered a better English medium school. The Father (principal) of the school was fond of his drawing abilities and he had Girish’s drawings in his cabin."

    Dahiwale also had a strong affinity for the East Indian-Goan Catholic ethos, and especially its youth subculture, in which popular Western music plays a prominent role.

    2) Riyas Komu’s family background relates him to the Communist and Congress parties in his native Kerala. In his
    early youth, the artist was involved in such activities as making political posters.

    3) T. V. Santhosh’s early political socialisation took place in his native Kerala, where he was attracted to "post-Marxist Gandhian ideology". Like Komu he too was involved in making political posters.


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