Text Matters

A. Balasubramaniam  l  Debnath Basu and Anandajit Ray  l
Anita Dube  l  Asim Waqif   l  Baiju Parthan  l
Bose Krishnamachari  l  C. K. Rajan  l  Chittrovanu Mazumdar  l
Gulammohammed Sheikh  l  Kiran Subbaiah  l  Rakhi Peswani  l
Ravi Agarwal  l  Sathyanand Mohan  l   T. V. Santhosh  l  Vidya Kamat  l
Zarina Hashmi and photographs by Unknown Photographers.

5 November 2019  to 31 March  2020
The Guild, Alibaug

  . VIEWS               . WORKS              . PRESS RELEASE                            

Text Matters

The use of language and letterform as concept and design has its origins in the artistic movement that rejected the idea that an artwork should depict images or a physical object. Any presence of text in the form of letters and words within the surface of artwork was otherwise typically associated with authorship and provenance — something that is of archival importance in its typical sense. 

Conventionally, the use of text and images as tools of narration has been part of the artistic traditions worldwide. The wide ranges of Indian illustrated manuscripts are evidence of this. One can recall the hero and sati stones that powerfully depict the valour and sacrifice along with inscriptions. The colonial documentation of flora and fauna combined the finest illustrations with great calligraphic notes. Further, within the modern art movement in India, the influence of the innovative combinations of text and image developed by Art Nouveau and Jugendstil illustrators on Abanindranath Tagore and his contemporaries is well known. However, there had been a historical disjuncture with the way the visual and textual languages are perceived in conventional training in art. And the use of textual elements made a comeback with a new outlook in the twentieth century. 

Text is a powerful tool that can evoke thoughts and draw out emotions. When fused with equally powerful visual it can be graphically thought-provoking and impactful. This exhibition underlines that Text Matters and explores ways contemporary artists have engaged language and letterforms in their practice. It presents trajectories of various artists who have incorporated, infused and utilized text in their emphasis on ideas over visual forms. These artists have used text as a means to address larger artistic, social, and political concerns. By using text as the principal vehicle in their artistic expression, they have pushed forth the boundaries that separate the visual and text. The use of text has also led to the incorporation of newer techniques which are dissimilar to the typical execution method such as painting with a brush on a flat surface. From inscribing, printing, etching, and embroidering to giving it a three dimensional sculptural and book form, the versatility and power of the written word is explored. Intelligent wordplay, political activism, subversion of mass media, autobiographical citations and appropriation of form are some of the key aspects articulated here. Artists here have engaged texts, self-created as well written by others, not as citations, but as the central premise of their intellectual engagement — as Text Matters.  

Does the text enhance the power of visual or does visual enhance the power of text? Or are they counterparts in the visual-textual discourse? These questions remain to be revisited and re-explored.




12845, A. Balasubramaniam, That's what is missing,
Mixed media on paper, 44 x 120 inches, ed. 6/10.
    Debnath Basu and Anandajit Ray, 2000,
Public Transport Defence Devices, Book.
    M-19, Anita Dube, Meat words (Prison), 2006, Silver gelatin
print on fibre paper, 16.5 x 23.5 inches, ed.1/10.

A. Balasubramaniam plays with the concept of text as image. The text and the backdrop are deployed to play the role of pictorial elements. Composed within the rectangular panels, the text in one of the most popular fonts consists of a series of inquiries about self and the very existence, culminating in an almost invisible statement that reads ‘That’s what is missing’, thereby encouraging the viewers to interrogate their own cognizance.

Bala’s works challenge our sense of perceptions while creating forms that are both invisible and intangible. He uses simple visual motifs to address larger philosophical questions about the object, form and space. Play of light and shade is an important aspect of his work.




The book titled PTDD (Public Transport Defence Devices) collaboratively created by Anandajit Ray and Debnath Basu consists of ten illustrated folios each featuring drawings of imaginary devices, described and designed as a defence mechanism to combat stress and offer comfort. The artists have chosen to execute the idea in a book format giving it an appearance of a manual. The book mimics the scientific manuals or a draftsman’s illustrations and descriptions from the past. There is an underlying narrative that is witty and deals with the mundane experience such as using of urban transport service. The text here establishes a seemingly non-functional idea as the absolutely feasible, real entity.

Anandajit’s body of work is built on a strong sense of surreal imagery - be it the miniature format paintings, painted cut-outs made as puzzles or sculptural installations. Debnath, on the other hand, has integrated Bengali script into his oeuvre though forms, shades and play of visibility and obscurity. This book culminates both their artistic engagements whereas the duo’s reference to polymaths like Leonardo Da Vinci is strikingly visible. 



Anita Dube’s
photograph is developed from her interactive performance exploring the movement from the body to concept. She forms words from letters cut out from slabs of meat and invites the audience to dissect their meanings. The photographic image captures the word, freezing the moment of its creation. The feministic approach of seeing the body as prison is subtly evident.

In recent years Anita has engaged with the text as her subject, using it as a metaphorical means of expression. Her practice has involved in exploring materials - be it the velvet and other fabrics or recycled packing materials, that can be linked back to her association with the short-lived but extremely important Indian Radical Painters' and Sculptors' Association in the 1980s that challenged retrogressive art industry and commodification of art - one of it being use of inexpensive materials and found objects in an effort to with working-class audiences.




12216, Asim Waqif, Wasted,
Junked Aluminium Automotive, 15 x 104 inches.

M-3363, Baiju Parthan, Code, 2000-2003, Backlit print on
polyester (Light Box), 71 x 36 x 5.5 inches (triptych).


5361, Bose Krishnamachari, I wanted to be a painter and
I became Picasso
, watercolour graphite on kent paper & mirror,
30 x 43.5 inches.

Asim Waqif laboriously and quite literally constructs the word ‘WASTED’ by recycling abandoned waste material like automotive aluminium junk. The word materially and metaphorically resurrects itself from the discarded substances, strongly stating the concerns about waste and ecological management. Not only the word speaks for itself but the material too does.

Asim has engaged with the vernacular systems of ecological management and issues concerning water, waste and architecture. His art making involves painstaking processes of sourcing material, putting together the components to form a structure. Interestingly and paradoxically, often the objects he creates are conceived to decay thus completing another life-cycle.



Baiju Parthan’s panels present text as a set of codes and symbols. The three panels are originally part of the interactive digital installation where the code displayed on the panels running on a computer responding to user /viewer input is the actual work. It starkly deals with the way our everyday life’s activities are transformed into virtual data. Baiju skilfully plays with the vocabulary based on the complex usage of symbols of the computer programing. It offers dual possibilities of seeing the text as symbols as opposed to that of reading.

In a bid to ride out the fear of technology dominating our day-to-day lives, Baiju started actively learning computer hardware technology in the mid-1990s. This led to an altogether new encounter in his art-making - the contested arena of human and machine relationship and the ethical and philosophical questions arising from it. His interactive new media artworks explore this aspect.



Bose Krishnamachari juxtaposes words and image in order to convey a message that is biographical in substance. The realistically rendered monochromatic portrait of artist Pablo Picasso and his statement become a tribute to the icon. The words made of mirror emerge from the bright backdrop reflecting the creator or the viewer thus also connecting the figure, the message and the spectator.

Bose’s significant body of work from the 1990s included canvas surfaces of flat colours juxtaposed against skilfully executed portraits - a combination of photographic elements and vibrant, colourful abstraction. He especially made portraits of internationally acclaimed artists to re-emphasise that the painting as a conventional medium was not dead. Invoking of Picasso also reasserts Bose’s ideology in art as a global entity.









9994, C. K. Rajan, Untitled, 2007, Collage, 3.5 x 6.2 inches.
10000, C. K. Rajan, Untitled, 2007, Collage, 5.5 x 6.2 inches
10003, C. K. Rajan, Untitled, 2007, Collage, 5.5 x 6.2 inches
10011, C. K. Rajan, Untitled, Collage, 5 x 9 inches.


CM-022, Chittrovanu Mazumdar, Untitled, oil on canvas,
110 x 57 inches


GM-03, Gulammohammed Sheikh, Book of Memories for Bhupen Shivmahal Sonata and Residency Rhapsody in B Major, 2005,
Digital collage, inkjet, 21 x 354 cm, ed. 1/6.

C. K. Rajan uses images from popular newspapers and magazines and transforms them into a new narrative with his witty statements. The hand-written text occupies the speech-bubbles and serves as a strong commentary on India’s neo-liberal economy. Produced between 1992 and 96, these collages are subtle yet powerful that satirize the popular genre of comic strips.

Rajan’s political concerns are notable in his works from the period of the 1990s that reflect on globalisation and its impact on India. He was the youngest member of the Radical Painters and Sculptors Association in the 1980s, a group that stood against the status quo within the Indian art world and the political system. These series of work were produced soon after the disintegration of the group.



Chittrovanu Mazumdar juxtaposes text alongside bold expressionistic brushstrokes. The surface transforms into a collage-like composition that conceals and reveals abstract forms and the text. The words playfully reversed, smudged and misaligned challenge the viewer’s ability to read and decipher the words and their meanings. Mazumdar plays with maximizing and minimizing the size of the text thus inviting the viewer to read it at different distances.

Chittrovanu’s body of work combines a variety of visual, literary and performative references and influences. Known for his ability to traverse between the realms of abstraction and naturalism within a single frame, he deploys figurative imagery, elements of collage and abstract spaces to make powerful statements on globalization, commercialization and the contemporary society.


Gulammohammed Sheikh’s
‘Book of Memories for Bhupen’ is an accordion format folder containing photographic images forming a personal memoir of his close artist friend Bhupen Khakhar. Sheikh employs this format as a device to bind together the images. The captioning of it, ‘Shivmahal Sonata and Residency Rhapsody in B Major’ encapsulate the autobiographical elements. The intriguing aspect of this compilation is the absence of an element of the text that overturns our conventional notions of what a book is.

This book recalls the unconventional painting format Gulammohammed has executed such as Kavad series, influenced from portable wooden shrine from Rajasthan used as means for mythological narration. Unlike Kavad, the narrative presented here illustrates the story of friendship between him and Bhupen.




11876, Kiran Subbaiah, Walking Bicycle, 2003, Reflective vinyl on aluminium, 38 x 38 cms, ed. 2/3.


12106, Rakhi Peswani, Body Fictions (Routing Violence), 2011, Hand embroidery on fabrics-unbleached cotton fabric, monga silk, velvet fabric,
faux fur and enamelled copper, 32" x 29" (triptych).


 Ravi Agarwal, Ambient Seas, Notes from October 2013
to August 2015, Diary

Kiran Subbaiah
playfully transforms the image of an everyday object such as bicycle through transforming its form thereby the function. Kiran plays with the idea of creating symbols or images to communicate messages to the viewer, bringing in a gist of humour. He turns the image into a symbol for signage - that does not conventionally require a text. Unlike the familiar signage that are meant to provide information (about something that exists), the object in this signage here tickles our thought by its impossibility of existence.

Kiran’s practise encompasses acute observations on the material world that surrounds us. He tactfully plays with the relationship between the form and function of objects by intervening into the aesthetic of their making and the usage, in turn liberating them from their actual function.





Rakhi Peswani explores meanings and metaphors from a set of selected words in her hand-embroidered fragments of fabrics titled Body Fictions (Routing Violence). Set in a triptych these words that resonate violence are cut, stitched, burnt, and stencilled. She invites the viewer to construct words from the combination of these disparate rhyming words in order to create a fiction. Body and its haptic association with fabrics become a space of reflection and creation of fictions.

Through her practice that does not necessarily fall under the rubric of art or craft, Rakhi has been exploring the association of labour and craftsmanship employing everyday objects, materials, and experiences. Body and its associations with mundane objects have been a significant theme in her creative engagement. She toys with the tendencies to construct metaphors by creating/ re-creating objects from materials that are dear to the body. She often employs text in the form of words or quotations to emphasize the message.


Ravi Agarwal’s diary notes titled ‘Ambient Seas’ is a combination of photographic images and text. The photo-diary emerges out of his engagement with the fishing community near Puducherry. His visual and textual exploration into the community’s cultural and political relationship to the sea forms the key subject of the book. The visuals and the text complement each other and present evocative personal insights.

Ravi’s practice brings together environmental activism and artistic interventions. He explores questions around ecology and society while positioning him with multiple roles. He has worked with videos, installations, authored books, created public projects.







12544, Sathyanand Mohan, The Revolution will not be televised,
2010, acrylic on canvas, 82 x 60 inches


12622, T. V. Santhosh, The Cost of the War,
Watercolour on paper, 60 x 40 inches

12623, T. V. Santhosh, The Masquerader,
Watercolour on paper, 60 x 40 inches


10391, Vidya Kamat, Footnotes to Innana, 2003,
Digital print on paper, 48 x 36 inches, ed.2/4.


Sathyanand Mohan adopts the text from a spoken word performance of the song ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’ by Gil Scott-Heron, an African American soul and jazz poet, musician, and author. The title refers to the ways in which the real revolution - coming out of the struggles of African American people is invisible in media depictions of American life. The floating painted text is exposed from the bright backdrop.

The painting revisits the historic movement, at the same time also drawing parallels with the use of the slogan in popular culture worldwide. It also calls attention to the invisibility of political suffering and struggle and our collective blindness to it — that is a frequent phenomenon in many cultures. Sathyanand’s many of the works draw political and philosophical references from other cultural contexts.




TV Santhosh’s
employs text in the form of questions that are philosophical and universal in his watercolours that cites the genre of posters. The questions painted in an elongated three-dimensional style font become the pedestals for the characters who pose holding a curious set of objects, with their faces peculiarly covered. These figures impersonate the question which is put forward. These sculpturesque compositions evoke a sense of awe and question our sensibilities of how we comprehend war and terror.

Santhosh’s practice has engaged with complex histories of violence, injustices, war, and terrorism. His interpretative style and technique combine to expose hidden symbolism within the margins of his work. His images surpass the national and cultural boundaries and attain a universal stature and put forward the unresolved questions back to us.


Vidya Kamat incorporates writings by Arundhathi Subramaniam and Gita Chadha into her genre of work that explores the issues of gender and femininity. She reinterprets the texts that deal with the critical aspect of menstruation and contemporary discourse around it. Set within the self-portrait of the artist, the text here becomes a part of the body and the self. The text visually converts the image of the body into a talking body that conceals a lot of stories.

Vidya has engaged with the concept of the female body as a site of varied experiences in her practice. In order to express this, she portrays herself in different characters - ranging from mythology to the mundane, commenting on sensuality, beauty, and valorisation. She brings in her personal experiences to create intriguing images that are self-reflective.





M-3059, Zarina Hashmi, Despair-12/25, 1999, Woodblck print on handmade kozo paper laid on Somerset paper, 8 x 6 inches.

M-3063, Zarina Hashmi, Darkness-12/25, 1999, Woodblck print on handmade kozo paper laid on Somerset paper, 8 x 6 inches.


CP-1, Canadian Government Motion Picture Bureau Electrolytic
cells - Zinc Cars on the right, loaded with Zinc. Cathode sheets,
ready for the Melting Room, Zinc Mining, Plant at Trail,
Province of Britist Columbia, Canada.


CP-2, Canadian Pacific Railway Company Communications
Operating Room


Zarina Hashmi’s
minimalistic and abstract woodcut prints emphasize how visually evocative words can become. Part of the set of thirty-six
woodblock prints titled Home Is a Foreign Place, each print features a monochromatic pattern derived from Urdu words like ‘Darkness’, ‘Despair’, ‘Wall’ and ‘Distance’ and so on. Zarina got them written in traditional Nastaliq script by a calligrapher in Pakistan and developed images incorporating them into her composition.

For Zarina, who was relocated from her hometown Aligarh to Pakistan after the partition in the 1950s and had been constantly moving to different places around the world, before making New York her home, this set is like a chronicler of her life. The prints poignantly touch upon the themes of home, borders, and journey. They become citation ground for articulating the sense of loss and the distance from language, her mother tongue Urdu caused by the displacement. The words are reminiscent in their poetic meanings.





The authorless texts inscribed on the press prints contain notations and markings intended for official purposes. Reading the ‘unintentional texts’ that typically describe the content captured on the reverse in the context of artistic explorations of text (and image/ as image) offers an interesting dimension to the way we perceive the text. Can the text subvert itself to offer multiple meanings? Are we seeking to find references to the description or vice versa?
















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