Asymmetrical Objects

Curated by Tasneem Zakaria Mehta

Co-curated by Himanshu Kadam

Participating artists: Atul Bhalla, Jitish Kallat, Manish Nai, Mithu Sen, Prajakta Potnis, Ranbir Kaleka, Reena Kallat, Rohini Devasher, Sahej Rahal and Shilpa Gupta

In January 2018, the Museum will complete 10 years since it opened to the public in 2008 after a major restoration that took 5 years. In March 2017 the Museum completed 160 years since it was first opened to the public by Lord Canning in 1857. Inspired by these important dates, we have conceptualised an exhibition that takes its cue from the earliest impulses to establish the Museum and have juxtaposed it with our ongoing engagement with the prevailing 'environment'. Nature and Science were the founding principles of the Museum and are as significant today as they were then. However the lens through which we view both has changed radically. Nature traditionally was seen as a celebration of the divine and was sacralised and ritualised. Many of those values have been compromised or rejected as industrialisation and consumption have threatened older rituals and modes of thought. Science was the instrument through which one observed and made sense of the world. It held out the possibility of endless hope. Today Artificial Intelligence is seen more as a threat than a remedy. In the 19th century science and nature represented certainty and objectivity. Those assumptions have given way to more subjective and inclusive modes of thought. But we are constantly challenged by nature and science to redefine who we are and the value systems we wish to privilege.

We have invited ten of our foremost artists whose practice includes an interest in nature and science or consumption and degradation as process and product, to respond to these ideas and to explore the much debated Age of the Anthropocene and its impact on the environment and the effects on biodiversity. The exhibition endeavours to articulate a visual vocabulary that addresses these issues. Each artist has explored a different theme such as alienation, pollution, destruction of biodiversity, unnatural divisions, mutations and distortions, the politics of water and waste and the destruction of landscapes and rivers. Is healing and redemption possible? What does the future hold? The exhibition invites viewers to form their own conclusions and share these with the Museum in a dialogue that will continue for the length of the exhibition through many activities and discussions.

Established in 1857 as the Government Central Museum of Natural History, Geology, Archaeology and Economic Products, the Museum’s original collection included natural history specimens, archaeological artefacts and geological materials. However, many of the artefacts, including sculptures, coins and taxidermied animals were given to the erstwhile 'Prince of Wales Museum' now Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya, the 'Haffkine Institute', Parel, the ‘Reay Industrial Museum’ now the Mahatma Phule Museum, Pune and the 'Government Central Museum', Nagpur to enable them to start their Museums. The Museum retains a small but significant natural history collection as well as a rich archive that documents its early efforts at displaying natural history specimens. Interestingly it won a gold medal at the 1883 International Fisheries Exhibition, London for specimens of dried fish and fishing nets


Atul Bhalla

Vaitarna I (Abandoned Journeys)
2017, Archival Pigment Print (ed. 1 of 3), 34 x 48 in
Vaitarna II (Abandoned Journeys)
2017, Archival Pigment Print (ed. 1 of 3), 34 x 48 in
Vaitarni 2017, Archival Pigment Print (ed. 1 of 3), 60 x 48 in

Atul Bhalla’s practice navigates issues relating to water. Here he explores myths about the Vaitarna River which you encounter after death in your journey towards heaven. The mythical river does not contain water; it is a river full of blood, pus, mucus, with heaps of rotting bones and flesh on its banks, seething with smoke, fumes, decay and misery.
Worms, maggots, insects, scavenging birds and animals crowd its bank as they sift through carrion. It is impossible to cross this river to enter heaven, as you are obstructed by your deeds which are represented by all the grotesque creatures you encounter. They are your karma in this life. If you are thirsty, you have to drink from the blood filled river. If you fall into it with there is no one to rescue you; the hundreds of whirlpools in the river will take you to the lowest depths, only to rise again, choking in the filth of our own creation.
Water has always been a symbol of life and purification. For the artist it is also a symbol of our inner life. The external world reflects our inner selves.
These works came about from images shot following the Vaitarna River; north of Mumbai to its Dam, a source of water to most of Mumbai.
Courtesy: The artist
Special thanks to Vadehra Gallery

Jitish Kallat
2008, Resin, Paint and Steel, 100 x 105.9 x 270.9 inches

Jitish Kallat’s work has been engaged with questions about sustenance, life cycles, historical events and natural phenomena. Referencing two Museum Reports from 1876 and 1877 about the procurement and the mounting procedure of a whale’s skeleton in the centre of the ground floor of the Bhau Daji Lad Museum, Jitish Kallat's mammoth sculpture titled Aquasaurus (2008) is installed in that very location 142 years later.
Aquasaurus (2008) is the largest among a series of skeletal vehicles by the artist that include Autosaurus Tripous (2007) and Collidonthus (2007). These emerged from small gouache drawings that Kallat made in 2002 referencing found photographs of vehicles burnt or otherwise damaged in riots. Modelled on water tankers that ferry drinking water to water-short localities in urban India, Aquasaurus is described by the artist as “grotesque, burlesque and arabesque in equal measure” for its mammoth size and heavily ornamented yet monstrous body. Aquasaurus is both playful and unsettling, inscribed as it is with themes of violence, drought, death and mortality.
Courtesy: The artist

Manish Nai
2018, Compressed used clothes, Aluminium, 375 pillars, 80 x 3 x 3 inches each

Manish Nai’s works engage in complex processes and protocols of creation, recalling an ethics of fabrication that appears mostly lost in the frenzy of mass scale production. The works are presented as a tightly organized unit through media that is often cheap and ubiquitous, alluding to both hierarchies of artistic production and Indian social structures. Nai comes from a family of textile artisans and he uses discarded clothes and fabric to create minimalist forms that vary in colour from exuberant to meditative inviting the audience to reflect on the extraordinary potential of art to renew and rethink the mundane.
Courtesy: The artist
Special thanks to Galerie Mirchandani

Mithu Sen
I have only one language; it is not mine
2014, Video installation (from a performance-based project), Duration: as long as you want to watch

Mithu Sen presents a multi-media installation which engages with the idea of radical hospitality, exploring the limitations of language and the possibility of dialogue outside it. Sen spent several days at a home for minor female orphans who were victims of abuse. She entered their world and lived their life in Kerala, interacting with the children as their alter-identity ‘Mago’- an apparently homeless person who speaks gibberish, does not understand the concept of time and is in a state of transit between two unknown places.
During this unscripted performance, Sen sought to surrender herself to this group of disenfranchised children who became her host during the days the performance unfolded. Sen constructed a fiction that attempts to understand the complexity of domestic and family relationships.
The performance was documented on video by the artist herself and the children who intermittently took the camera into their own hands. Reflecting on the work, Sen believes “Language imposes a strange and alien logic that tells us not to smell poetry, hear shadows or taste lights. Escaping this rigid framework, this project seeks not only to locate communication outside the narrow alleys of comprehension, but also tries to envisage dialogue in ways that cannot be read or heard”
Courtesy: The artist

Prajakta Potnis
2012, Lightbox, 36 x 84 in
2012, Lightbox, 72 x 120 in
Going Up – Coming Down
2018, Metal sculpture, 36 x 14 x 14 in

Prajakta Potnis photographs have a hallucinatory form, inviting the viewer to enter a strange world that seems both real and unreal. She employs a sterile, temperature controlled space that expands time by delaying the process of decay. Its captivating light has a sense of the familiar and is reminiscent of the inside of a mall or an airport, where you lose a sense of time and place. These “non places” as Marc Auge calls them, follow a certain kind of archetype, the inside of these sterile spaces have a compelling antiseptic character that is disconnected from the local or the outside. The anodyne and anonymous solitude of these non-places offers the transitory occupant the illusion of being part of some grand global scheme: a fugitive glimpse of a utopian city-world. Escalators, a common feature in these “non-spaces”, offer the experience of being suspended in motion and in time, freezing departures and arrivals. These non spaces have homogenised the urban and the modern, removing the impure and the unnecessary.

Courtesy: The artist
Special thanks to Project 88

Ranbir Kaleka
House of Opaque Water
2012-2013, HD three Channel Video with Synchroniser, 10 minutes 33 seconds loop

After a long careful look, the man says, "This is my home". He is in a boat, surrounded by the sea on all sides. "..and over there was a tree which fell in a storm and the children played amongst its branches". We see nothing, there is the sea all around him. He continues to describe his friends, home and village.
The islands of the Sundarbans in Bengal, home to the world's largest mangrove forest, are being swallowed by the ever rising sea-level due to global warming and other man-made calamities.Sheikh Lal Mohan, whose name is a curious mix of Muslim and Hindu names, took us to the spot on the sea under which lies his submerged village. He now lives on a new island, Sagardweep.

He has returned to the site of his village. But there is no true returning. In a ritual of reclamation, he sculpts a mud map of his village and house as a healing rite. In an overflow from reality, invented events are enacted in fictive spaces, which project the imaginary interiority of the protagonist.

In 'The House of Opaque Water' we follow him and enter a feverish dream of loss and desire.

The seed for this installation was a passage in the film "Mean Sea Level"by environmentalist and activist Pradeep Saha. In the film, Sheikh Lal Mohan, sitting in a boat, reminisces about the village that disappeared under the sea. "Mean Sea Level" looks at how the rising sea level is eating away at whatever little the poor islanders are left with.

Credits: Pradip Saha (Camera, sound, editing and research); Gautam Pandey (Camera) Special Thanks: Volte Art Projects, Tushar Jiwarajka (Volte Gallery), Sheikh Lal Mohan, and the Islanders of Sagardweep

Ranbir Kaleka
2009-2012, Single Channel HD Video projection on painted wall, 16 minutes loop with sound

The Forest is full of metaphorical events, which have a universal resonance. This work can be described as an open-ended work about ‘rejuvenation’ in a period of ‘confusion’ and ‘strife’. A field of flowers reveals burnt ground underneath where a man flagellates himself in an act of atonement. Signs of burnt-ground has in recent times meant ‘hidden atrocities’ as well as deforestation. The flagellant gets up and walks off changing into an animated cartoon. He appears at various points in the video: He rescues some books from a burning library*. He educates himself with the books. He shows the power of knowledge by re-growing lost limbs. He pours the ‘water of knowledge’ into a hole dug by a child. From the hole fountains rise and we see a city born underneath.

*Book shelves in the forest symbolise a library of knowledge. The lion is the guardian of knowledge. The lion is driven away by the forces of destruction as the library is burnt. In the end, we see a little cub return to the emergent city.

Credits: Elliot Goldenthal (Music); Gautam Pandey (Camera); Nand Katyal, Maitreya; Aban Raza; Amba Sanyal (Cast) Special Thanks: Volte Art Projects, Tushar Jiwarajka (Volte Gallery); O.P. Jain; Harveen Kapur

Reena Kallat
Hyphenated Lives

2017-18, Gouache, charcoal, ink and electric wire on handmade paper
Earth Citizens
2017-18, Gouache, charcoal, ink and electric wire on handmade paper, 75 x 46 in each
Siamese Trees
2014, Electric wire, metal ring, motion sensor, LED assembling rope light, 69 x 67 x 1 in

Developing from Hyphenated Lives is Earth Citizens, evoking an imaginary planetary system where hybrid flora and fauna formed by merging the national animals and plants of hostile neighbour states roam the earth and sky. The existence of one depends on the other or the disappearance of one species affects the other adversely. Earth Citizensis cleaved apart by the superimposition of barbed wires woven from electric cables, a recurring motif in the artist’s works.

Nineteenth century books from the Bhau Daji Lad Museum library prompted three of the most recent drawings from Reena Kallat’s series of works titled Hyphenated Lives. Displayed alongside the reference books are drawings titled Cob-ger, Lo-mine and Deo-yan, hybrids formed by the merger of species appropriated as national symbols by India and Pakistan. By combining one half from each side of the border, the artist creates a poignant narrative of convergence, uniting a subcontinent that was divided by an occupying colonial force.

In Siamese Trees, an enlarged embroidery ring, whose base itself is a painstakingly woven mesh of electrical wiring, forms a fabric fence even as these conduits of contact entangle and morph into barriers. One half grows into the Banyan tree, while the other left half bifurcates into the Deodar tree, the national trees of India and Pakistan respectively. They grow like conjoined Siamese twins paying no heed to partitioned national borders and alluding to the shared and rooted past, enmeshed in a complex civilisational history.

Courtesy: The artist

Rohini Devasher
2017, Video and drawing installation, Dimensions variable

Rohini Devasher creates imagined worlds in her work evoking both wonder and awe. SPHERES explores ideas of interiority, inversion and the construction of a 'climate' that evokes a strangeness; not of haunting but of wonder. Through a series of encounters between the ‘natural’ and ‘technological’, intersecting patterns between the two will be made visible.

SPHERES is somewhere between reality and fiction. Shot on site at the Mt Aso Caldera in Japan, the site is re-imagined so we seem to be looking inside some form of hollowed out space, a sphere or cylinder. SPHERES is a work in four parts. In the first, we see a strange crater, which stands as a sentinel of past upheaval; we see mist, cloud and fog, a distant horizon, an atmosphere. And we see a cylindrical sea, rising overhead. An artificial sun or suns simulate a daylight cycle, illuminating and obscuring the landscape by turns. The following chapters - the valley and the cloud-maker or active volcano, are each by turns, propositions, both geographic and metaphoric of an attempt to imply the unobservable, on the basis, of what can be observed. The images conjured are a species of “chimera”. They are one thing, standing in for something else, pushing the limits of the known and the imagined. The landscape because of its scale provides an almost mythic realisation of oneself within an environment.

Courtesy: The artist

Sahej Rahal
The Walker XV
2018, Salvaged objects around the museum, polyurethane and synthetic lacquer, 204 x 96 x 72 x 60 in

The Walker is a sculpture that references ideas around mythology, difference and otherness. Made using found objects this sculpture appears as an archaeological excavation as well as a mutated being arriving from the future. Playing on this pull between the past and future this walker serves as a constant reminder of the whirl of our contemporary existence. It is playful, yet strange.
Courtesy: The artist
Special thanks to Chatterjee and Lal

Sahej Rahal
2018, Fibreglass, 53 x 43 in

The Watcher is a fiberglass sculpture that references ideas around mythology, difference and otherness. Cast from found objects, this sculpture appears as a ceremonial mask as well as dissected remains of an extinct organism.
Courtesy: The artist
Special thanks to Chatterjee & Lal

Shilpa Gupta
Shadow 3
2007, Interactive video with sound

Shadow 3 is one of the key manifestations of Shilpa Gupta’s ongoing inquiry in the blurring of relationships between different entities. In the projection, the viewer becomes an active participant of the unfolding narrative where fragments of an aftermath from an environment under rampage, begin to re-enter our lives. Particiants take on a new being in the projected images questioning our perception of our selves and our actions.

Courtesy: The artist
Special thanks to Thomas Eichhorn (technician) and Foundation for Indian Contemporary Art (FICA)

Connect with us