Gandhi - Between Borders
This is an exhibition of silence. Sound is imagined, or, rather, its instruments appear, yet sound itself has been stifled.
The exhibition unfolds in the headspace of reading. Madhusudhanan’s images are read as much as they are seen.
The exhibition is read at two speeds—as filmic succession and as gradual contemplation. Rushes, storyboards, sequences, flows. Images flit by and yet our view freeze-frames each window, each unique charcoaled or painted stab at history. Light beams through the oily fusain strokes - steady, beckoning. Or illuminates the dented face of a pocket watch, the feather of a wing, the contour of a thigh.
Classical singer Ustaad Bade Gulam Ali Khan emerges from the painted depths, mouth rounded in mid-song, his features made at once ghostly and ruddy by a bare hanging bulb. His image crowns an assemblage of charcoal drawings, four wide, two tall. Darkness is their leitmotif, and they read almost like a sombre storyboard of a bankrupt present, syncopated by a disappointing past. Like the bulb, everything is suspended: a cluster of ancient microphones, a grimy megaphone, a forlorn gramophone. Sound is evoked, perhaps latent, but ultimately this world is mute. “The calisthenics of history, performed in a time of precarity,” wrote critic Nancy Adajania of Madhusudhanan’s paintings. In this silent space, at least this rings true. It embraces the weathered artefacts and the dismembered statuary. Even the living seem sclerotic and trapped. The colour of song, perhaps, is the only hope. Yet Ustaad Bade Gulam Ali Khan himself bore the brunt of a violent split. Music may flow freely in space; bodies are riven by Partition. Silence.
An assembly of sculptures, wordless witnesses to the violence simmering in the other works, loiter like the remnants of history.
Quicken the pace, lurch into film. Another ghostscape. Silence, still, punctuated solely by stiff, yellowed celluloid hiccupping through the feeble sprockets of abandoned film projectors. History is a Silent Film (2008), for all its sepia warmth, is doubly violent. First: precarity; a man’s financial survival hinged to a teetering technology. Capital makes humans relics, too, in its march of optimisation. Second: partition; separation; a ghostly paternal reunion. Cinema is the harrowing evidence of illusion. Madhusudhanan’s narrative gesture is complex. By coinciding, materially, the fictional space of the ancient film shown through the derelict projectors – the jerky cinematic images of tux-clad Raj Kapoors’s blurry nightclub crooning – with the “lived” spaces of the projector repair shop and the wider Old Delhi neighbourhood, he forecloses any potential escape. We, like the stoic repairman Usmanbhai, are condemned to “disappear to the other side of history.”
Confronted with the violence of partition, the insidiously destructive might of capital, the sheer decrepitude of history, how can Ghandi be relevant? Madhusudhanan proceeds by synecdoche, and we are tasked with piecing together his image of history: the microphone stands in for the dictator’s voice; the bullhorn, police state bellowing; the boot, fascist intimidation. The iconic Ghandijee, in Madhusudhan’s homage, is hybrid: his revered image is partially usurped by the mundane objects that define him – a cloak, salt, a goat, an umbrella. He functions here as an antidote, of sorts. A light, like the lantern-cum-torso in one image, that seems to pierce the darkness differently, less suspended and contorted, more defiant and direct. The narrative slows down, takes space to breathe.
Yet the silence lingers.
- Kevin Jones
Kevin Jones is an independent arts writer based in Dubai. New York-born and Paris-bred, he has lived in the Middle East for the past 13 years and is currently the UAE Desk Editor for ArtAsiaPacific. He has contibuted to The Art Newspaper, Artforum.com, ArtReviewAsia and FlashArt International. Regionally, his writing has been published in Harper’s Bazaar Art Arabia, Bidoun, Canvas, Brownbook and The National. He holds a BA with a double major English Literature/Journalism from Northwestern University. His MA is in Linguistics/Semiotics from La Sorbonne Nouvelle (Paris III). He is devoted to fostering a critical voice on contemporary art in the Gulf region.