Sonal Motla pays a tribute to things abused by neglect in her column, 'Circling the Square'

My first show, ‘State of the Art’, was the first show of digitally-aided canvasses in the history of contemporary Indian Art. The show was well-received and celebrated

Sonal MotlaUpdated: Saturday, November 12, 2022, 09:42 PM IST
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Pic courtesy: Sonal Motla

My work life, started with a bang! I was in my 20s and I happened to work with a galaxy of stars in the Contemporary Fine Art World! Not only did I have the fabulous luck, to just interact with them but also collaborate, brainstorm and experiment to create artworks.

My first show, ‘State of the Art’, was the first show of digitally-aided canvasses in the history of contemporary Indian Art. The show was well-received and celebrated.

The works were large six-foot canvasses. To me, paintings seemed like windows, where the viewer looks into the space of a frame, and peeks into the world created by the artist in the artwork. But what if these windows were turned into doors? What if one could enter a space and feel the objects and be surrounded within the environment of Art rather than just view it? (This is happening today in the Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) space, but we are talking about the 90s, 30 years ago).

This led to an exploration on the path of functional art and resulted in a show of objects, that were designed, not just decorated or worked at a superficial level. Artists would design objects inspired from every day objects.

Pic courtesy: Sonal Motla

The observation derived was that human beings have a strange yardstick for value versus price. Things that are of lesser use but rare, are priced high. Rare is special, useful is undervalued. Awareness to this attitude, made us select a simple table and chair as our concept for the show. A table has witnessed us learning our ABCs to studying through school and college, seen us planning our work, executing it and, finally, even making our wills. It’s watched the entire journey of life but have we ever looked at our table and thanked it?

Similarly, a chair to me, is like a mothers lap, it has always been there, when we eat, write, relax, work, and once tired we just plonk ourselves on a chair to rest, without gratitude or mindfulness.More often than not, we seem to carry this behaviour in our relationships, for a child a mother is just a mother. The expectation from a mom is to be around, to feed, to nourish... But once the child grows up, the realisation strikes that one had never looked at one’s mom as anything else but a mother. She is someone’s wife, daughter, sister, friend, lover.. but as a child one remain blinded as her being just for oneself. This can be extended to Mother Nature too... we have been blinded and mindlessly looked at only our myopic selfish needs from nature, who has only been nurturing. A tribute is owed... a tribute for all things we have abused through neglect.

Hence, back then, we decided to interpret and create mundane functional objects like a table and a chair, as a theme to our show, which was poetically named ‘Circling the Square’ by Prabhakar Barwe. We had a great time exploring this theme and artists like, Akbar Padamsee, Prabhakar Barwe, Navjot Altaf, Laxman Shreshtha, DLN Reddy, Prithpal Singh Ladi, Jin Sook Shinde and Krishnamachari Bose participated and pushed the limits.

The outcome was interesting and varied, as creative minds are. One of my favourites was the ‘Earth’ chair that Prabhakar Barve created, which finally landed in an international auction. The chess board had insignificant everyday objects encapsulated in glasses as pawns and two pumpkins heads seated on a chair as players. Bose’s opened and closed, colourful pile of books, became a sofa chair.

Pic courtesy: Sonal Motla

Each one’s expression was completely different than the other to make it into a rich collection of Functional Art works. These flights of creative pursuits taken off from the conventional drill is where creative thinking, expression and explorations lay.

In educational institutions today, the disciplines of painting, sculpture, crafts all are well defined. But it’s imperative that after the basics, the electives of different creative art disciplines be offered. Nothing is isolated and one cannot stress enough on the need of multidisciplinary education. To question conditioned thinking and revisit, reflect, contemplate and express is the only way to create. Educational pedagogy must be designed to give this silence and space specially in this era of overstimulation and overflowing information.

(Sonal Motla has curated Kala Ghoda 2020 with development and art as a theme and is currently working towards the issues on education on art, craft and design with a few educational institutions. Send your feedback to: sonal25fpj@gmail.com)

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