There is this primeval fear that confronts us when we find ourselves in a darkened space. It’s as if everything bad that has happened to the human race is lurking in those recesses.
Narendra Yadav, 49, despite a demeanour that would put a gregarious talk show host to shame, has an inherent understanding of that fear, that moment of helplessness which makes us want to look away.
Tucked away in a corner at the India Art Fair, his installation titled The Original May also be a Reflection, is a darkened room with moving mirrors.
However, rooms with mirrors have their own horror stories. “I wanted to create a place where the viewer can engage with himself or herself. As an artist I feel I need to recognise the emotional intelligence of my viewer.
The way he or she engages with my work, that for me is art,” says Yadav, who studied Applied Arts at the JJ School of Arts, Mumbai.
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Yadav, who also happens to be the creative director of an advertising firm in Mumbai, found his calling as an artist quite late in life. “I was afraid to take it up as a profession. I was surrounded by too many out-of-luck, struggling artists,” says Yadav.
He chose to establish his career in advertising before putting together a show for Museum gallery, Mumbai, in 2006. This is probably why his works seem to be fraught in a bittersweet mix of longing and humour.
His first show, Labour, was a wry look at religion and the way it affects us. His other work on display at the India Art Fair is a collection of discarded family portraits, which are framed upside down and are displayed with a framed lens where the viewer can also see himself upside down.
It induces melancholia but there is an element of the ridiculous in it too. “It is about memories and its deception,” he says.
Yadav’s Gandhi piece, a sculpture which has back-to-back bronze busts of Mahatma Gandhi as hammer heads slamming against a concrete slab, is already raising a few eyebrows.
“I want to question the logic behind the concept of non-violence with this piece. If you shoot a person with a gun, that’s violence. But if you choose not to, that’s non-violence? It’s like saying, every law-abiding citizen of the country is a non-terrorist.
Concepts shouldn’t be so limiting in their scope,” says Yadav, who has showed his works in Nuit Blanche Festival (New York), Commercial Break Biennale van Venetië, Venice and Artissima International Fair of Commercial Art, Torino, Italy.
His 2012 work, Why Do You Look like Me (Gallery Maskara, Mumbai), which is an interactive installation, remains his most political to date. A skyline made up of silhouettes of minarets and other specimens of Islamic architecture is mounted on a wall while a shadow of a moving plane flies through them, echoing a reverse scene of the September 11 attacks.
“There is a saying in Indian philosophy. One needs to be choosey while picking his/ her enemy, as over a period of time we acquire qualities of our opponent,” says Yadav.
Though he wants to be a full time artist, Yadav recognises that there are few takers for his kind of work in India. “The Indian art scene is all about status quo. People want beautiful things that they can take back home, which means I have no choice but to be a weekend artist,” he says.