A Hole in the Pocket

Five artists talk about how the idea of money has shaped some of their works and vision

Written by Vandana Kalra | Updated: October 15, 2017 1:45 pm
Atul Dodiya, Jitish Kallat, LN Tallur, Ravi Agarwal, Gigi Scaria, Atul Dodiya, Mahalaxmi, Last Night Rained a Lot, Death of Distance, Chromatophobia, India Art news, Art news, India This work is imbued with doubt, ambivalence and uncertainty. While the Re 1 coin is enlarged to the height of an average Indian and covered in black lead, the lenticular prints flip between two overlaid ‘found texts’.( Jitish Kallat’s Death of Distance)

Atul Dodiya 
Mahalaxmi, 2001
Exterior: Oil and enamel paint, brass letters on metal roller shutter with iron hooks
Interior: Acrylic and varnish with gold powder on canvas

This work depicts the duality and hypocrisy in society. On one hand, women are worshiped as goddesses, and, on the other, there is so much discrimination against them. The work is part of the ‘Shutter’ series, which originated from the concept of Mumbai shop owners using shutters as shop security gates as well as for advertising. There are two images — one on the shutter and another behind it. Mahalaxmi is the Hindu goddess of prosperity and wealth. I have painted her against a bright backdrop on a shutter. But rolling up the shutter exposes us to a canvas with a gruesome photo-realistic black-and-white image of three sisters who hung themselves as a result of dowry pressure in Kanpur in 1988. In a Hindu family, when a girl child is born, we say, ‘Lakshmi has come’. But, these girls had to die because of human greed.

Also Read | A brief history of money

Gigi Scaria
Last Night Rained a Lot, 2010, archival print

The work originates from the phrase ‘chhappar phaad kar dena’ (When god gives, he gives in great abundance). The photograph is the visualisation of the same phrase as a sarcastic commentary on the social system. Wealth in abundance is a dream for everyone. But a deprived social sector, which has even abandoned its own dream due to its living conditions, cannot even understand the idea of ‘chhappar phaad kar’ unless that is a reality played out in front of them by the upper middle class or the elite around them. The understanding of wealth and the meaning of money also changes as we grow old.

Also Read | The Stuff of Life

Ravi Agarwal
The artist in his studio, 2010, (digital photographic print)

The work is a commentary on the dilemma the artist faces while trying to cope with market demands. The survival of the artist economically can impact creative processes. The work attempts to raise questions about how the idea of the market influences the artistic process, and the levels at which this, consciously or subconsciously, plays on artistic decisions. It was made on invitation of a curated show on the theme of ‘money’ a few years after I started working in the white cube space. I was also confronted with this question, because my practice is different from what the art market would usually see, and is more documentary and issue-oriented.

Also Read | The Secret Currency: Managing money need not be a man’s job only

LN Tallur
Chromatophobia, 2012 (wooden log, granite, and hammered coins)

Like Lakshmi in India, the Chinese believe in Happy Man (laughing Buddha) is a symbol of money, prosperity and wealth. There’s an old folk tale, where a rich man gives away all his wealth and becomes a Buddhist monk. He travels to different villages to spread laughter, which was contagious and all who gathered would start laughing. In his right hand, he carried a cloth sack filled with precious items. He kept this on the floor and only picked it up to take it with him to the next village he visited. When asked why, the laughing Buddha said, it simply means you’re keeping your problems down (symbolically, keeping the bag down). Separate yourself from it, and, yes, just laugh.
In my work, I asked people to leave their coins on the wooden log, so that the laughing Buddha can carry all their greed. At the same time, he will not be able to travel to another place because of the load on him and he will stay with you.

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Jitish Kallat
Death of Distance, 2006, (Black lead, stained resin, steel, lenticular prints)

This work is imbued with doubt, ambivalence and uncertainty. While the Re 1 coin is enlarged to the height of an average Indian and covered in black lead, the lenticular prints flip between two overlaid ‘found texts’. One is a disturbing news story about a 12-year-old girl from West Bengal who killed herself because her mother couldn’t afford to give her Re 1 to buy a meal. The other is a 2006 news report announcing the launch of a “One India Plan” by a telecom company, which would bring down the cost of inter-state calls to one rupee. An official quoted in the story referred to the scheme as “the death of distance”, alluding to the seemingly universal affordability of the tariff. The exultant text of the telecom story is haunted by the story of the little girl.

Also Read | Temple Run: A gold rush at the Padmanabhaswamy Temple

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