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Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Well-known photographer shows how sudden lockdown in the US changed his art

Vilasini started to think deeply about photography, its fundamental idea as “drawing with light” and the meaning of creating when one was in isolation from the world.

Written by Dipanita Nath | Pune |
Updated: November 20, 2021 10:34:53 am
Koregaon Park, Photography, Vivek Vilasini, Kerala artist, Vivek Vilasini photographer, Pune newsVilasini turned his camera on leaves and enlarged its parts, and began to see entire landscapes.

How does an artist respond when his three-week visit to the US turns into a four-month stay because of a sudden lockdown? On the white walls of the Vida Heydari Contemporary Art Gallery in Koregaon Park are a series of photographs that might not have happened if Kerala-based multimedia artist Vivek Vilasini and his wife, artist Meena Vari, had not found themselves constantly moving through homes and spare rooms of their good friends and collectors in Chicago, Cincinnati and Kentucky, among others, feeling like aliens, in isolation and without his regular camera.

Vilasini started to think deeply about photography, its fundamental idea as “drawing with light” and the meaning of creating when one was in isolation from the world.

“I was photographing the lights that were in the room and, from there, I began playing with light and trying to compose with light. It opened up a whole new world for me,” says Vilasini.

These are works that make up his first solo in Pune, titled, “Between One Shore and Several Others”. He has captured colours — using bulbs, LEDs and lamps — and played with movements of lights and cameras.

The abstracts depart from Vilasini’s oeuvre of photographs that are staged, representational and political.

The artist is best known for works such as Last Supper-Gaza, in which Leonardo da Vinci’s classic has women in hijab seated at the long table to draw attention to the Palestinian cause. Recruiting Station is a work showing a group of young Indian men, in desperate need of work, in front of the US Army’s recruiting station in New York’s Times Square.

The men are arranged to look like a horse, which has multiple references to war and conflict in literature and history, so that the work becomes a storied comment on socio-economic disparities and power equations.

In another famous set of photographs, Vilasini showed the many faces of Mahatma Gandhi – statues and busts of the Father of the Nation that make him look like L K Advani, Groucho Marx and even Vilasini’s high school art teacher.

Even after travel resumed and Vilasini returned to India, he has continued his experiments with photographing light.

The later works, too, are on display and show the artist’s journey from the first experiments. He calls this series the Quarantine Suite.

The other two walls of the gallery are predominantly green — and appear to draw attention to a planet that’s approaching a climate catastrophe. Vilasini had turned his camera on leaves and enlarged its parts, and began to see entire landscapes inhabited in the leaves. Veins resembled dirt tracks and the surface texture recalled rolling hills.

“I was looking at these plants, the leaves in particular, and my mind began to roam over them. I felt it was important to bring this in the realm of my art practices, to highlight the subject of the environment so that these get an airing. These works are a way of having this discussion,” he says.

Vilasini took these images at his food farm in Munnar, Kerala, where he grows more than 400 types of fruit plants and several vegetables. It is a response to climate change and humanity’s need to adapt to new and sustainable agricultural practices.

“Climate change will touch everything. Inspite of that, people are trying to live. We have to find new sustainable models, especially in food that are also nutritional powerhouses and have medicinal properties,” he says.

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