July 23, 2016 4:49:45 am
JUST off the busy Colaba Causeway in Mumbai, before you get to the fire station, is the equally buzzing Third Pasta Lane. Its entrance is regularly blocked by a jumble of dusty, parked scooters and black-and-yellow taxis scouting for fares, while commerce — in the form of grocery stores, hardware shops and assorted chai-wallahs and chaat-wallahs — goes on energetically. In the midst of this everyday chaos, Gallery Maskara has stood since 2006 as an oasis of unconventional, provocative art and hosting some of the most exciting art shows that the city has seen. And after 10 years of doing this, the gallery is downing its shutters with one last group show, aptly titled “Time”.
“The decision to close was a result of deep reflection and contemplation during the two-week window between the diagnosis and death of my father to pancreatic cancer,” says Abhay Maskara, owner and curatorial director, adding, “Time was no longer just a useful construct that I took for granted but rather felt like an alarm clock with a ticking heart. I realised I was unable to commit the next 10 years to the gallery, in the same way that I committed the previous 10. My time needed to be reprioritised.”
Maskara announced his decision a week prior to the opening of the show, in a letter he sent out to friends, well-wishers and visitors of the gallery. The show itself is the final farewell note, centered as it is on the concept of time.
He says, “Time is one of life’s great mysteries and I wanted this last show to reflect its transience and its beauty. It seemed like a fitting tribute to my father, to all that had transpired within the walls of the gallery and to all that is yet to come in the remaining time.”
At first glance, the works displayed within the cavernous interiors of this former warehouse, do not seem connected in any obvious way. However, the six artists — Max Streicher, Meenakshi Sengupta, Narendra Yadav, Parag Sonarghare, Prashant Pandey and T Venkanna — have all addressed the question of temporality in their own ways . Take, for example, the works by Streicher. In two distinct quartets, his figures made of tyvek recall the fragility of human bodies. Connected to contraptions that pump air into them, these faceless figures inflate and deflate, an indication perhaps that the human body is nothing more than a bag that fills and empties of breath, a cycle that only ends with death. Time is similarly evoked in Sonarghare’s work. It depicts the naked figure of a man, ravaged by age and circumstances. We could say that his unclothed body, with all its warts and wrinkles, is depicted in what might be described as “pitiless detail”. Yet, the emotion that comes through is one of deep sympathy and the recognition that, regardless of circumstance, we’re all vulnerable to time.
Over the years, the gallery has represented some brilliant and provocative young Indian artists, including Venkanna and Shine Shivan, as well as shown the works of international artists, like the dust sculptures by Belgium’s Peter Buggenhout.
Much of this is due to Maskara himself, says Aaditi Joshi, who has shown at the gallery since 2009. “I was creating site-specific work for my 2011 solo, using plastic bags and after spending time in my cramped studio, I was overwhelmed by the huge space at the gallery. But Abhay was very co-operative and encouraging, and he let me work at my pace,” she says.
While Maskara has been happy to present the kind of art that he finds enjoys, he says the market itself has not been as receptive as he could have hoped for. He says, “It is important to understand that art is an idea not an object. It can take the form of an object but remains an idea. Secondly, all art needs a healthy ecosystem in which to thrive and flourish. It needs an active audience that is genuinely interested and willing to engage with openness and curiosity. But I found that people who buy art are mostly interested in acquiring expensive objects rather than be surrounded by new ideas. I thought I could change perceptions of art. I spent 10 years trying but unfortunately too many people are living a life based on an almost continuous series of economic decisions.”
Maskara isn’t so disillusioned that he’s distancing himself from art completely. “For now, I want to spend more time with books and with nature. The purpose of my life is to create and art will remain an integral part of my life in whatever I do,” he says.
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