The inversion works well—altering the natural table of contents of a posh South-Delhi ground-floor garage by cleaning it up of its powerful SUVs and stately sedans to make way for art. 'The Looking Glass', an art exhibition held between November 10 and 12, opened up a gated garage in Delhi's Jangpura colony for public viewing. If you were still entering this otherwise guardedly exclusive space with some uncertainty, the rarefying effect of the works on display would make a bid to strip you of any baggage of the spatially dictated behavioral codes of this city, leaving you free to just stare at things for a change.
The thickly taint of visual apathy—sometimes as stubborn as Delhi's smog—that this bespectacled writer is used to see through, was dispersed after gawking at a big canvas for a good five minutes. A big woman, voluptuous and vibrant, the fat black brush strokes that define her fluid form suggesting a carefree confidence: rebelling against conventional women body types in art and also reveling in the transgression. "Someone once told me my ass is so big, you can place a teapot on top of it and it will stay," says artist Varnita Sethi. And so, a blue teapot and a cup entered the canvas. She painted 'The Yellow Nude'', as this canvas is called, on an impulse in half-an-hour.
The Yellow Nude by Varnita Sethi
Sethi's other work also draws you towards itself instantly, and makes you stay at the wall for a while. You've floated around these stories, probably as a 'millennial', so there's a familiarity. A frame geometrically dissects a sharp-featured man's face in pop-art colorful ways. This is Rahul, "a fan of Doodhwali.com" as text in the frame informs. He's wearing a bow on which you see images of naked women from a website, his digital playground.
Not far from Sethi's graphic frames awaits another world. Here, letters attempt to break away from the burden of literal meaning into aesthetic expressions. If scripts had desires of their own and just wanted to dance outside meaning—artist Mahhima Bhayanna seems to be facilitating this intention. She often reads and feels a certain way visually. A couplet of love by poet Khalil Gibran acquires a distinct form, beside it Meera Bai, etched in fine lines, stands with a dotara along with others from the garden of love.
One of Mahhima's works stands in contrast with the rest. It's an earthily-coloured sketch of what looks like a durgah. Only, it has been torn into pieces and pasted on a dark, almost charred, background. This one has a heartbreaking backstory. Mahhima drew this while she was in Kashmir last summer. It's one of the entrances of the ancient Khanqah-e-Moula shrine in Srinagar. "I was so taken by the Khanqah that I drew this. I later heard the news that much of the shrine was damaged in a fire, including the part I had drawn," says Mahhima. Hence, this jarring reinterpretation.
The third wall of this art garage is as intimate as a weak-power magnet, you have to come close enough to enter the field of play. Most frames of artist Mahmood Ahmad for this exhibition are medium or small. He works with charcoal to create a dreamy duality: the softest of black imagery on white paper.
The vision of a woman, around whose gaze two more faces extend outward geometrically, as her other expressions. The untitled work has a hypnotic quality to it, one can keep staring. "The artist engages with his dreams," curator Satarupa Bhattacharya cues you in. Another frame has a woman's face imposed on a dog's, or is it a goat? This is a nightly, multi-dimensional world.
Charcoal on paper. Untitled by Mahmood Ahmad
After happily losing some sense of time and space by aligning with these intensely personal yet relatable expressions, one steps out of the exhibition to embrace the city's smoky winter night wishing more posh garages became art parks.