Friday, September 12, 2014

Master of Many Forms

The low-key but multi-talented Delhi-based artist Gigi Scaria, has a growing international reputation. He is adept at paintings, sculptures, photographs, videos, and installations 

Photos: Gigi Scaria; the installation, 'Elevator from the subcontinent'

By Shevlin Sebastian

You press the button and the lift door opens. When you step in, the door closes by itself. And then you have a surreal experience. On three panels, you can see cars parked close to each other in an underground car park. The lift moves up. Along the way, you see projections of a wall, at some places it is smooth, at other places, there are cracks, holes, and streaks of black cement.

The elevator stops at a floor: you can see the inside of a house. It is a middle-class drawing room, with a sofa and chairs and a television set, placed against a window. It is a still scene, when, suddenly, a bamboo curtain rolls down. You go further up and you continue to see different spaces inside different houses. But mostly, they are living rooms. Some are posh, with flowing curtains and luxurious sofas, with the ubiquitous air conditioner high up on a wall.

This remarkable installation, ‘Elevator from the subcontinent’, was Malayali artist Gigi Scaria's contribution at the Indian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 2011. Gigi played the video of the installation during a recent 'Let's Talk' programme organised by the Kochi Muziris Biennale.

I wanted to show the different types of spaces that are there in a city like Delhi,” says Gigi. “There is also a class divide.”

And this divide provokes biased behaviour. Once, on a street, in the suburb of Rohini, Gigi saw a cycle rickshaw driver, inadvertently, obstruct a car coming from behind. The driver stopped his vehicle, stepped out, and slapped the driver. “The cycle driver had no idea why he had been slapped,” says Gigi. “All kinds of weird situations take place in Delhi. I am struggling to understand the city.”

Gigi, who is originally from Kothanalloor, in Kottayam district, went to Delhi in 1995, following his graduation at the College of Fine Arts, Thiruvananthapuram. Thereafter, he did a Masters of Arts at Jamia Millia Islamia. Following that, he embarked on his career as a professional artist. And all along Delhi has played a major role in the evolution of his art, which he has shown through paintings, photographs, sculptures, videos and installations.

The city has been evolving at a rapid pace,” he says. “When the Metro Rail services began, thanks to the elevation of the tracks, I got a view of the city from a different perspective.”

Once when he stepped out at Pul Bangash station and looked through a window, he saw a spire, with a weather vane. So he clicked a photo.

I realised that when you look at the spire, you cannot identify the location,” says Gigi. “This spire was made during the time of the British rule. And, today, it is part of a government school.”

Yes, indeed, the perspective of things and life changes when you look it from a different angle. 

Gigi has done installation work on the banks of the river Yamuna, shot photos of malls, construction sites, as well as crumbling cinema theatres.

And his videos are also striking. One video, 'No Parallel', has two screens next to each other. In the first screen, an archival photo of Mahatma Gandhi is shown. After a few seconds, on the second screen, there is an image of Chinese leader Mao Zedong. Soon, simultaneously, they are seen meeting people, giving speeches, going on marches ('Salt March' for Gandhi and ‘Long March’ for Mao), and interacting with children. In a way, Gigi was showing the similarities, as well as the differences of the two great leaders who had such a huge impact on their respective nations.

One major difference, of course, is that while Gandhi propagated non-violence, Mao used great violence to propel his country into the ill-fated Cultural Revolution (1966-76), which had a calamitous effect on Chinese society.

Imbued with a genuine creative talent, Gigi has attended prestigious residencies at Trinidad and Tobago, West Indies, Biella, Italy, and Seoul, Korea.

In Seoul, Gigi made a series of photographs of South Koreans looking at their mobile phones, while in public spaces, like railway stations. Some lean against walls to see their phone, or while sitting on platform seats. “People are engaged with their cell phones all the time,” says Gigi. “But unlike Indians who are chatting or sending SMSs, South Koreans are busy watching television channels. I wanted to show how the demarcation between the personal and public spaces is no longer there, like in the past. And now, with Facebook, the personal space has entered the public domain.”

Gigi’s paintings have been exhibited in Miami, Budapest, Stockholm, London, New York, Barcelona, Berlin, and Dubai, among other cities. In 2008, his work was shown at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, the first time contemporary Indian art was shown to the Israeli public. 

He was a 2012 University of Melbourne MacGeorge Fellow, and presented an exhibition of video works at the Ian Potter Museum of Art as part of the Melbourne Festival. He has also participated in the Singapore Biennale.  

Not surprisingly, Gigi is expected to make a mark at the upcoming Kochi-Muziris Biennale. 

(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram) 

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