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Cement art by Scottish residency artist a satire on urbanisation

New Delhi, Jan 16 (IANS) For multi-disciplinary artist and winner of the 2017 Glenfiddich ‘Emerging Artist of the Year’ Sitaram Swain, grey defines uncertainty, anxiety and impermanence, but on closer look, one finds his ‘grey’ cement-based works a satire on increasing urban areas.

At his ongoing exhibition at gallery Art District XIII here, a striking work of Swain, who recently spent three months at a residency at the alcohol brand Glenfiddich’s distillery in Scotland, shows natural elements like flowers and trees depicted with the grey monotone of cement — perhaps visualising what he calls a “concrete forest”.

“Living in a metro city of India, it is pretty obvious to feel the wildly urban growth as we are staying in a ‘concrete forest’.

“Within very little time a huge concrete structure appears and slowly covers the sublime beauty of the sky that we urban people are hardly able to see,” Odisha-born Swain told IANS.

An exhibited work titled “Through The Verticals”, which is a realistic depiction of sky painted with cement over three dimensional vertical strips, is a satire on all those aspects of city vision of sky or sublime beauty.

With his cement-based art in the form of installation artworks and paintings, Swain said he wanted to portray not just the surface’s grey appearance of cement or concrete but the deeper meaning of grey as a metaphor of uncertainty, anxiety and impermanency.

“This is again quite relevant to the contemporary contrarian situation: the nature of concrete is strong and is a permanent material but seems very unstable because of continuous construction and deconstruction,” he explained.

Referring to the lack of an Indian art museum culture, Swain placed the Scottish appreciation of art and art history in contrast to that in India.

“Amusing and surprising” is how the artist described his Scotland residency experience.

He mentioned how it percolated into two of his exhibited works — “The Story of Hundred Nights” showing a beautiful, sublime visual of dark night sky with lots of glittering tiny stars made out of real rice grains, and “ECDYSIS”, in which he depicts his geographic and cultural negotiations through household objects, utensils, electronic equipment and also some part of his own body.

“As an artist my job is to transform such household elements to a larger context, which could be political, universal or sublime. There is a great possibility that I always find in these objects to make a dialogue to a larger audience as it connects to everyone because of its universal usage.”

The residency’s global curator Andy Fairgrieve, who refers to his engagement as “more of assistant rather than director to each individual artist” calls Swain a highly observant one.

“He is keenly aware of the small details surrounding him. Sitaram is like a sort of artistic sponge, absorbing these observations and storing them away to be realised at a later date.

“(Swain) is also clearly not an artist to be restricted by use of a narrow range of material or media and this is clearly a great strength and gives added depth to his artistic practice,” Fairgrieve told IANS.

Providing an opportunity for exhibition visitors to ruminate over the former resident artist’s unusual works, the solo show will conclude on January 20 here.




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