Dalí’s Delhi Disciple: Baba Anand at the Religare Arts Initiative
Any exhibition entitled ‘The Major Arcana’ may prompt fears of artistic pretentions, mystery, and superstition. However, Baba Anand’s exhibition at the Religare Arts Initiative (arts.i) seems to comprehend the powers and perils of an alternative belief system, quite prevalent in modern Indian society. Inspired by Salvador Dalí’s World Tarot deck, the artist parades the deceptive dimension of hypnagogic images. He reinvents the surrealist spectacle with frenetic embellishment.
The visitor is taken into the space with a succession of giant tarot card paintings with direct reference to the clearly identifiable Three Graces and the Adonis by Dali. The oil paintings are covered with embroiderer’s sequins, silver-dust, glitter and gold leaf. The 22 tarot card paintings stand six feet tall and mark the beginning of a fool’s sojourn in the dark interiors of the gallery space or may be the dark reservoir of the subconscious.
As a surveyor of the enchanted domain, the artist presents twelve installations with sculptural references to Dali’s Bleeding Roses and the Burning Giraffe. A suspended female mannequin’s head of the kind seenat the hairdressers hangs away from its plinth. Two heavily embellished and inviting chairs with a painted rose, skull and sky scrapers take the centre-stage in the space offering a strange air of wistfulness to the probing visitor. The legendary Mae West Lips Sofa in the shape of plump, red lips which Dali created with Edward James, also gets replicated in this surrealist reserve. The occult and the erotic are constant companions in this show.
The rather exhaustive repertoire of decorated, jewel-like surfaces is reminiscent of Gustave Moreau’s principle of ‘necessary richness’ – where art should aim to represent everything that is most sumptuous in the world. The luxurious blaze of enamel and shimmer, the overloaded surfaces and the sharply lit opulence of these installations tend to evoke the nostalgia of dream and desire. Anand, who has been a devotee of tarot card reading for about ten years. first appeared on the Indian art scene in 2002. This exhibition places him at the nucleus of the rapidly sprouting contemporary art spaces in Delhi. Religare Arts Initiative stands as a visionary portal of contemporary art practice and has been able to showcase some extraordinary exhibitions in its first year.
Amidst numerous other shows going on in Delhi, Mrinalini Mukherjee’s LAVA at the Gallery Espace presents intricately made sculptures in wax, rope, clay and metal. The formational dynamics of Mukherjee’s spirals, loops and hollows run parallel to Baba Anand Daliesque doodles in acrylic on small square mirrors. Both exhibitions provide distinguished renditions of solid art and abstraction with experiments in medium and technique. Few artists and very few galleries in the Delhi endeavour to showcase and promote unconventional mediums. Exceptions are the Devi Art Foundation, Khoj International, Palette Art Gallery, Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, and Gallery Nature Morte. This is either due to the lack of resources or because of the commercial market’s favoritism towards painting. Regardless of the overwhelming artistic ambition, contemporary art practice is underplaying its identity and the drama gets reduced to the bare minimum.