Bernard Akoi-Jackson | Mai-thu Perret | Kemi Bassene | Maria Marshall | Prabhakar Pachpute |
Rupali Patil | Mangesh Kapse | Aditya Rajput | Salik Ansari | Yogesh Kamble
Exhibition 8 May - 8 June | Open all days including Sundays | Clark House, Colaba, Bombay
Curatorial Walk-through and Special Preview: Saturday, 17 May, 2014
Prabhakar Pachpute, 'Back to the Farm', 2014
'The Santhal Family' became the first secular piece of public sculpture where bronze was not used to commemorate a king or a saint. The use of Bronze in India had a history of aesthetic finesse, used in depicting deities, the lost wax method was used to cast statues using divine proportions based on ancient manuscripts. The large foundries established in India by the British colonial administration now cast statues for an unending supply that the world's largest parliamentary democracy - India often requires. But Ramkinker Baij, with his sculpture iconised a people often described as those from the 'bronze age' , the Adivasis of which the Santhals are a tribe from Eastern India. They are accorded a social space outside the complex system of castes and now serve as mere vote banks towards elections rather than citizens who voice similar concerns in a republic.
Baij used large quantities of bronze alloy along with concrete, indifferent to traditional rules of casting, it was an attempt to create something monumental, a gesture that was only accorded to royalty or gods, who were eventually replaced by politicians of the republic. Bronze casting in the city of Bombay is rare. There are a few foundries in the suburbs that cast idols, for example for the Koli's - Bombay's indigenous fishermen such as Khardevi and Golphadevi. The traditional foundries in the island city are all situated in the Kamathipura area and near Gole Dewal. Inside the compounds of the 3000 buildings that house Asia's second largest Red-light district 10 feet by 10 feet tenements house foundries that craft door handles and cheap brass jewellery in pits for smelting the alloys. Most smelters are migrants from the 'Lohar' or blacksmith communities from Gujarat or are Muslims from North India. These are independent businesses that have survived because municipal rules within the district are lax and the demand fro cheap faux jewellery is high.
Prabhakar Pachpute who worked at one of the foundries crafted a statue that depicts a bent man who carries his home on his back. Pachpute was moved by the squalor, decrepitude of the falling brothels, and civic neglect by the municipal authorities. The tenements were falling apart, families with children lived above the rented beds of the prostitutes, heaps of rubbish were piled just outside the foundry, a heap that only grew as civic authorities refused to clear it, jammed gutters released nauseous fumes and the stink made people want to gasp for fresh air. The caster was glad to cast Pachpute's maquette, he senses a familiarity with the statue, he said inflation had broken his back, and he continued with his treacherous profession to support his family. Pachpute was concerned why the casters refused to use masks to protect themselves from the fumes generated from the constant smelting, shocked to see the size - the unit had a height of 8 feet and was smaller than an average small sized car. Sweat Shops exist in the city because the civil authority does not provide rehabilitation measures, which are adequate in size depending on vocations within redevelopment plans for the city. Alternate employment measures are not a solution as any such effort will leave the artisans in a state of destitution.
Among the tribal communities of South India, the Pulaiyar or Paliayn tribals and Irulas make bronzes of the mother goddess, these, are crude in their casting process but intelligent in the forms they take, conceptually more interesting than the classical ones. Similarly Bronze castes from West Africa display a remarkable conceptual understanding of casting techniques and figuration. Bernard Akoi Jackson talks of how art history moves towards a path progressing to one day is able to understand African Sculpture. Akoi, asked us to cast a set of bronze cubes along with two sets of 21 cowrie shells. Both these processes used techniques that were common in Ghana for many centuries. The ancient West African Empires of Benin and Akan displayed a very refined understanding of the lost wax technique and they depicted ceremonial statues that commemorated kings, deities and ancestors, these were dismissed as symbols of fetish and black magic by the French colonisers. Kemi Bassene, imagines Joseph Beuys and his practices in accordance to the irreverence of a historical narrative called Art History. He builds a chair made of copper insulation wire keeping the blue plastic insulation. It represents a pschycoanalyst's chair that could aide one to go globe trotting in their dreams, the blue is the dreamcatcher's logo, and the chair is crafted by a man who makes souvenirs outside Bombay's CSMVS Museum based on a picture sent by Bassene.
For the exhibition 'Traps for the Troubadours', where the Kadist Art Foundation, Paris came to take residence at Clark House , we had to smelt refuse copper wires from which we made copper nails. They were to be used in our exhibition to hang works and replace any other use of nails in the space. The piece is by Pratchaya Pinthong, the Thai artist often responds to local contexts through this complex request. Three young art graduates, Salik Ansari, Yogesh Kamble and Aditya Rajpoot were assigned to find an appropriate foundry, that is how they chanced upon Aziz Brass Moulding or ABM Foundry, Aziz ur Rehman Ansari and his son Hafez ur Rehman run one of South Bombay's last foundries. Due to its small size the foundry can only do press castings in all metals and the largest size that can be crafted is about one foot by one foot in dimension. The quality of the casting is artisanal and alloys used range from bronze, to brass and common metal alloys for faux jewelry. Each time a new metal alloy is introduced to the smelter a ritual of breaking a coconut and burning incense sticks is followed to satiate Vishwakarma, the lord of the artisans. Ansari for the first time worked with artists for the Prathchaya project and from there on kept a friendship with Salik, Aditya and Yogesh encouraging them to return as the commission was less tedious than faux jewelry.
This is what encouraged us to initiate the 'bronze project', though ultimately a lot of the alloys used was common brass. We invited artists to respond to a call by which they would send us instructions to cast a statue. These were to be simple email instructions that incorporated elements of their practice. Akoi's instructions were detailed while Bassene relied more on conceptual play using photographs. Mai-thu Perret asked us to cast a little baby doll made for little girls to imitate motherhood; the idea of role-play frightened her, specially of roles imposed at a such young age. We had to cast the baby using a cheap Chinese made doll that had resistible plastic that could take the mold. While in the process of taking the mould, the plastic baby began to cry, we had forgotten to disconnect its batteries. The statue when brought together had life like qualities, which were lost in plastic. Maria Marshall sculpted a pregnant Barbie doll through which she critiqued the role of gender and its attribution to motherhood.
Rupali Patil often observed the use of bright brass alphabets outside middle class homes, specific designs often became an aesthetic fad and people appropriated them to their doors in hoards. Patil crafted a brass 'M' akin to that of popular MNC hamburger chain, calling it 'Mahaprasad' or the offerings of food distributed to the numerous devotees who flock temples. Mangesh Kapse created a two inch self-portrait of himself that resembled a coin but intricate in the frowns. Salik Ansari created an Icarus with plume of a dead crow he found at the JJ School of Art. He smelted many keys he found in a flea market fabricating a large padlock. Yogesh Kamble created a sculpture that discusses the fetish of young men and voyeurism. Aditya Rajput a sculptor and the one who gave the project its technical direction created a funnel with a kinetic shape exploring the limitations of the press casting technique.
Artisanal effort is often decried as secondary to conceptual art practice, thus replicating hierarchies of caste where artisans were at end of the social ladder. Even today due to low pay and insensitivity of the city municipal authorities artisans are forced to inhabit inhumane conditions. Though their activity is essential, thousand of Bangladeshi artisans work in jewelry sweat shops in South Bombay. Their skill and need is crucial to Bombay's enormous jewellery trade but the visa regime of the India state declare them as illegal immigrants opening doors to exploitation by their employers.
In a city where millions of workers stay away from their families due to high city rents, visiting their villages once a year, prostitution is an essential humane service. The Radical Dalit poet Namdeo Dhasal wrote 'Golpitha' from his experiences on these streets, streets that subsidise our lives in Bombay but are often set aside. Often artists from India cast large sculptures in foundries in Italy which add to the allure of the work, but metal casters like Aziz ur Rehman Ansari could gain if this process is reversed and done locally which would eventually lead to better pay, higher quality metal alloys and better studio conditions than a sweatshop. Critics have rather concentrated their criticism on a political movement that creates a visual culture for a people that have been denied one under the caste system.
- Sumesh Sharma, Bombay 2014
Aziz ur Rehman Ansari
Gala - 15, Chawl No- 8. Manik Building,
Near Delhi Darbar Hotel,
Pathe Bapurao Raod, Kamathipura.
Bombay - 400004