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A Koregaon artist weaves memories using shadows

Winner of the CIMA award 2019, Prashant Shashikant Patil, who creates art out of shadows, opens his solo at the Kolkata-based gallery this week

A work by Prashant Shashikant Patil.
A work by Prashant Shashikant Patil. (CIMA Gallery, Kolkata)

In 2019, when 26-year-old Prashant Shashikant Patil won the annual Cima award, instituted by the Kolkata-based Centre of International Modern Art (Cima) to recognise young and emerging artists of outstanding promise, he impressed the jury for multiple reasons. Not only was his work intricate and challenging to behold, but it was also created with a medium that was unique and yet ubiquitous at the same time.

Patil, who was born in Koregaon in Maharashtra, is an interpreter of shadows. Currently based in Santiniketan, West Bengal, where he spent the last several years working on his MFA degree from Visva-Bharati University following his initial training in Pune, he opens his first major solo exhibition, Prashant Patil: Cima Award Winner 2021, at Cima on 12 February.

“I am interested in exploring ideas of connection,” the young artist says on the phone, “based on my years of growing up in rural India and living in the cities later on.” If these intentions sound simple enough, wait until you witness his creations—or rather, step into them, become a part of their narratives.

Artist and curator Ushmita Sahu describes Patil’s works as “filamentous sculpture-drawing installations” in her catalogue essay to the show. Pratiti Basu Sarkar, the chief coordinator at Cima, feels his work is “both beautiful and violent”, emerging from the dark recesses of the imagination. First drawn with a hot-glue gun, then left to solidify into densely webbed structures, these images inhabit a nebulous universe, between the linearity of two-dimensional surfaces and the three-dimensionality of hard reality.

“I wanted to communicate with space through my drawings,” Patil says about the strange, shifting, unstable nature of his work. After an image is composed using hot glue and it freezes into the desired shape, Patil releases it from the fetters of the artist’s canvas and into the unbounded canvas of the world. It takes time and patience for the final result to reveal itself. “The basic idea is inspired by the webs woven by spiders,” he says. “except that I am weaving memories into meshes.”

A work by Prashant Shashikant Patil.
A work by Prashant Shashikant Patil. (CIMA Gallery, Kolkata)

Much of Patil’s work revisits the traditional architectural and natural settings of rural life. “I want to rediscover the beauty of these structures and document the environmental impact of our changing ways,” he says. There is a rugged elegance to these forms, nothing conventional about their appeal. Like the gossamer thread of a spider’s web, these exquisite forms shimmer when light shines on them. Their details are so fine as to escape the eye if you don’t pay close enough attention.

Against a panel of earth colour in one of the works, the white lines of the glue come together to paint everyday scenes and objects—pots and pans, potter’s wheel and woven baskets—the trappings of domestic comfort and the assurance of continuity. Fragile and delicate, some of these images seem to have been drawn with water, they stand as elegies to a vanishing present. To quote Sahu once again, these works act as “allegories of impermanence and transience”.

“The current generation, especially in the rural areas, is losing its connection with nature,” says Patil. “For them, connectivity now means only one thing—the internet.” In his lace-like works, which are detached from their frames and installed in free space, Patil invokes lost linkages, allowing dust and grime to settle into the glue and become a part of the material memory of the artwork.

The special poetry of these creations, however, lies in the interplay of light and shadow, through which they come alive. The penumbra cast by them on the walls, or on the bodies of the viewers, keeps flickering as the light waxes and wanes, people move closer or farther away. For the briefest moment, the line between art and life, reality and reveries, blur and become indistinguishable.

The show is on at Cima, Kolkata till 13 March.

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