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A new exhibition questions today's world of simulated realities

‘Phantasmagoria’ at Latitude 28 brings together artists who explore the concept of realism as well as reality, especially in an age which is a frenzy of simulations

‘Moon walk’ by Pratul Dash, gouache and gold leaf on Saunders Waterford paper (2021). Courtesy: Latitude 28

At Latitude 28, New Delhi, one can see a host of vibrant works on display. One of the most fascinating is Magical Childhood Memories by Farhad Husain. On the face of it, the work seems like a slice-of-life vignette, with families holidaying at Disneyland, clicking selfies with Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse. But a closer look will reveal a more serious, complex layer of ideas underlying this painting. Through such works, Husain explores the politics and dynamics of human relationships affected by the capitalist society, which survives on alienation and sheer consumption. “He creates an eclectic rhetoric of images coming from diverse schools of paintings, prints and images from the entertainment world creating a montage of old and new,” mentions the curatorial note.

In stark contrast is Pratul Dash’s work—equally vibrant but minimalist in its language. In his practice, the painted surface is used as a window to slowly rupture the viewers’ idea of realism. Animals and insects appear regularly as motifs, and stand as metaphors of helplessness about the changes happening all around, which one can’t often understand. It is such works by Dileep Sharma, Husain, George Martin and Dash that form a part of a new show, Phantasmagoria.

The exhibition draws its title from the Arcades Project, an unfinished work by German philosopher Walter Benjamin, who explains the urban experience and commodity culture as a sequence of phantasmagorias, or dream-like representational images mixing fiction and reality. “Thus, the exhibition Phantasmagoria brings together artists who problematize the concept of realism as well as reality, especially in an age which is a frenzy of simulations. Taking from pop culture, these artists form bricolages of mental landscapes,” states the note.

Also read: Artist Aman Poddar's hand-engraved designs are inspired by nature

Farhad Husain's ‘Magical Childhood Memories’. Courtesy: Latitude 28
Farhad Husain's ‘Magical Childhood Memories’. Courtesy: Latitude 28

According to Bhavna Kakar, founder and director, Latitude 28, the contemporary world is full of “simulated realities”, especially with the coming up of digital and virtual reality experiences. As a result, the dichotomies between simulation and reality are decreasing. “We have been discussing the possibility of a show that critiques contemporary culture for quite some time. This exhibition is all the more special because the artists and I have been friends for more than a decade. So, it’s a both professional and personal relationship that drives this show,” she says. Moreover, she feels that in the times that we live in, it is imperative that certain paradigms be re-looked at and questioned. Through this exhibition the artists and she attempt to venture into these uncharted terrains which have been side-lined by mainstream history.

Also read: A global art project inspired by an old Sufi poem

One of the most striking aspects is the humour imbued in the works, which makes even complex topics such as capitalism, and more, accessible to the viewers. “Humour and parody are forms which are able to reveal hidden aspects in a lucid manner and can deal with complexities. Yes, they make accessible to viewers, serious issues whether social or political. Also, humour is something which brings out ironies in the best way, thus also making satire a strong form of art,” adds Kakar.

She further explains that juxtaposition of motifs from traditional art and pop-culture images recurs in all the artists’ works in this exhibition, which also perhaps a testimony to the image saturation that we have reached. “This montage of contrasting images celebrates the complex and diverse nature of the contemporary world and attempts to critique identity politics,” she says.

‘Phantasmagoria’ is on view till 15 November 2021 at Latitude 28, New Delhi. Monday to Saturday 11 am-7 pm

Also read: How an artist is responding to climate change

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