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A new show offers a peek into Manjunath Kamath’s imagination

The artist questions the sacred and the secular in his new solo at Sakshi Gallery

Manjunath Kamath in his studio 
Manjunath Kamath in his studio 

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Manjunath Kamath’s art is often satirical and almost always intriguing. He allows the viewers to make their own interpretation of his work. Born in 1972 in Mangalore, his practice spans sculpture, painting, installations, and digital art. His works are rooted in the vernacular and yet have a universality about them. “It is a matter of one’s outlook as to what is considered vernacular and what is considered universal. Any new form or image that is not part of a cultural subconscious or one that is not easily interpreted by an individual hailing from a different culture may be considered local,” says the artist as his new solo exhibition opens at Sakshi Gallery, Mumbai.

Titled, ‘Thousands of Me’, the show features a distillation of his work created in the past two years. In this, he questions the notions of the secular and the sacred, and their place in contemporary art. Kamath often likens the universality of his work with that of music. According to him, one need not comprehend a particular language or school of music to enjoy the melody and rhythm.

His terracotta sculptures and paintings reference the miniature traditions. The layers are added by the pinching and coiling of clay. The intricate sections are juxtaposed with the raw and the ‘unfinished’ parts. The use of clay itself lends a layer of irony to the works—it is fragile, yet has persevered through history over centuries. Kamath relies on sacred iconic forms and classical imagery in his work. “As a consequence of Western academic education in art, we have refuted the ‘local’ aesthetic for several decades. Even now, as we strive to overcome this notion, there is a subconscious attempt to appeal to the Western parameters of contemporary art,” he explains.

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He terms his amalgamated approach as ‘celebrating the fiction in history’. As an artist, he is keen on studying the evolution of iconographies over a period of time, across cultures. He then develops images that merge different faiths, and don’t belong to any one in particular. In a way, this is his attempt to subvert the narrative from its historic purpose. “The fragmented forms often stimulate the imagination of the viewer, drawing them in, at times to complete the narrative and at other times to relish in its vagueness,” he says. Kamath’s intent is to create imagery that seamlessly connects the ordinary with the extraordinary, evoking a sense of familiarity and alienation at the same time. Often the viewer shoulders the responsibility to thread the stories together and, in the process, make the work their own. Kamath consciously resorts to humour as a tool to help navigate the dilemmas of the conflict-ridden contemporary times.

He looks forward to the surprises that surface in this free-flowing constructive approach. “Structure and planning often renders the work rather rigid as opposed to maintaining playfulness till the very end, which is my intent,” he says. Defying muscle memory while working and circumventing medium-created obstacles remains an integral part of the process for Kamath. While there are both philosophical and aesthetic concerns that he deals with, he consciously refrains from limiting the viewers’ interpretations. He does not impose his understanding and metaphors on their thought process. For him, each idea demands its own medium, and hence the multidisciplinary approach. “Restricting my practice to a single medium disquiets me,” says Kamath.

Thousands of Me can be viewed till 31 May

Also read: When artists opened up their studios to Manisha Gera Baswani

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