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Shaktimaan meets art in Nihaal Faizal’s new solo show

In his first-ever solo in Delhi, ‘Special FX’, artist Nihaal Faizal responds to existing documents such as film credits, RTI applications, and more

The artist has worked with black-and-white flashback sequences from ‘English Babu Desi Mem’
The artist has worked with black-and-white flashback sequences from ‘English Babu Desi Mem’

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To truly understand Nihaal Faizal’s ongoing solo show at Blueprint 12 gallery in New Delhi, one has to go back a little time to trace his interest in ‘found documents’. For a long time now, he has been preoccupied with documents in his artistic practice. The Bengaluru-based artist gave it a more organised form in 2018  by starting Reliable Copy, a publishing house for works, projects and writings by artists. “I reached a point in my art where instead of making art about documents, I just wanted to make more documents with documents,” he says.

The three projects that are on display at his first ever solo exhibition in the capital, titled Special FX, respond to already existing documents in a myriad ways. In Shaktimaan SFX, for instance, he uses carbon paper to trace and render the visual effects from the popular Indian superhero TV show from the 1990s. In English Babu Desi Mem (Flashback Cut), he eliminates the footage and soundtrack. Instead, Faizal retains only the opening credits and four short black-and-white sequences, which form a part of the flashback scene in the 1996-movie starring Shah Rukh Khan. The final work—RTI/1242/2021-PMR—is the official response by the Prime Minister’s Office to the Right to Information (RTI) application filed by Faizal for the complete list of artworks hanging at the the PM’s residence in Delhi.

Quoting one of his favourite American artists, John Baldassari, the 28-year-old artist says that all art making is a process of pointing at something. “In a way, that’s what I am trying to do. We are surrounded by media documents of all shapes and templates and more often than not, our experience of the world is mediated by them,” he says.

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Initially, Faizal didn't think that the three works on display were really connected. However, his friend, who also wrote the curatorial text for the show, kept coming back to these three as they deal with the idea of special effects in some way or another. The other thing they have in common, according to Faizal, is the idea of what an Indian identity is. “The minute you say Indian, you also have to define what’s not Indian. The tension between these ideas of the outsider or the alien are also present in these three works,” he adds.

For the works in the Shaktimaan series, Faizal has chosen a video still for each special effect and used multiple colours of carbon paper to isolate and trace the animation. “Shaktimaan was claimed to be India’s first superhero but actually, he is just a copy paste of someone like Superman. Even the special effects are copy paste of American content such as Terminator and Predator. There is an idea of taking something which was American and adding Hindu signifiers to make it Indian,” he explains.

The choice of carbon paper as medium is also significant here. “For me, carbon paper is an outdated technology of copying and adding special effects. I wanted to contrast one medium of technology with another, where most of them are on the brink of obsolescence,” he shares.

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The final work in the exhibition is perhaps slightly more difficult to comprehend as a work of art. “I was interested in the RTI mechanism and I thought it would be nice to know what hangs in the PM’s house,” he says. The response lists 109 artworks, which includes a framed newspaper article from The New York Times, a Sai Baba murti, and a small wooden box among others.

“Sometimes you encounter documents that are so complete by themselves that as an artist or creative practitioner, there is nothing you need to do to it. Primarily the work for me is in the act of circulating it across channels and media and in a way, that’s also an act of publishing,” he elaborates.

Special FX is on till May 7 at Blueprint 12, Anand Niketan, New Delhi

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