The seeds of Manisha Parekh’s metal installation,Following You, currently on display at Nature Morte’s Dhan Mill gallery, were sown several years ago. Invited to be part ofShadow Lines: Experiments with Light, Line and Liminality at the Shrine Empire, New Delhi, in 2019—a group show on abstraction—she decided to try her hand at exploiting the possibilities of shadows and linearity. The resulting installation,Is It Me or Is It You, comprised a number of geometric, metallic shapes mounted on the wall, making it difficult for viewers to actually tease out the actual sculpture from its shadow.
Following You,which is part of the 26 works on display at her new solo, ‘Chromatic Flight’, is in a similar vein. Only here Parekh, like an accomplished music conductor, orchestrates the pieces together, setting them to an invisible score. One can almost sense the underlying rhythm in the swell and fall of forms. The dance of the metal with its shadowy doppelgänger along the gallery wall also focuses attention on other aspects of life: the tangible and the intangible, the material and the immaterial and, in a more philosophical vein, raises questions about what is real and what is illusion.
Across the hall, in another relief work,Alchemy, Parekh again demonstrates the ability to infuse a sense of rhythm in something as heavy and ponderous as metal. In this large-scale installation, her twirling, cavorting forms appear to be caught up in a gust of wind, scattering them across a wall. Many of the shapes could well have been plucked out of her paintings and rendered in metal. While the shadow play is not as pronounced as inFollowing You, the perforations in the pieces allow pin pricks of light to filter through, creating intriguing patterns on the wall.
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Parekh’s choice of medium and her treatment of their surfaces in this installation find their origins in another chance encounter. Commissioned by designer and curator Rajeev Sethi to produce a work in a cafeteria in Ahmedabad, the project set her thinking about cooking and its processes. She settled on copper and iron to create her works, since traditional kitchen vessels are also fashioned out of these materials. InAlchemy too she uses the very same metals resulting in a suite of richly patterned surfaces and a medley of textures.
The indentations and markings on several of these works recall the hammered surfaces of village vessels or even the dots found in tribal or indigenous paintings. According to Peter Nagy, co-founder and director at Nature Morte, Parekh is “able to bring metal into her own language, creating works that are astonishingly similar to her paintings or works using cut paper. With metal, she has given herself the time needed to explore its characteristics and properties, coaxing it gently into her own lexicon.” He adds that with these works, she poses questions about how a three-dimensional object hangs on the wall, conscious of its support and presentation, akin to how [Romanian sculptor Constantin] Brancusi thought about the relationship between the sculpture and the pedestal.
In all her artworks Parekh places a great deal of emphasis on the presence of the artist’s hand or gesture. In her sculptural pieces, she first makes a drawing of the desired shapes, which are then translated into metal. InFollowing You, she worked with welders to shape and incorporate the rods in her work before painting on them herself. InAlchemy, the mark making was done by a hammersmith using a small hammer or a bit. Parekh marvels at the metamorphosis that takes place when metal is subjected to the human hand, “Copper is a coral kind of colour. But the minute you start hammering it, just by this human touch oxidation starts to happen, weathering starts to happen, a certain kind of patina starts to happen, and the metal transforms itself. So, there is an amazing transformation.”
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Parekh’s engagement with textures, tonalities and densities of colours and pigments can also be spotted in the tangle and sweep of her lines and brush strokes. “A lot of my preoccupation is with surface qualities, materials—how do things age, mature, ferment, marinate. All these different kinds of processes are quite interesting, even metaphorically, to think about,” she says.
In a series of five square-format works she decided to titleFairies, she applied paint on the surface of the paper only to wash it off under a tap. This process of erasure allowed her the opportunity to assiduously build up layers and create a pulsing palimpsest “from the faint memories and the phantom images, which are left behind.” Parekh’s long-abiding fascination with charcoal can also be discerned in a series of paintings titledLiquid Light. Using it to create her now familiar repertoire of forms, she set off the light-absorbing qualities of charcoal with the reflective properties of gold paint. These black and gold paintings created in the aftermath of the pandemic serve as a reminder that there can be glimmers of hope even in the darkest of times.
‘Chromatic Flight’ can be viewed at Nature Morte, Dhan Mill, New Delhi, till 2 April, 11 am to 7 pm, Tuesday to Sunday