Smita negotiates the spaces of identity through the ideas of distance, disturbance and the feeling of being over powered. She juggles with different mediums to create interactive installation pieces, which re-create the atmosphere of her personal experiences. Her works are highly confrontational and let out a subtle scream on issues of gender, sexuality, violence, gaze, voyeurism and ecological ‘consumer-ship’. Smita’s work forces the viewer to recognize the hidden, suppressed and vicious within them and negotiate with it.
Having completed her Master’s from Shiv Nadar University, she forces the viewer to confront and explore their fragmented personalities. The work makes them explore the truth, as she likes to say “almost as clearly as stillness of water.” She uses the term ‘Truth Drug’ to articulate the process of confrontation through her work. One sees an affinity to the conceptual jostles of Hassan Elahi and Lynn Harshman in her work. Having done her bachelor’s from a more conservative pedagogic space, she says the newfound freedom of expression in her master’s program gave her the space to explore multiple possibilities both formally and conceptually.
Looking at her early works like ‘Machine of Money’ and ‘Jhambulwadi’, one senses an inquisitiveness along with a sense of introspection towards customs and change. The works articulate the questions of morality, change, traditions, modernity, religion, etc. within all of its complexities rather than just passing a statement. The work ‘Machine of Money’ is a modern day interpretation of the goddess Laxmi. She transforms Ravi Verma’s iconographic representation of Laxmi and hands her a gun in one hand and a boxing glove in the other. In addition, she shows money pouring out incessantly from one of the other hands. This heightens a sense allegory and charges the work towards a socio-political dimension.
Jhambulvadi on the other hand is much more subtle as compared to Machine of Money. The work talks about change, development and capitalist greed. It somewhere also romanticizes with the past. One also senses a Utopian tendency in the work. The work is about the area called Jhambulwadi (her studio was in the area). The work talks about how the building boom hit the place and got completely transformed into a concrete jungle. The place, which was once a rural setting with tons of wilderness and a huge lake, now had completely transformed. The socio-cultural impact of this transformation was massive, as landowners/farmers started selling their land for monetary benefits. This completely ruptured the financial, cultural and environmental Eco-system of the space.
The works done during her master’s program are formally a sharp departure from her previous practice. Works like ‘Peep Show’, ‘Forced Conjugate Deviation’ and ‘You are always an outside’ stand as testaments to this. One also perceives a certain poetic nature in these works. It is the impact the form creates as opposed to what the form ‘means’ is at play here. ‘Forced Conjugate Deviation’ talks about ideas of gaze, violence, voyeurism, gender and discomfort. The work recreates the gaze and the inability of the viewer to move away from the gaze. The work is a result of Smita’s personal experience of such discomfort as well as a constant and brash gaze. The confrontational nature of the work forces the viewer to negotiate with the self and the alter ego through the ‘freedom’ for complete visual consumption.
Another work titled ‘Peep Show’ also operates within the spaces of voyeurism and gaze. The work makes use of reversed peepholes in the doors of some of her friends. These peepholes originally intended for safety and security of the person inside the house now act as channels for visual consumption and psychological violence. Some of these peepholes had videos running at the other end where the viewer would be ‘caught in the act’ of peeping. The work opens up newer possibilities of dialogue around the discourses on gaze and voyeurism by using ideas of visual consumption via subversive tactics.
One of the most stimulating works is ‘You are always an outsider’. The work in the most strategic manner formulates its own poetics to shed light on complex issues of migration, dislocation, fear, anxiety, dissent, etc. The work uses motors to move the walls and sensors to activate the motor. When a person enters the room, the walls immediately shift, opening up three exit points and four inaccessible rooms. The work was a result of her personal experience with migration, dislocation and the feeling of being an outsider.
Smita’s practice oscillates between being loud and subtle in the impact it creates through its formal strategies and principles. Her work operates not in the meaning making in the form, but the impact that the meaning making has on the viewer’s mind through the form.
Text by Satyajit Dave, critic-in-residence, Khoj PEERS 2016