Latest on the blog

Radical Housing and Socially-Engaged Art

Read Now
< Back to Peers 2019

Pura NIL

Start Date
End Date

This is a room you find difficult to get inside. What looks like impaled trophy heads, wooden faces rise from the floor to stare at you. All of them are roughly hewn and propped up on bamboo sticks-some have sickles, iron, loha implements attached to their pedestals.

Some seem to rot or exhibit a deathly fecundity-with bits of teeth and organic matter protruding from them and mold covering them. Rust dulls the blades of the hoes and sickles. On the pedestal of one of these heads, there is a slab of glass-you hold it up and it magni­fies the chiseled out visage.

You see the tools of the trade that should be employed in producing what you consume. You see those tools frozen into static sculpture. On one side of the room, there is a marble bust. A faceless torso, forgotten and possibly discarded: it has melon seeds stuck to it. streaks of dried sugar attach them to the stone.

A blue tapestry hangs on one side of the room-a pop of color in a sea of browns and dull earth colors. You go up close to inspect and see a cyanotype of images you may have grown familiar with, aggregated and rendered here to cover a wall.

Protesters, farmers, bones. A farmer from Tamil Nadu holds up the skulls and bones of those who did not live to protest at Jantar Mantar.

The work is called Pura Nil (All Blue/ All zero), a play on the color blue, Indigo (the color and crop) and the idea of bleak noth­ing-ness that the agrarian crisis prompts. Arguments may be made of how freezing the abandoned implements of farming in time, rendering them function-less by turning them into art, pronounces the end of agriculture, even as the cyanotype tapestry and uneasy memorial busts signal what that might mean for those who practice it.

My reading of these tools is different.

The chipped away wood of the sculptures, the splintered hard­ness of that material itself signal a process both laborious and time-consuming.

The sheer physicality harnessed by the artist, himself from a family that gave up farming for its lack of viability, in the act of making these heads, seems to itself be a comment. Using no fine chisels or other woodworking tools, the art­ist chose instead an axe-much like the ones used by farmers-to chip away at blocks of wood to reveal these faces.

Using the tools of farmer’s labor and employing the same intensity of that labor to represent the death of farming, this piece makes something generative out of a landscape of loss.

Other Projects