Raiders of the New Art

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Raiders of the new art

06 February 2018|E-Paper

We throw the spotlight on South Asian artists who are using unconventional media, materials and technology to explore the infinite plurality of art

Last Published: Sat, Feb 03 2018. 02 06 PM IST

A still from Shezad Dawood’s virtual reality tour, ‘Kalimpong’. Photo: Shezad Dawood

A still from Shezad Dawood’s virtual reality tour, ‘Kalimpong’. Photo: Shezad Dawood

Yamini Nayar

Works at the intersection of photography, sculpture, installation and architecture to explore the possibilities of physical and psychological spaces.

Yamini Nayar’s practice presents the viewer with a conundrum: What they see is her work—but that’s not all. At a glance, the eye rests on what is ostensibly a photograph, an interface between the past and the present. But in Nayar’s case, it opens up another window too.

Over the years, her images have moved away from depicting more representational forms to conjuring up abstract shapes. Nayar calls these subjects “assemblages” and constructs them with materials commonly found in hardware stores—wood, cardboard, paper, house paint. At every stage, the work is photographed using film on analogue, and once done, it is deconstructed”. Only the photograph remains in the end, faithful to its traditional role—of bearing witness, keeping a testimony, preserving the evidence of a long and complex creative process.

“My background is in photography, with some sculptural training,” Nayar says on Skype from New York, where she lives. Between India, where her parents come from, and the US, where she’s lived most of her life, she has a rich repository of visual references. But an opportunity to study with American conceptual artists like Sarah Charlesworth opened up the possibilities of photography as a medium.

Detail from ‘Chrysalis’ (2013). Photo courtesy Yamini Nayar

Detail from ‘Chrysalis’ (2013). Photo courtesy Yamini Nayar

The word architectural has always hovered over Nayar’s work, but she has become more ambitious with scale. Just as her relationship with materiality has evolved sharply, so has the persistence of the body become more heightened in her art.

In Akhet (2013), a ragged sculptural form sits in the centre of the image. “You could read it as a ‘body’ made of photographic collage elements, while the vertical slab of wood suggests a spine,” says Nayar. “I was thinking about the egg form in architecture. There is a darker piece of material to the left of this wood, which suggests a shadow to the body.”

Yamini Nayar at her studio. Photo courtesy Yamini Nayar

Yamini Nayar at her studio. Photo courtesy Yamini Nayar

The urge to tease the human out of the abstract is ancient. It’s there in the first principles of hieroglyphs as well as the abstract paintings of modernist masters like Mark Rothko. In Nayar’s universe, abstraction merges with architecture to form its own mythologies. Chrysalis (2013), she explains, “depicts a corner in which a vertical column made of collage fragments supports the top half of the sculpture”, like an arm holding up the concrete ceiling.

“When going through historical archives, or living in an urban environment, I’m often much more drawn to architecture in construction, with all the scaffolding and labourers on site,” she says. As a child, she remembers observing the Durga Puja pandals rising, day by day, out of the streets of Chittaranjan Park in Delhi, only to be taken apart at the end of the festival. “There’s something compelling about those moments where you see the background of a structure being built, the evidence of labour and the hand, the vulnerability of a structure that is actually monumental in its finished state,” she adds.

In her own work, too, Nayar reveals the fragility and transience inherent in hard, solid forms, and the photograph’s magical ability to recall them even when they are gone.

Yamini Nayar’s work is represented by Thomas Erben, New York; Wendi Norris, San Francisco and Jhaveri Contemporary, Mumbai. Her latest show was Crash, Dig, Well, along with Asim Waqif, which ended at Jhaveri Contemporary on 13 January.

—Somak Ghoshal

Yamini NayarAwais Haider