Humour and wit in Manjunath Kamath’s sculptures, drawings

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New Delhi: Terracotta sculptures and drawings by Delhi-based artist Manjunath Kamath investigates narratives of everyday life interwoven with mythologies and stories.

In his new body of work titled “Postponed Poems,” Kamath has created modern narratives out of classical, traditional sculptures.

Kamath’s collecting hobby of over 30 years forms the basis for understanding of his recent work.

he artist says he is fascinated with the amazing forms of the past such as traditional temple sculptures, broken parts of old havelis, ritual masks and icons of god and goddesses.

He has captured such antiques in terracotta sculptures, which he has turned into a modern metaphor replete with humor and satire.

“I have a great fascination for traditional classical sculpture and paintings from my childhood, and I still remember that I spent hours looking at those sculptures in temple chariots and on walls. I have spent hours with local craftsmen watching them make idols of gods and goddesses,” says the 42-year-old artist.

“Eventually, I even started collecting classical sculptures and paintings like ritual masks, wooden and metal sculptures, parts of temple chariots, old terracotta sculptures. It was natural then that I would want to bring the aesthetics of this classical style into my works but interpret them on my own terms. It is like reconnecting to our roots,” he says.

Kamath, who studied sculpture at Chamarajendra Academy of Visual Arts (CAVA) in Mysore, says he has been conceptualising the show for the last five years, and the attempt to use classical influence in contemporary art was a challenge.

“In present times, when art practice is becoming uni-directional, I have negated the predictable ideas. I feel every artist should rethink and question his art practice.

Globalization flattened the plurality of aesthetics all over the world, and somehow we lost different local and regional flavors. There is a lack of personal expression, I think that it’s very hard to recognize which is Indian art and which is western, and there is no connection to the roots.”

he solo show that began here recently at the city’s Gallery Espace is set to continue till February 28.

Kamath tells many stories with his images but his narratives are altered and adjusted constantly, adapting fluidly according to the environment they are narrated in, and resulting in a different meaning each time a story is told.

Even the medium he chooses has changed over time. For instance, for his last show of sculptures titled ‘Collective Nouns’ in 2011, he had shown large fiberglass and wooden sculptures.

“I started to dislike fiber as a medium as it’s too synthetic to work with. I found that clay was where my work did not lose its details as we don’t need to do mold and cast in this medium.

Also I have always had a great fascination for terracotta sculptures for its earthy nature and fragility. Through terracotta artifacts, we trace the old Indus civilization where maximum terracotta artifacts and utensils were found.”

As humor and wit are the basic aspects of his works, Kamath sees the world like a big theatre.

In one work, a man with multiple hands refers to God, but in Kamath’s sculpture, the image is used to imply something else.

“I just adapted the poetic way of storytelling which is beyond its original purpose. I have adopted different styles to construct my narrative with subtle humor and wit. At a certain point, it looks like a historical sculpture but it’s not, this is a kind of clue to viewers, they can build their own narratives.”

Apart from these sculptures, Kamath is also showing paper works which include 30 small drawings, nine small Indian miniature-styled paper works and 15 gold leaf portraits drawing reference from the Buddhist Thangka paintings.

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