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Art And The City
Text by Supriya Nair
Published: Volume 17, Issue 4, April, 2009

Artists Jaideep Mehrotra and Rachana Nagarkar bring to the foreground the vibrancy of cities in their new works, finds Supriya Nair

After the worst excesses of the industrial age, the concept of the city acquired the cast of a grim and forbidding automaton, an ugly machine making the humans who inhabit them cogs in a vast and unfeeling wheel, alienated from beauty. This view has rapidly reversed over the last fifteen years or so, though; with the concept of the ‘creative class,’ the post-industrial workforce that drives cities with innovation in design, technology and knowledge, gaining ground.

In India, art has begun to develop counter-statements to the fraught political, social and artistic complexes surrounding the rural-urban divide. “There’s a certain energy formed between people in cities,” explains Jaideep Mehrotra, whose new exhibition, Growing Panes In Solitude, (showing between April 15-20 at Visual Art Gallery, India Habitat Centre, New Delhi) addresses the urban condition. “People may inhabit substandard environments, and for all the proximity there’s also a great isolation; but the city is an organism with a life of its own, both at a molecular level and as something larger than themselves.” In his new work, the atomisation of the individual sustains a vibrant force – as expressed in his paintings of solitary rooms – and distinct souls make up the collective, sparkling panes of the skyline, as the concrete monoliths of the city reach upwards. It is an exhilarating take on the faceless building blocks that have long terrorised the urban skyline in the popular imagination.

Rachana Nagarkar’s urban optimism in her Minimums Of The Maximum City exhibition, displayed in February this year at The Guild, Mumbai, points to a similar preoccupation with the dynamic between person and space, trying to essentialise the relationship between individuals who make up the collective bustle of the city – in her case, Mumbai – and the emotional and imaginative shape of the space itself. “The mechanical elements in my work represent a fusion of the working class, the bourgeois and the glamour world,” she says, “Somewhere in this space the aspirations of all meet and mingle.”

Much of this reflects how social scientists have begun to look the city as a creative space again. Cities are not forces of nature in Mehrotra and Nagarkar’s works, but they are not machines, either; organic growths, driven by the individuality and intellect of their people, they are vital, shifting, open spaces, that impact mechanisation much more than they are impacted by it.

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