Skye Arundhati Thomas

  • film July 03, 2020

    God Child

    IN THE PENULTIMATE EPISODE of Ramy’s first season, the eponymous Egyptian-American protagonist finds himself at a party in Cairo. Everyone is doing coke and listening to house music. Ramy would rather be at a mosque. He’s in Egypt on a spiritual quest: He wants to feel closer to God, “eat authentic shit,” and “get clarity.” He’s an eager diaspora kid, the kind who talks to everyone in Arabic even though they all speak perfect English (“My English is premium; I went to AUC: American University in Cairo, baby,” his cousin Shadi retorts); wants to visit all the “cool mosques,” and is thrilled to

  • slant May 01, 2020

    Letter from India

    NEWSPAPER CLIPPINGS, identity papers, and crumpled, bloodstained notes lie next to pair of folded trousers. The photograph was taken by Kashmiri photographer Masrat Zahra, the items carefully arranged on a lavender cloth, embroidered with red and blue flowers, by Arifa Jan, the widow of Abdul Qadir Sheikh. Sheikh was shot by the Indian Army in 2000; we are looking at what was in his pockets on the day he died. Sheikh’s death was the result of an “encounter killing”—confrontations staged between suspected militants and state forces that most often result in unarmed civilian deaths. There is little

  • Golam Kasem Daddy

    A young girl, spider lilies tucked into her hair, smiles as she chews on a stalk of wheat. Behind her, a crinkled cloth sheet hangs in the sun. Titled simply Happy girl. Dacca, 1957, the photograph is one of the thirty-two black-and-white giclée prints in “When the Mind Says Yes,” a solo exhibition of Golam Kasem (1894–1998), who is widely considered the father of modern photography in Bangladesh and is better known as “Daddy.” In this image, his young subject wears hoop earrings and a pearl necklace. Her nails are painted, and stacked bangles encircle her wrist. Settled into her pose with

  • picks January 29, 2020

    Dayanita Singh

    “I think in books,” says Dayanita Singh. Early in her career, Singh would cut up her medium-format contact sheets and paste them into accordion notebooks that could be unraveled and displayed. Bookmaking, for Singh, is a way by which to understand the photographs she takes. This exhibition, “Zakir Hussain’s Maquette,” consists of a book, its spreads, and an accompanying foldout poster pinned onto the gallery walls. Specifically, what’s on display is a facsimile of a maquette Singh made as a student in 1968 titled “Zakir Hussain,” a photo-essay full of meticulously handwritten notes, measurements,

  • picks December 13, 2019

    Atef Maatallah

    Atef Maatallah chases ruins. Although his photorealist pencil-on-paper drawings take us to the Roman archaeological site of Thuburbo Majus in Tunisia, theirs is a more detached ruin lust. It’s not the crumpled architecture Maatallah is after, but what happens inside of what remains. In Les Linges de Junon (all works cited, 2018), a wrinkled plastic bag slaps against a stone archway as two dresses are strung to a Corinthian column—hung out to dry—swelling in the breeze. In Pugilats, a plastic water bottle rolls onto a mosaic of two ancient Greek boxers, joined by a squeezed plastic cup. In Le

  • Naeem Mohaiemen

    Families, if you look closely enough, tell the big histories. In 2010, Naeem Mohaiemen found a small cardboard box as he cleared things from the old family home in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Inside, he discovered wrapped in wax paper more than a hundred negatives, carefully labeled in his father’s handwriting. These images became the subject of Mohaiemen’s film Rankin Street, 1953, 2013, where he shows us the photographs and provides narration. This year, he revisited these images with a suite of transfer prints, Baksho Rohoshyo (Chobi Tumi Kar?) (Mystery Box [Photo, Who Do You Love?]), 2019, made from

  • picks July 19, 2019

    “Mutarerium”

    Only what mutates can survive in curator Adwait Singh’s ecologically oriented three-person exhibition, titled after an amalgam of terrarium and mutare, the Latin word for the verb change. Priyanka D’Souza’s How to Unromanticise the Anthropocene, 2018, charts a history of industrial whaling and marine pollution across four panels delicately painted in a Deccan miniature style. Two works zoom in on the interior of a whale’s stomach permeated by a plastiglomerate—a new geological hybrid formed when plastic melts into lava, shells, coral, wood, and sand, glinting in the rock like confetti. Displayed

  • picks April 06, 2019

    Sadik Kwaish Alfraji

    In Iraqi artist Sadik Kwaish Alfraji’s five-minute animation The River That Was in the South (all works cited, 2019), things melt into each other with great speed. In one sequence, large-petaled flowers turn into smiling faces, which darken to become sleepy, blinking eyelids. Plucking a single moment from the film is like trying to hold on to running water. Nothing can be separated from what precedes or follows it. Alfraji’s understanding of time is liquid; what has happened in the past continues to bleed into the present. His preferred media-jet-black illustrations and stop-motion shorts made

  • picks March 13, 2019

    Chennai Photo Biennale 2019

    In a photograph by Aishwarya Arumbakkam on display at the Government College of Fine Arts, long, slim fingers pull shiny, wet organs over a pile of flat stones. It’s more beautiful than brutal: a tender imagining of someone grabbing at the remains of something lost. In the series “Ahp,” 2016, Arumbakkam animates an old Cambodian myth about a female ghost ostracized and feared by village life.

    At the Senate House, several card cutouts of blown-up images lie staggered on a zig-zagging table in a stained-glass room, each image carefully excised from the photojournalist archive of The Hindu—a leading

  • diary February 11, 2019

    Sharp Critique

    THE MOST LAVISH PARTIES coinciding with India Art Fair are the midday brunches: As the sun pelts through the now characteristically hazardous air pollution, attendees reach for the Bloody Marys. At one such event, hosted at the home of Shalini Passi, founder of the Shalini Passi Art Foundation, banners shifted in the wind, declaring: Lunch is Cancelled. In a performance, artist Mithu Sen paraded out of the house, followed by a marching band, and servers were wearing anti-lick recovery cones for pets around their necks. Sen wore a cone with a special blond frill. Passi’s black pug, adorned with

  • picks December 07, 2018

    Nikhil Chopra

    The air is thin in Nikhil Chopra’s drawings. They take us to high altitudes: In Sundersar, 2018, we are at a lake 3,900 meters above sea level in Kashmir, where the water stretches across the scene like a transparent sheet. The “Lands, Waters & Skies” of the show’s title are smudged together in oil pastel, turpentine, and charcoal on paper. In Jadsar, 2018, Chopra chases sunlight over ragged mountains, through the center of which slips a small mercury-silver stream. A number of works in the series correspond to Chopra’s seventy-five-mile walk across Kashmir’s Liddar Valley, where he travelled

  • picks November 21, 2018

    Sophia Brueckner and Tara Kelton

    Pinkish-gold curtains open to a room in which a smiling white man sits alertly over a glass desk. A large CCTV camera points directly at him. A Corinthian column decorates one end of the room, an Ikebana arrangement the other. Glitter speckles the scene, lit by a sloping peach light. The image forms part of the series “Black Box,” 2018, for which Tara Kelton interviewed Uber drivers in Bangalore, asking them to describe “what Uber looks like.” Using their responses as visual cues, Kelton commissioned local photography studios to produce representations from their existing image banks. The kitschy

  • film May 02, 2018

    Code Red

    “YES, SHE POISONED A WHOLE TOWN, BUT . . . ,” a friend texts me after watching the recently released Netflix documentary series Wild Wild Country (2018), and it is a popular response to Ma Anand Sheela, the true heroine of the show. The six-episode film presents an extraordinary amount of footage from the four years of Rajneeshpuram, a sixty-three-thousand-acre ranch in Wasco County, Oregon, established in 1981. The five thousand people who lived at Rajneeshpuram wanted to be with their Bhagwan (the Hindi word for “God”), Rajneesh, who is better known by the name Osho. The Rajneeshees flipped

  • picks March 08, 2018

    Jihan El-Tahri

    For her first-ever solo presentation, Jihan El-Tahri examines where the histories of Egypt and India coincide, beginning with four photographs. In three, the first prime minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, and the second president of Egypt, Gamal Abdel Nasser, walk down a gilded staircase. Appearing jovial, they whisper to each other, and in the fourth photograph—the only one publicly disseminated at the time—they shake hands, turning high-voltage smiles to the cameras, and to us. Opposite these images, which were taken in Belgrade in 1960, is a small screen showing a film from the Indonesian

  • picks February 09, 2018

    Shreyas Karle

    A fluorescent-pink hose angles up to the ceiling only to fall back to the floor, slumping into an awkward pile. This item—Frustrated gardener, 2017—is placed opposite a two-legged terra-cotta horse pressed between two sheets of museum glass. As the title explains, it is busy Performing under pressure in the museum of broken objects, 2018. Shreyas Karle’s exhibition “Unnecessary alcove” is a museological display stripped of embellishments. The titles of the works are revealing, and if you read them quickly in sequence you end up with a verse full of hot anxiety and flat aspiration: Gap by the

  • picks November 28, 2017

    Jayashree Chakravarty

    In Earth as Heaven: Under the Canopy of Love (all works cited, 2017), an installation in the rotunda of the museum’s top floor, artist Jayashree Chakravarty has visitors walk through a large, fleshy cocoon. The materials she has assembled reveal themselves along the sculpture’s interior terrain: tea and tobacco leaves, roots, stems, insects with intact wings, handmade Nepali and Chinese papers, powders of dried leaves, plastic beads, clay, and discarded scraps of cloth. Outside the cave-like sculpture, large collages of similar material line the walls, unfurling from ceiling to floor.

    In Pierre

  • picks July 03, 2017

    Praneet Soi

    The latest in the museum’s series of exhibitions intended to stoke dialogue between contemporary artists and the institution’s archive begins with a large freestanding curved painting, titled Notes on Labour, 2017, installed in the foyer. The twisted figures in the composition lurch into a void. Perhaps this speaks to the show’s premise—for history to meet with the present, one must accept a certain degree of freewheeling association. The absurdity here is in the juxtaposition: The lavishly refurbished colonial interiors of the museum house Praneet Soi’s investigations into the labor processes