Critics’ Picks

Abir Karmaker, Displacement (Wall II), 2017, oil on canvas, 9 x 13'.


Abir Karmakar

Galerie Mirchandani + Steinruecke
16/18 Mereweather Road, (Behind Taj Mahal Hotel), Colaba 2 Sunny House
November 15–February 28

“Home is so sad,” Philip Larkin wrote in 1958. “It stays as it was left, / Shaped to the comfort of the last to go / As if to win them back.” The large-scale oil paintings in Abir Karmakar’s exhibition “Displacement” capture the timbre of one such household, an Indian family’s, with aching precision. Largely freestanding upon wooden supports, the hyperrealistic canvases create trompe l’oeil rooms within the gallery even as they gesture to the way we stage domestic backdrops for our own lives. The specificities of Indian decor are typified in astonishing detail. Here are the Hindu gods and goddesses in jaunty frames and calendars and the synthetic knockoffs of Ayurvedic skincare, and here too is the pocked metal cupboard and high suitcase shelf, along with that terribly Desi predilection for installing bare fluorescents over doors, as evinced by Displacement (Wall III), 2017. Though here, unlike in the case of a migrant family to which the show’s title alludes, all doorways are open for us to walk through. A viewer less familiar with local customs might find this show frustratingly opaque. Yet in the warmth slanting through barred, half-tinted windows, perhaps you, too could imagine yourself at home here.

Consider a swollen sun breaking over inclement waves, or dappling prettily across hedgerowed meadows. Do these things even move you anymore? Really, the only quality of light that feels poignant these days is in its interactions with the petro-derivative products of our present. A gummy protective film around the water filter, for example, or catching the scuffed, quintessentially Indian botanical patterns on the refrigerator, or reflecting off a portly CRT TV—all scenes that are represented here. Like the best fiction, these paintings have the effect of bringing the outside world into focus, reminding the viewer of things they might have forgotten or never even knew. You can see how it was: Look at the deadbolts and the wall socket. The collectibles in the glass-fronted cabinets. That plant.