Critics’ Picks

Nikhil Chopra, Memory Drawing X, 2010. Performance view.

Nikhil Chopra, Manish Nai, Simryn Gill

There’s magic in the everyday, theorist Michel de Certeau claimed. Sometimes it’s easy to believe him. Like when a man, attired in the sky-blue shirt and cream plus fours of a Victorian flaneur, silently made his way along the sweaty, crowded streets of Mumbai, pausing at scenic spots (a bridge during a smoky sunset, a park encircled by colonial-era architecture) to give passersby the impression that they had stepped into a “picturesque” nineteenth-century postcard. This was performance artist Nikhil Chopra’s Memory Drawing X—his forty-eight-hour journey across the city in January.

By contrast, Manish Nai did not take his audience onto the streets but rather opted to bring urban squalor into the white cube instead. “Extramural,” at Mumbai’s Galerie Mirchandani + Steinruecke, re-created the down-at-heels glamour of the filthier sections of the metropolis. A site-specific “mural,” with an abstract pattern traced onto the wall with grey gouache, shuddered with nonexistent color one minute, while at another it resembled the scratch marks to be found on any of the city’s numerous besmirched partitions.

But it was Singapore-born Simryn Gill’s first show in India, “Letters Home,” that made the most disturbing use of ordinary people and sites. To celebrate this “homecoming,” collector Amrita Jhaveri hosted a dinner party on September 9 at Camelot, a furniture store nestled in a lush garden in South Mumbai. As we gazed (bubbly in hand) at A Small Town at the Turn of the Century, 2001—photographs of multiracial Malaysians, their heads hidden beneath succulent fruit (a lady with her face obscured by a melon, a man with mangos dangling onto his shoulders)—we speculated as to whether this was Gill’s comment on race, the self-destroying humdrum of community life, or the handiwork of a tipsy fairy.

Zehra Jumabhoy is the Steven and Elena Heinz Scholar at the Courtauld Institute of Art, where she is working on a Ph.D. on contemporary Indian art.