Critics’ Picks

View of “All is Water, And to Water We Must Return,” 2021.

View of “All is Water, And to Water We Must Return,” 2021.


Sahil Naik

EXPERIMENTER, Ballygunge Place
45 Ballygunge Place
April 21–July 31, 2021

Each summer as the waters of Goa’s Selaulim Dam recede, the village of Curdi emerges from a watery grave. Hundreds of former residents return to symbolically occupy their lost homes. They clean the ruins, place objects in them, and sing together. Goan artist Sahil Naik has been researching this phenomenon and charting an alternate history of the shifting landscape, drawing from anecdotes, folklore, rumors, and myth. The artist strives to preserve these memories as a means to resist erasure.  

The work that gives the exhibition its name, “All Is Water, and to Water We Must Return” (all works 2021), offers a detailed study of the landscape in clay and fiberglass, produced at one-tenth the scale. The sculpture is kinetic, with water slowly submerging the topography, which then reemerges as the tide subsides. This ebb and flow marks the passage of time, while doubling as a repeated reenactment of loss that makes witnesses of us all. Alongside the sculpture on the gallery’s adjacent wall, a dreamlike scene is assembled in sixteen parts. Titled after both the Welsh and the Portuguese words for longing or desire, the gouache on paper Hiraeth/Saudade abstracts an aerial study of Curdi, freezing the fast-deteriorating landscape in one specific instant.

Naik’s larger practice surveys nation building and its accompanying spectacles in the MENASA region. How to save a monument from a dam chronicles two simultaneous case studies with watercolors, ink, and miniature fiberglass sculptures. The Aswan Dam was conceived around the same time as the one on the Selaulim. Both were the work of leaders with modernist visions (in Egypt Gamal Abdel Nasser and in India Jawaharlal Nehru). Their utopian ambitions ultimately demanded large sacrifices, sinking soft regional complexities under the hardness of modernist architecture.