New Delhi

View of “B. V. Suresh,” 2015. Photo: Babu Eshwar Prasad.

View of “B. V. Suresh,” 2015. Photo: Babu Eshwar Prasad.

B. V. Suresh

Vadehra Art Gallery | D-40

View of “B. V. Suresh,” 2015. Photo: Babu Eshwar Prasad.

The silence of the dimly lit ground-floor room was punctured by the shriek of an iron weight, suspended near the ceiling, suddenly bearing down. Luckily, its anticipated crash landing was arrested by a pad of cotton that cushioned the impact. Nearby, other weights hovered tantalizingly over cushions, their heaviness forming a curious counterpoint to the pillowy softness of the cotton. At the other end of the room, a rotating mechanical contraption reminiscent of a cotton gin cast flickering shadows on the wall as cotton shreds floated about. With these installations—respectively titled Weights and Rolling Gin (all works 2015)—B. V. Suresh set up a duet of weight and weightlessness accompanied by an orchestration of light and sound.

But the cotton trail did not end there. Upstairs, suspended thorny branches were topped by balls of cotton, like prickly buds, in Raw. Suresh’s cotton fetish reflects his preoccupation with the spate of suicides by Indian farmers—several of whom cultivated cotton—that have made headlines in recent years. He is not alone in highlighting the travails of the farming community in India; other artists, such as Shambhavi Singh and Shweta Bhattad, have also drawn attention to the farmer’s predicament in recent years. Trapped in a vicious cycle of debt caused by crop failure and the unsustainable cost of cultivation, they find their misery compounded by the apathy of the state. This discourse underpins Mann Ki Baat (Speaking from the Heart), an installation formed by a pile of cotton balls surrounded by decrepit, dysfunctional radios. The title of the work comes from Indian prime minister Narendra Modi’s radio broadcasts to the nation. In March of 2015, Modi addressed farmers, assuring them that he was well aware of their plight. Snatches of the broadcasts here overlapped with recorded interviews with farmers, which were activated by motion-sensing Scarecrows as visitors moved through the exhibition. These scarecrow-like figures with cottony heads also emanated grunts and snuffling noises in an obvious allusion to George Orwell’s Animal Farm.

Given the ascendance of right-wing parties and the recent debates on secularism in the country, this show, “Khamoshi ki Daastan” (Chronicles of Silence), curated by fellow artist Pushpamala N., served as a scathing indictment of the failure of the state to protect its minority and marginalized communities. In Albino, a white peacock was perched on a wooden crate surrounded by weights and cotton beaters. By stripping it of all color, the artist converted the national bird into a pariah, unwanted and despised. Adding insult to injury, its tail had been lopped off and placed under a heavy weight at the other end of the room. Part of an installation titled Tail under the radar, the alabaster plumage lay beneath a revolving “radar” of torn camouflage nets, trapped by mechanisms of state surveillance.

Scattered through all three floors of gallery space were loaves of bread, each enshrined in a house made of glass. Though this was not immediately evident, Glass Seal was made of leftovers from an untitled installation that was part of Suresh’s 2006 solo show at the same gallery, “Facilitating the Beast.” On that occasion, blackened loaves of bread lined up in rows on battered tin trays served as an allegory for the infamous Best Bakery incident, when a bakery was torched by a right-wing Hindu mob during the sectarian violence that wracked the state of Gujarat in 2002. Several Muslims who had sought refuge within it lost their lives. Surprisingly, the burnt loaves did not decay over the course of the exhibition. Astounded by their resilience, Suresh decided to preserve them in resin. Here they functioned as silent sentinels, warning viewers against collective amnesia.

Meera Menezes