Mumbai

Minam Apang, Untitled, 2017, charcoal on cotton, 28 1/4 × 35 1/4".

Minam Apang, Untitled, 2017, charcoal on cotton, 28 1/4 × 35 1/4".

Minam Apang

Chatterjee & Lal

Minam Apang, Untitled, 2017, charcoal on cotton, 28 1/4 × 35 1/4".

Ideas of fragility and impermanence ran through the charcoal drawings on cloth and paper in Minam Apang’s recent exhibition, “Drawing Phantoms.” The works on cloth appeared to be landscapes—a turbulent sea; a sky crowded with moons, shrouded in mist; mountains in the distance, only faintly visible. Charcoal’s material characteristics lend themselves perfectly to represent these seemingly ephemeral perceptions. The medium’s easy transformability and monochromy create ambiguous figures; Apang’s hybrid images are not what they seem. The Goa, India–based artist says the works try to embody Heraclitus’s epigram “Everything flows; nothing stands still.” Here, it was difficult to tell the waves from the clouds, the splashes from the mountains. The sea and the sky became interchangeable. The illusionary horizon line was ironically the only element most accurately represented—except in one work in which it appeared slanted. This dynamism and sense of movement hints at the spirit of drawing that Apang was trying to invoke. Uncertainty and vulnerability are, to her, life’s vital forces and central to her approach to drawing as discovery rather than static representation. If the works on cloth evoked landscapes, the works on paper were ambiguous images—unsettling apparitions and pareidolic illusions—of hybrid creatures. The charcoal smudges and markings interacted to create multivalencies—to appear as images that are not fixed, yet are still there.

The physical act of drawing, which itself is the overarching theme in the artist’s works, follows a two-stage process. Apang first creates marks, allowing chance and accident to intervene; then she reacts to these marks. Slowly, over time, images begin to appear and take shape—neither abstract nor figurative, but rather phantasmagorical, relating to the realm of dreams and imagination. Apang says that she was thinking of the term drawing in the exhibition title in two senses: that of producing an image from marks and lines, but also that of pulling, extracting something from within, through her memories, nostalgia, and the fluid space of imagination.

The artist worked with ink on paper before shifting to charcoal six years ago. She felt the liquid medium had more of a connection with painting, whereas the dry one was closer to sculpture. She wanted to stray from line and also do away with tools, to let her hands feel a closeness to the material she was working with. She chose to make her own charcoal powder by grinding pastel blocks and shaving pencil cores to create grainy and uneven bits, which helped bring about the accidental marks. She used charcoal pastels and charcoal pencils to cover the larger surfaces and for the finer details.

Apang started to work on cloth in 2014. Doing so had practical benefits—it allowed her to travel light. By folding the cloth in her suitcase, she created delicate creases that she then shaped into landscape forms in reference to the journeys. Before drawing on the cloth, she washed it to remove starch, in the process creating wrinkles, which Apang also incorporated into her work. The wrinkly texture resulted in delicate white veins—where the cloth escaped the charcoal markings—that contrasted with the dark areas around it. In the series on view in this exhibition, she says, this texture of creases and wrinkles is meant to allude to the corporeal. Furthermore, Apang applies the powder and pencil to the cloth when it is both wet and dry, letting her achieve a more layered and uneven texture. In the recent show, this practice of hers intensified the composite nature of the images—releasing them from stillness and imbuing them with a phantom spirit.

Roshan Kumar Mogali