New Delhi

Anju Dodiya, Circle of Fog, 2021, ink-jet print mounted on light box, 15 × 11 1⁄2 × 3". From “Erasure.”

Anju Dodiya, Circle of Fog, 2021, ink-jet print mounted on light box, 15 × 11 1⁄2 × 3". From “Erasure.”

“Erasure”

Vadehra Art Gallery | D-53

“The past was erased, the erasure was forgotten, the lie became truth,” wrote George Orwell in 1984. The rewriting of history was just one of the many forms of expurgation that artist Susanta Mandal asked viewers to consider in “Erasure,” a group show he curated to examine the role that effacement, both intentional and inadvertent, plays in the creative act of artmaking.

Erasure generated by the painterly process was on view in Anju Dodiya’s eight ink-jet prints, derived from the manipulation of larger works, mounted on light boxes. In Circle of Fog, 2021, blotches of grayish blue all but obliterate the features of the work’s female protagonist (a fictional self-portrait), while in Kiss (For Ingrid), 2021, a similar wave of color appeared to overtake a kissing couple. A more emphatic gesture of obliteration could be viewed in Dayanita Singh’s Ash Grey 2 and 3, both 2018. These black-and-white digital photographs mounted on aluminum were covered with a veneer of enamel paint, their details often melting in a mist. Nearby, in a room separated by a thick curtain as if to shield the work from prying eyes, Mithu Sen’s satirical triptych Museum Piece #9 A(POLITICALLY) BLACK 2019, part of an ongoing “performance,” occupied center stage. In her act of self-censorship, Sen took drawings she’d made in 2011 and 2012, blackened them, and decorated them with innocuous motifs so as to not cause possible offense in India’s currently censorious political environment.

Mandal’s own installation, Even if I Forget . . ., 2020–21, beckoned visitors to enter a darkened space. Using a small lamp, lenses, a programming circuit, and a motor, the artist devised a rudimentary but effective projection system. But Mandal chose to project extracts of film scripts instead of films, thereby inviting viewers to use their imagination to conjure up their own images and sequences. In En Route or Of a Thousand Moons, 2011, Ayisha Abraham delved into the past, stitching together old amateur home movies that had suffered the ravages of time, including the growth of fungus. Instead of editing out such marks of decay, Abraham left them in as a nod to a nonhuman history. Still and moving images were married together in Ranbir Kaleka’s evocative Ripped Base and the Insuperable Span, 2021. Kaleka orchestrated a single-channel video projection on three surfaces—the wall of the gallery and two canvases in front of it—which made for compelling multi-depth viewing. Archival ink drawings of a man and a girl faded in and out in a piece that spoke poignantly of migration, enforced separation, and the lack of human bodily contact.

Heart-wrenching scenes of migrants trudging home to their villages after losing their livelihood in the city in the wake of the first wave of the Covid-19 crisis were the focus of Sudhir Patwardhan’s painting Distant City, 2020. Here the urban skyline recedes in the background as men, women, and children wearily make their way across a barren landscape. Similarly, migrants carrying bundles of belongings on their heads, their figures outlined in white, could be discerned in Gulammohammed Sheikh’s somber watercolor Undying Erasures, 2021.

At the entrance of the gallery, a small space was devoted to notes, drawings, sound recordings, and videos on the show’s theme by practitioners from diverse fields. These complemented the exhibition, shedding light on the erasure of dance forms, identities, and homelands, while simultaneously highlighting the layering of caste- and identity-based discriminatory practices. They served to emphasize that, while erasure might be an intrinsic part of the creative process, one cannot overlook its brutal and destructive legacies.