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Monday, August 20, 2018

Art Of The Matter


A Patna-born artist uses his work to highlight the many ills that beset India. KS Narayanan probes his mind. photos by sujan singh
KS NARAYANAN | New Delhi, December 13, 2013 12:23
Tags : Umesh Kumar |policy makers | experts | journalists | the aam aadmi | Lalit Kala Akademi |artist |Patna |
We often gossip, discuss, tweet and write about the dismal conditions around us. The range of subjects in India begins with the lack of quality water, and then goes on to cover poor health care, burden of education, consumerism, sexual assaults and fast city life and so on. Some of these burning questions burden everybody, policy makers, experts, journalists, the aam aadmi alike.
When it bothers a sensitive artist, what we have is a collection of oil paintings and installations that awaken us to the problems, provoke us to ask questions and sensitize us about the issues we confront.
The recent art exhibition of Umesh Kumar at Lalit Kala Akademi was one such effort. Many of his works, exhibited for ten days, were paintings on the issue of sustainable development, water utilisation, the positioning women as a commodities, and so on.
Take for instance the installation of about 10 feet high created by Umesh Kumar by using used mineral water bottles. Through this installation Umesh Kumar asks questions that stare us in the face and relate to the depletion of the precious water resources by a population of 1.2 billion plus.
In the list of 122 countries rated on quality of portable water, India ranks a lowly 120. Although India has 4 per cent of the world’s water, studies show average availability is shrinking steadily. It is estimated that by 2020, India will become a water-stressed nation. Nearly 50 per cent of this nation’s villages still don’t have any source of protected drinking water.
No wonder a sensitive artist like Umesh Kumar has taken it upon himself to work on the pressing challenge facing the nation. Asked about it, he throws light on the extent of the acute shortage of water and proceeds to question the lack of will among Indians to face this challenge.
“We are all part of Nature. Water is a basic right. But where is water? When will all of us get water? Earlier we used to call it water. Now we call it Bisleri. But in the hand pumps there is no water at all and has dried up,” he laments.
“Why are we wreaking havoc on Nature? Why are we punishing the future generations? What will be our legacy? Will they not question us?” he fires a barrage of questions through this installation.
He quickly points out and fears that on account of acute demand and mismatched supply, the price of mineral water, which costs Rs 10 per bottle today, might shoot up ten-fold and people may be forced to cough up Rs 100 instead.
“We are using, abusing, misusing precious natural resources and are equally involved in criminal activities of polluting the ground water,” he observes.
The installation raises more questions than it answers. Does it have a buyer? One would be rather surprised; a well-known restaurateur in the heart of the national Capital has evinced keen interest in the installation and has asked Umesh Kumar to install it in his eatery. That might stir the conscience of our people further!
Umesh Kumar’s next frame is on women. In this painting, he attacks advertisements that use the female body as a medium to persuade an audience to purchase products. Born and raised in Patna, the artist questions as to how women have been degraded from being the epitome of beauty to a mere commodity in the mass media, advertisements and billboards across the globe and India.
While the peacock in the drawing is a symbol of beauty, the slipper in the frame symbolises how womanhood is being used to drive crass commercialism.
Similarly his next frame is on the state of education and is titled Nature Child. Here Umesh Kumar illustrates how children are under the burden of bags, lack of food, water, sanitation. Another painting titled My Class Room Today features also alludes to the same problem.
Here too Umesh Kumar is perplexed whether today the education system is preparing clerks or will it help children to enjoy Nature and face the real dangers of tomorrow’s world.
“They have been robbed of their childhood. It is a pathetic situation. The plight of one girl child is enough to illustrate the nature and magnitude of the problem,” he asserts.
Another painting that is equally thought provoking is the one on the fast pace of life in a metropolis and rising urbanisation in India. Here the artist portrays how life has been reduced to mere metallic existence.
Umesh Kumar, who graduated from Patna Art College in the 1990s, engages his viewers using art by focussing on social issues, asking provocative questions and sensitizing them.
Ask him how did he hit upon these ideas? Bang comes the reply that the artist too is part of the same society. He says: “I only reflect what is around me – news, people, places and events. It is my duty to mirror what is happening around me.”
He adds that art is not a showpiece for the drawing room though some artists do respond to the demands of the market and create art that is saleable. But art should have some substance too, he asserts.
Another installation on the lines of the mineral water bottles was one that Umesh Kumar has created with the help of matchsticks. Titled Drying Nature, the framework was divided into different cardboards bearing matchsticks to depicting space, mountains, trees, earth and river. Each bundle of matchstick held together and was burnt depending on the level of degradation it has suffered at the hands of human beings.
When asked why the river too had burnt matchsticks and the rest of the matchsticks were brown, Umesh Kumar says:
“I have done this to illustrate two things – the irreversible damage done so far and how exploitation continues unabated.”
Another painting titled Too Many Complaints brings forth before us a subject that is often brushed under the carpet – death. Umesh Kumar says that people often let their ego take over and they complain against each other. But he is perplexed like most of us as to how people start speaking in sweet terms about a dead person who till yesterday was abused by them!
Why does he raise so many questions through his paintings? Umesh Kumar, who has had many solo shows and has participated in many exhibitions, says the artist has a role to play. “I take the present with a view on the future as most social scientists, scientists, activists or policy makers do. I do it as an artist”.
He asks: “What’s wrong with it?” Of course, there is nothing wrong with an artist who has his heart in the right place! 
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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017