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Beauty and the Beast

A painting by Visakhapatnam-based artist V Ramesh, which displays a transparent packet enclosing white flowers, somewhat like the motia flowers used extensively in the making of gajras, is the visitors’s favourite piece at Threshold gallery’s ongoing show “Revisiting Beauty”. The flowers which were once in full bloom, now lie caged and stifled within the bag in the canvas titled A Packet Full of Desires. Gallerist Tunty Chauhan, curator of the exhibition, reveals how the desire to possess something that qualifies as beautiful, often leads to the smothering of life and fragrance. “You can sometimes see it happening in relationships, be it between a child and his parents or a husband and wife,” says Chauhan, , who has brought together 10 contemporary artists, whose practice is rooted in the miniature tradition.

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In another frame titled Body/ Offering, Ramesh engages the viewer with the thoughts of body that was present a moment ago but is now gone forever in physical terms. A rose garland rests on the shiny surface of a wooden chair, exuding an air of ownership. Questioning perceived notions of art and beauty, artist Manjunath Kamath has created a series of 12 self-portraits on paper, done in miniature style. There is Kamath with a fully grown beard staring back at the viewer, possessing a donkey head in one frame and a monkey mind in another. Feelings of frustration also emerge while he lies entangled within the grips of a rope. A heavy rock resting on his head seeks to describe “an artist with an ideology”. “The beauty of art lies in not always being pleasing but evoking a response or a tension and an experience,” he writes in the catalogue of the exhibition.

London-based Pakistani artist F Zahra Hassan has juxtaposed a traditional princely Mughal couple witnessed in Mughal miniatures, gazing into each other’s eyes, in Annihilation (Couple) VI, as she lets their skin melt away to reveal the remains beneath it. Senior artist Nilima Sheikh’s work titled The Dust Still Uneasy on Hurried Graves, despite looking like a beautiful landscape, reveals gloom on closer inspection. Painted with the prevailing unrest in Kashmir as the backdrop, it has grieving mothers kneeling, river beds running dry while villages are left abandoned. In One World Here Another There, Karachi-based artist Wardha Shabbir has recreated a colourful world of mythical creatures – beasts and birds populating a fantasy landscape and telling tales of beauty, survival and death. Shabbir lets her work serve as an investigation of the dilemma surrounding beauty in many social and political contexts. Here, in one corner carnivores surround a carcass tearing its flesh apart, while a large crowing raven emerges from behind the rocks and a garuda-like man-bird is seen with its wings spread out in the air. “Mystical references acknowledging the undertones of a flourishing dystopic world steeped in the discourse of cruelty and power are consciously masked with the elements of beauty which then turns into contemporary miniatures,” says Shabbir.

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