A young farmer’s family laments his suicide and keeps alive his memory through a framed photograph on the wall. It’s a caption underneath a tragic photo of a family — possibly from a newspaper — that’s part of Impotent Rage, and no doubt part of countless recycled news reports over the years as well. Impotent Rage is 36-year-old artist Akshay Raj Singh Rathore’s solo mixed media exhibition — paintings, photographs, archival prints, installations, found materials — being shown at the Gallery Espace in New Delhi; it looks at rural existence and the often tragic realities associated with rural life in India. Obituary, a painting featured here, shows a farmer named Tikaram, from Vidisha, staring at seeds from his farm. It’s a heartbreaking image, with the underlying thought being one of a foregone era replaced by a modernised approach to agriculture (it’s easy to not name names but shouldn’t we call out Monsanto here for their evil, Orwellian practices?).
The exhibition is a mix of the melancholic and latent rage, and also the implicit futility and impotency of it all, drawn through contrasting images from India and beyond — of half a wall of photos of a hand clutching different materials (grains, pulses, fishes), of the effect and impact of GMO seeds, of masculinity and emasculation, of bulls and bullocks, of animals being domesticated, of groups of men with ridiculously distended testicles. In fact, one of the most striking paintings is one of a child, possibly an infant, in full artillery — bullets on a belt running across his chest — and an expression of anger and torment. Another highlight is an installation (titled Weak Frenzy) that simply features a clutch of frames alongside each other, each one displaying some form of emotion or thought — “emasculate”, “weak”, “impotent”, “rage” — written in the Devanagari script, using both English and Hindi words. It’s an old trope, that of using loosely-connected words together, but one that’s always effective in conveying a sense of the issues being addressed.
Obituary, a painting featured here, shows a farmer named Tikaram, from Vidisha, staring at seeds from his farm. It’s a heartbreaking image; a foregone era replaced by a modernised approach to agriculture.
I don’t think the intention here is to elicit any deep (false) sense of empathy from urban patrons visiting the exhibition at a roomy, well-designed art gallery in a nice part of town. Instead, the sparse arrangements and the simplicity of the exhibition suggest a relatively subtler approach that tries to articulate this hidden angst that exists, and not to shout it out. It seems as much about spreading some sort of awareness to an urban class living in a bubble as it does about aesthetic presentation and points of view. “This happens,” it seems to tell us. Essentially, it’s very easy for us to get lost in circles of outrage over net neutrality, movie censorship, good and bad governance of the educated classes, economic development, industrialisation, commercialisation and so on. And that’s not necessarily pointless. But we could also maybe take a step back from virtues of entitlement every now and then to realise that there exists an entire section of society — a traditionally intrinsic part of Indian existence — that has been failed time and again by the state, by the authorities, and has been exploited and dealt a raw deal.
Impotent Rage will be displayed at the Gallery Espace at the Community Centre, New Friends Colony (New Delhi) all through April.