Shubhalakshmi Shukla

In the Womb of the Land



Ritesh Meshram’s recent works In the Womb of the Land traverses the viewer simultaneously into the rural and urban backdrop through the interior landscapes of Chattisgarh as well as the peripheries of Mumbai. This series of works was shown in a solo exhibition at Gallery Chemould Prescott Road in Mumbai from September 6th to October 11, 2018.

Ritesh’s artistic oeuvre aesthetically conjoins the peripheries of Mumbai, with the local interiors of Chattisgarh through an intimate way. Ubiquitous local designs of the tools as dynamic linguistic idioms (found objects) and dictions are made visible through passionate conception of ‘form as form’. Ritesh creatively separates the ‘functionality of form’ as in labourer’s tools and creates a new aesthetic diverse from ‘form follows function’. In the work series titled In Between the Lines, the linearity of the works resonate with a drawing like quality. One may say that Ritesh makes sculptures out of lines or executes ‘line as sculpture’. However, Ritesh has made no prior sketches and drawings for these sculptures. Through his discerning approach, in appreciation of ‘form follows form’, he creates several syntaxes for observing the hand tools in our locales. A local language which would be lost soon in the time of large scale spectacular works, is deeply felt and addressed in his works. These observations hold an ‘indigenous’ way of observing and reciprocating to a local culture of tools and designs that simultaneously coexists in both the peripheries of the city Mumbai and Chattisgarh, politicising the personal!

As Ritesh Meshram elaborates, ‘What I have also explored through my metal work is to draw a similarity in the tools of the labourers that helped me make this work. There is such an aesthetic in these tools – whether it is the design, the sound they make, or their form. For me to create a new aesthetic with the already existing forms was something that inspired the process of my own work’. In this exhibition, all the works are made in the small scale industry in Bhayandar East, one of the suburbs of Mumbai from where he also bought the materials directly from the shops. The works are made by employing the method of forging1 and lathing2 the metal. These are the age old techniques used by iron-smiths in India for rendering and shaping. These techniques make his works produced with the help of low tech method as opposed to high tech execution, spectacularly visible in the current times. The act of holding, imbibing, seeking- contemplating- turning, pausing and receiving from each breath makes a vivid fusion of Ritesh’s’ art forms with the labourers’ tools, made visible for a closer scrutiny, each moment. These dimensions emerge from the chitta- the inner dimension of human mind. Spontaneity of thought fuses with inherent knowledge, yet denying any ‘completion’!

The present series of works creates new ways of seeing the known forms. The fresh viewing creates a new insight and opens up dialogue for reexamining the canonical aesthetics of forms. The genres of sculpting and drawing are often observed bearing an aura due to their academic flavour. Both the methods are taught in art schools to make ‘Art’. However, when a conscious engagement with the process based art is executed, like in Ritesh’s works, it creates a playful rhythm of its own, enlightening the viewer about the culture of our locale (for example, Bundle of 91 Sticks and Line of Sight). In these works, the feel of the iron is transformed into wood. The work appears to be deceptively heavy, creating a new dimension and manifests rustic observations of peripheries of our locales. Bundle of 91 Sticks creates a day to day observation of immigrant workers carrying bundles of wood with its drawing like details; and Line of Sight appears to be like a glimpse of fencing with details of drawing.

Each work has a refined understanding of executing joints. When we say ‘form follows function’ the joints in each of the labourer’s tools embody a certain dimension of function of joints, which either ‘carry weight’ or ‘fold and move’ like hinge and so and so forth. In these fresh perceptions of joints in Ritesh’s works, the joints are created with a meticulous care as a result of which they achieve aesthetic dimension/s. Although they resemble the joints in the labourer’s tools, they acquire drawing like aesthetic urgency for understanding of how these tools were first made. These aspects make it curious for Art, Architecture and Design students to learn from the formal appreciation of aesthetics in Ritesh’s works. None of the joints exude any pressure of academic finish, rather it echoes with a rustic quality. Unlike this, an interior designer or Architecture student would employ the same for its functional purpose. Viewing this new perception of joints in form and design of tools, therefore, becomes a compelling exercise for the onlooker. An endlessness established (in growth) in this kind of linear, self-growing forms is sourced from the organic features like in plants such as bamboo. The arrangement of nodes in the bamboo plant has a cosmic geometry also known as the golden ratio. Ritesh does not explore the golden ratio; however, all his self-growing forms acknowledge this hidden geometry in nature.

In the above observations of In Between the Lines series, reverberating organic designs are taken from nature with a potential for endless growth within. The rawness of the technique/s of forging and lathing is made distinctly visible through the form of small hammers recurring in a row in one of the pieces. While these works emerge from the ‘study’ of ‘form’ as well as function of the locally produced labourer’s tools, the artistic concern revolves around natural structures, creating a movement of local technique/s made visible within the gallery space. Taking the rendering much beyond its study-base, somewhat close to sculptural intervention by Brancusi in his Endless Column, Ritesh’s works echo a cocoon-like (womb) space for creativity to incubate. He directly works on the material exploring the heavy weight and tangibility of diverse dimensions. Most of the works in this suite has a connection with his earlier drawings as well as found objects which he employed in making sculptural installations. His works seem to be emerging from a perceptive mind while merging the lines between the three dimensional sculptural forms and detailed rendering of line drawings. These aspects make his works characteristic of the in-between spaces of an art form where each gains the strength from the other, signifying working with human hands as the most crucial dimension. While the human hand shapes the form according to one’s consciousness, the material too transforms the human consciousness while working. For example, in prehistoric times the primitive man carved out a hand axe according to the shape of human hand (and the need) from a largish stone. It must have been a sharp intellectual activity, without any help from books and drawings. Almost like forming a sentence in a language, the prehistoric man’s consciousness evolved while making tools for hunting and cutting wood, bones and making shelter. These details of resemblances make Ritesh’s works reverberate like a language with local dictions and emanate the survival instinct of humanity.

Ritesh’s interest in the history of the land of Chattisgarh, rich in iron ore stays somewhat non-descriptive in his works; however, the title seems to emerge from the deep concerns towards the land. Ritesh is born and brought up in Bhilai, Chattisgarh as his father was an employee in Bhilai Steel Plant, a massive public sector manufacturing plant established in 1955. Ritesh is well aware of the rural agricultural land of Chattisgarh being extorted of its natural resources by the capitalist political nexus, disturbingly exploiting and displacing farmers for a lifetime. Ritesh is deeply aware of these displacements within the interiors of Chattisgarh– farmers neither compensated for their land nor given any government jobs as a replacement. He incorporates organic forms from the exuberant natural landscape of Chattisgarh which inevitably connects him with his land, and this is where he attains his integrity and understanding of forms. A Piece of Land does not just speak of the tongue in cheek humor at the capitalists wanting to grab the natural resources and the land but also emulates the technique of making these works that journey from ‘found’ forms to deceptively humanistic forms.

These works of integrity resonate untold embedded truths, integrating a sharp observation of the land through materiality. This resonance as a sound translated into a repetition of form is seen in some of his works, creating an optical of vibrations. Ritesh chooses to meditate and select from the methodologies of Marcel Duchamp, Piet Mondrian, the Constructivists, Paul Klee and Alexander Calder as and when the choice would work. Consequently, one gains in comprehension from the critical art-making methodologies. A thought provoking awareness of the world’s artistic journeys with ‘form’ in intellectually perceptive ways, has strengthened the making of In the womb of the Land. As he contemplates, ‘Metal is sound; Metal resonates; it is an expression of strength. Concurrently, it is also an expression of suppression. Despite its density, it’s malleability, allows us to exploit, to manipulate as one desires. The metaphor that then captivates me, is evaluating miners, who unearth iron ore from mines, transport it, melt it, and fragment it from its raw form– that of iron ore. For me, the journey or the miner, and the metal draw parallels’.

1. Forging: to make or shape (a metal object) by heating it in a fire or furnace and hammering it.

2. Lathing: A lathe is a tool that rotates the workpiece about an axis of rotation to perform various operations such as cutting, sanding, knurling, drilling, deformation, facing and turning, with tools that are applied to the work piece to create an object with symmetry about that axis. Lathes are used in woodturning, metalworking, metal spinning, thermal spraying, parts reclamation, and glass-working. Lathes can be used to shape pottery, the best-known design being the potter’s wheel.

Shubhalakshmi Shukla is Mumbai based independent writer and curater. Her first book  Imagined Locales, a series of interviews by contemporary Indian artists, was launched by the Studio X in Mumbai in 2015.

2 comments on “In the Womb of the Land: Shubhalakshmi Shukla

  1. Santosh kalbande

    Very nice

  2. Rumi Samadhan

    A fine deciphering of material, milieu, form and sound!


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