Contemporary art is a difficult journey for uninitiated travellers. Exhibitions of contemporary artworks are often like the creation of a new world with new dimensions, new codes, new languages and visitors like me know very little about this world in which they try blindly to find any kind of way.
However, there is sometimes a miracle – I’ve talked about Rina Banerjee on this blog – a miracle through which everything seems clear and natural. That’s why I would easily match Rina Banerjee with Sunil Gawde. Of course, they have Indian origins – Gawde has always lived in Mumbai – but above all, both of them seem to have the same approach to art in a way. On one hand, both of them search for aestheticism through their act of creation; on the other hand, their artworks always convey a message to the viewer, or at least a feeling, whatever the mystery lying in them.
But contrary to Rina Banerjee’s, Sunil Gawde’s message is often disturbing. Hidden, disturbing and unexpected. It appears like a bitter after-taste, a bad surprise.
One of his most famous installations in France is Almost Untouchable III which was shown in Musée Beaubourg in 2011 in the exhibition Paris, Delhi, Bombay where French and Indian artists had been invited to set out their visions of today’s Indian society. At first sight, the visitors can see a large garland of red flowers; the kind of garlands which are used in Indian religious ceremonies or to greet an important guest. But as you get closer, you realize suddenly that the garland is mostly made of blood-red razor blades. Hundreds of razor blades, side by side, which suddenly remind us of the violence which can burst out at any moment, unexpectedly, like the bomb hidden in Rajiv Gandhi’s flower garland.
Sunil Gawde likes playing with “perception and reality”, apparent purity and underlying rot, security and danger, the shadow of death in the light of life.
The same feeling of danger crouching in insouciance appears in Virtually
Untouchable 1, a large mechanic butterfly which bristles with razor blades when you get close to it and whose body is a dagger. Beautiful, attractive and worrying… It is the same kind of feeling in Untitled 2008; big black ants, the hungry servants of death, are crawling along a delicate, long, white rose.
But death is not the only hidden monster! Danger is lying anywhere. Don’t trust the appearances!
In “Still Alive (2008), burnt wooden heart-shaped balloons are studded with nails. Love is a cruel peril, but you can survive it!
Sunil Gawde’s art is generous. No-one can be indifferent to his works. The visitors just have to see. They just have to keep the light burning in them. In Blind Bulb, a huge fiberglass bulb painted black has lost its first function: lightening. It is hanging heavily and uselessly, like an immobile punching ball, a motionless pendulum! That is certainly what an artist like Sunil Gawde expects from us: keeping the light in our mind on, this light which makes us love, hate, think and create.