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Excavation and Memory: Jeram Patel (A Retrospective)

Art in contemporary india is becoming more prominent with the increasing number of artists and
growth in number of private galleries and museums. Located in South Court Mall, Saket, Kiran
Nadar Museum of Art is such a museum which made me think if art in galleries are only for the
bourgeoisie. Leaving aside these questions on art and its modes of spectatorship the retrospective on
Jeram Patel at the KNMA is an interesting and well curated work. Curated by Roobina Karode, the
exhibition helped me look into Patels life through his works. The exhibition is spread over a large
space split into rooms and each room offers to show a type of work. Roobina Karode cunningly
uses these spaces and instead of hauling art works from a specific period of Patels life into each
room she chooses to put a type of work into each room. In a way each room is dedicated to each
form of expression. Roobina might have done this because Jeram rarely had his phases dealing
with only one form of painting. The art works clearly represent the variations in his work and his
experimentations with new objects and new forms of representation. Born in 1930, he did his
graduation from Sir J J School of Art in Bombay and then went to the Central School of Art and
Craft, London and joined the Faculty of Fine Arts at the MS Baroda University. He had his early
figurative phases and then shifted to miniatures and the to abstraction. There is a room containing
artworks which substantiate how he shifts from figurative to miniatures .
Along with the artworks, each room contains a cited text and the curator tries to link it to the
paintings in a specific room. The text helps to channelise the viewership in a way. These
combination of text and painting makes the room an individual space and each room can be
viewed seperately as a space of a seperate exhibition. Interestingly each room also acts as dots to be
connected and these connections provides insights into the overall work of the painter. Jeram once
said that his work has nothing to do with space, colour (1977). There is his series of black and
white paintings made with acrylic on paper consisting of abstract shapes and this series works like
Rorschach tests. The abstract patterns appeal to the mind helping one to reveal the psychological
layers. For me this series gave me a sense of nostalgia as this reminded me how I used to look at
clouds when I was a kid and tried to think of real objects that the cloud patterns represent.
His use of mixed medium is notable. All of his colourful paintings present at the exhibition used
mixed medium and the surfaces were mainly canvas and wood. What seems like a work of a child
at first, if carefully looked into, reveals itself through layers. These paintings engage the viewer and
makes one realise Jerams capibility to use colour along with mediums like sand or wood to create
patterns that plays with the viewers mind. Each painting tells a story and interacts with the viewer.
The viewer soon becomes an observer and finally a receipient of ideas that these paintings manage
to skillfully do.
Patel also skilled in his work with ink on paper. Roobina manages to bring these works together
including private collections of Geeta Kapur and Vivan Sundaram. Mainly done with black ink
Patel manages to use various shades between black and white to show variations in shadows and
also uses dot pen in many works to create different figures. Notable among these works is his
Hospital Series. The title rightly points out the theme. Done using ink as a medium on hand made
paper, the artworks depict a patients experiences in hospital. It also consists of works done using
crow quills and the use of lithograph. Gulammohammed Sheikh described this series as Tantriks
vision and microbiologists view depicting the memories of foetal darkness, history of the
womb. Through these paintings its clear how Patel attempts to criticize the whole hospital system
and its treatment of the patients. The sketches are haunting and breaks the idea of hospitals being
places where people get cured. Hospitals seem more of mental asylums and laboratory rooms.
Roobina has put her own poem in response to this series and puts it up like a kind of guide. The
poem necessarrily shows that unlike curation , she is not well equipped with poetry. More than a
guide the poetry appears as a ditraction and unnecessary element.
Experimentation with new materials was something Patel beautifully did. Although he worked with
mix media the material surface couldnt get any depth. He developed a techniquen called blowtorch
on wood and with this he managed to give the material a depth and add a third dimension to his
work. This technique also explores the texture of the material and appeals to the observer . His use
of colours enhances this effect. As the art works here have a third dimension the use of light in the
exhjibition space becomes important. Bad lighting can lead to formation of shadows that can irritate
the viewing experience. Without the use of Aappropriate lighting the viewer thas to struggle to look
at tyhe works. Kaarode manages to provide a mediocre solution by providing diagonal lighting. The
viewers need to struggle decrease a bit but doesnt completely wash away. The benches provided
inside this space is not a good place to sit and ponder upon the works because the moment one sits
and tries to view the works the person gets a distorted verusion of the work along with shadows.
The curator describes Jerams work as a representation of archaic memory and existential angst.
Some really represent the idea but the exhibition as a whole fails to do this. If someone wants to
trace Jerams life with his art works as examples, this exhibition provides a good insight.
Interestingly this exhibition can also be viewed as a collection of various exhibitions on Jeram Patel
and each can be viewed independent of other. That wont be an retrospective but as an art exhibition
it does fairly well. With change in modes of viewership it is important to see what this exhibition
has to offer. As mentioned earlier the gallery itself is accesible to a certain class of people but this is
how paintings are viewed in this Capitalist system. Unlike murals, this limits the spectatorship.
Looking into Jerams life we can see that he didnt have an opposition to these modes of viewership
and this indicates his broad ideology on art. His works are skillfull and conceptual and will surely
appeal to the class that goes to galleries especially somrthing like the KNMA but a large section of
society will stay ignorant of even this mans existence but sadly, that is how things work within this
system.