Suburban Shadows
Recent works on paper by Prasanta Sahu
October 15 – November 30, 2020

I am pleased to present Suburban Shadows, a solo-show of recent works on paper by Prasanta Sahu, as part of our ongoing series of virtual exhibitions. These critical yet beautiful works are part of Sahu’s long-term artistic engagement with the subject of rural and suburban workers from across India. A sharply insightful artist and observer, Sahu studies the life of the marginalised, who provide essential services to us but remain faceless and uncelebrated for their contributions. His works are also very relevant at this particular moment.

As the pandemic threw all plans off-course, Emami Art has pivoted and shifted to online activities, incorporating a wide range of innovative digital programmes, including art talks with eminent artists, documentary film festival, master class and art mentorship programme for emerging artists and virtual exhibitions. I hope Suburban Shadows will not only captivate our viewers and make them think. It is my strong belief that art can and should serve as a catalyst for debate and that artists seeking truth beyond the visible, offer new perspectives and visions to cajole us to re-assess our definitions of mundane.

- Richa Agarwal, CEO Emami Art & KCC

Suburban Shadows - Concept Note

Over five years, Prasanta Sahu has been working on what he calls “the unknown multitudes,” the marginalized population of peasants and urban workers, who provide essential services to us but remain unacknowledged and under-represented in the society.

Concerned with farming and agriculture in the context of modern life and the representation of daily labourers of various occupations in the suburban localities, his works in the exhibition revolve around the particular notion of the study, understood not as a regular academic practice – a drawing or sketch done in preparation for a finished piece – but something close to the anthropological idea of case-study: the contextual analysis of the everyday life and actions of an individual, group or community that exhibits the morphology of the social structure.

Rooted in the empiricism of “being there,” Sahu’s work involves the scientific method of photo documentation, field notes and drawings and interviews which he later reworks in his studio. He prefers to see himself as a compiler, as opposed to an original creator, who reconstructs the reality, drawing on elements and styles from diverse scientific and artistic disciplines and discourses. In his work, this process of citation operates on multiple levels, subverting the idea of painting as a medium of invention and originality. The strategic juxtaposition of the visual and textual sings, of diagrammatic and realistic images and of technically produced and transferred images that relate to the “industrial aesthetic” and hand-drawn ones create hybridity that defies the linearity of the visual discourse, challenging the ideological and institutional demands placed on art.

The human body holds the centre stage in many of Prasanta Sahu’s major works. In the exhibition, he deals mostly with the marginalized male farmers and daily labourers, representing them not merely as the physical bodies in action, but a contested site of biopolitics. Reducing the bodies to their bare silhouette, Sahu highlights the economy of their gestures, underlines the non-figurative quality of his works, which are documents, as opposed to portrait or descriptive representation. He is not only interested in visual effect and compositional arrangement of his work but also confers upon them a socio-political status.

A trained artist, Sahu also has a background in electrical engineering. His work thus shows both the pictorial intelligence and imagination of an artist and the analytic approaches of the scientific disciplines. There are contradictions, and his work encompasses them. More often than not, the fieldwork documents, data table and photographs veer abruptly from a scientifically oriented daily account to an avant-garde oneiric montage of images, texts and numbers. Instead of being enclosed in a singular aesthetic idea, the works, composite, fragmentary and hybrid, compel an interrogative meaning.