Art as Therapy: Notes on Jitish Kallat’s Here After Here

I walked through the Jitish Kallat retrospective at the NGMA on a day when my mind was filled with dark, lonely thoughts. The exhibition space was like a womb of wonders. A balm for my mind. The artworks, like friends, shared and revealed a personal wisdom, just for me. 

At a distance I see a giant bumpy kerosene cylinder, cast in a deep black material. When did I last see a kerosene stove? Vague memories of generic dhabas and chai stalls pass by fleetingly. Why has this diminutive appliance been amplified? Up close, I see that the bumps are in fact a vast menagerie of gothic beasts and birds that have found a permanent home upon this stove. The creatures are regal and stately. Odd that they have descended from regal domes and tower tops to make this timid and ubiquitous stove their home. Perhaps the artwork asks us to acknowledge and celebrate the uncelebrated — the silent workhorses that we ignore in our everyday lives, or the work we do in unacknowledged silence.

A few metres away, my eye catches something that resembles a dusty anthill, pockmarked all over. Up close, the pockmarks are eyes — a myriad animal eyes, demonstrating the many styles of perception that exist in the world. What does it mean to view the world as an eagle does? Or a crocodile? A variety of animal eyes stare from within, each capable of a different form of perception. How empowering it would be to have access to these multiple perspectives. If one way of viewing a situation is inconvenient, close one eye and open another.

Sleep. Animals of all kinds fast asleep, innocently exposed. In another room, humans doze on a metro bench. They have mastered the duality of being aware and unaware; asleep and yet self-conscious of their bodies and belongings. The seed of anxiety lies in us. We alone are capable of it. I like this juxtaposition of sleep quality — anxious human sleep versus peaceful animal sleep.

There is something poignant about the pockets that bulge with necessary items. The breast pocket, the safest space while travelling. There is a section in society that needs the breast pocket still, and another for whom it is just a decorative motif on the shirt. This is what strikes me most — the importance of the ubiquitous breast pocket for the daily workers. I feel I want to meditate a moment, on what they carry, these anonymous persons. Wallets and pens a plenty. Unusually, a prayer card with an image of a god makes an appearance, and a pocket with band aids. Some pockets are crisply ironed and tidy, others are scrubbed and messy. Just the close ups of pockets are portraits that reveal so much.

There is a photograph of an orange peel in extreme close up. It has been sucked dry of the light spectrum that humans can perceive. The peel looks peculiarly unfamiliar, like some kind of a galactic landscape. Intriguing. This switched vision from the microscopic to the macroscopic, with just the inclusion and exclusion of color. It would be super to have a mind as elastic as this, to make this switch in visions.

Type as image. A wall of miniature bones composed into meaningful letters. There is a wall with text by Gandhiji, each letter composed of tiny bones. I think of pain — the pain behind the words, the hardship that was experienced by the writer, and all those whom the writer represents. Why do bones devoid of flesh instantly resemble pain? Baring our bones to the elements.

All images courtesy Gallery Chemould