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Hindi English Marathi Gujarati Punjabi Urdu

Preview of Art exhibition Pais Vacuum and the Sense of Self curated by The Pais Polity & sold by Bhushan Bhombale

Mumbai, 11 June 2022 (UTN). When one travels up the Gondwana plateau on a cross-country train an important station on the Indian railways is the Bhusawal junction.  It is on the frontier of Madhya Pradesh.  These are ancient lands where the Bhil  tribes once held court as an animist civilization in the forests of the  Satpuda Hills, a culture eroded by successive waves of colonisation.  The station offers an omelet famous amongst passengers  and bananas from Bhusawal’s extensive banana plantations.  Apart from the railway junction Bhusawal sits in the Khandesh region an outland of Maharashtra, the people here speak a language called Ahirani, an intersection of Marathi and the Bhil language.
This diversity allows a space of belonging and alienation, in Marathi there exists a word Pais which could translate into ‘Space’. but also spatial identity, standing, a vacuum, an accent and a place to belong.One’s accent dialect and sense of belonging within rural communities is a memory that cannot be called nostalgia.  The trains that bring millions of immigrants to urban cities such as Bombay, carry immediate memories of displacement.  Immigrants then scramble to find a space in terms of accommodation and livelihood in a city. Their cultural lives, memories and families are left behind in the villages. These aren’t pasts to be forgotten.  Rather they exist as a reminder in a void – a’ Pais’.
This duality is real and lived as they go about their quotidian lives  in the city.  “Pais” is that recurrent knowledge of a life left behind ,  intricate connections to nature,  farming,  village festivals,  rituals ,  food and family that remain unconnected to city life. Bhushan Bhombale began pursuing art as a distraction to being forced to study .  Like many rural children used elementary decoupage techniques using rice glue to make posters of superheroes and religious icons.  He worked alongside a board painter uncle on holidays in Bombay.  At home in his village his father ran a tyre garage repairing punctures.  He would repair punctures and learn the ropes by scratching the surface of the tires.
Taking  discarded pieces of rubber he would stick them to make forms that he had not realized as art. He came to Bombay to study art and began expanding his early experiments with collage.  A paucity in funds made him use box-board,  discarded cloth and paper  to create void spaces as his canvases.  These images he attributes to nature –  the bunds that mark the boundaries of fields,  forms of fallen leaves and the colours seasons and temperature form with the landscape.  Having reached a city to work , study and live where rents are unaffordable, artistic life became a struggle to maintain a working practice and pay for rents which required long travels in suburban trains.
Reality crossed boundaries with memories of a life in the village a fantasy in one’s immediate urban circumstances. Bombay is not only home to immigrants from outside Maharashtra,  many people born in the state struggle each year to find vocations in the city.  Their lifestyles ,  idea of space and standing in a class-reaffirming society immediately brings into question their space of ‘Pais’ in the city. They exist in a vacuum disenfranchised from happiness.  Artists in Bombay from rural backgrounds struggle to find space and standing within contemporary art scenes . Despite the   Left liberal ethos of  the art scene , it does not allow intersections of class and more importantly geography.
Rural artists do not hold similar sources of literature, poetry, aesthetic influence or political theory as their urban counterparts.  English as a language creates an unending divide.  Millennials have addressed visual culture by appropriating the ethics of design graphic art,  product design and photography that reflect a superficial internationalism.  One which is informed by Instagram discourse and not layered by any form of engagement with communities or goals they address.  The hypocrisy of veganism,  equitable coffee,  sustainable product design , socio-political graffiti , artisanal fashion and saving traditions without engaging with stakeholders who hail from these communities is a glaring example of the disconnect.
Rural communities disengaged from organic vegan needs are examples of anomalies that mirror socio-political art that does not address artists within an art scene who arrive from the disadvantage of hinterland India and caste. Bhushan chose ‘Pais’ as the title of his show to represent the vacuum that this disconnect holds. The disconnect from rural communities whose lives are interwoven with nature such as the vagaries of weather,  agricultural cycles and politics of the nation. ‘Pais’ in Spanish means the country, in Marathi it arrives in popular use through the poetry of a saint, Dynaneshwar. Sant Dynaneshwar was a 13th century Marathi saint who used poetry to espouse the oneness of spirituality with human existence.
He opposed caste and class and the limits they imposed on spiritual exercise of humans.  His poems ponder on the dualities of hypocrisy that man imposed through the emotions of anger,  arrogance and jealousy. Durga Bhagwat (1910 – 2002) a Marathi litterateur,  socialist and thinker bridged the gap between rural thought and  urban imaginaries through her book on rural short stories ‘ Pais’, 1970 , for which she won the Sahitya Akademi award.  In a chapter she writes about a stone pillar in a village of Newasa  situated on the banks between the River Godavari and River Parvara.  Sitting on this stone pillar  Dnyaneshwar composed the Dnyaneshwari (Bhavarthdipika) , a collection of abhangs or poems as a commentary on spiritual life and the human condition.
  She writes that this pillar is the only existing symbol of Dyaneshwar’s existence and like Jesus Christ’s cross , it is an abstract imaginary of a living man. She writes  that sitting on this stone pillar Dyaneshwar would ponder on “Pais” (Space)  and ”Kaal” (Time) and their intersections with human life. The pillar is called “Pais Stambh ” for it is shorter than an average human and is unremarkable in its aesthetics but the faith of people moved by the philosophical commentaries of Dyaneshwar makes the pillar  stand tall as the skies.  The invisible space or ” Pais” between the pillar and the skies is the Dnyaneshwari. Henri Matisse, drawn in by illness, began making cut-outs that he pasted making collages of foliage  fauna and landscape on walls of large sheets of paper.
  he would then use big brush strokes of gouache and produce horses ,  plants and birds.  These works are celebrated for their child-like quality.  Bhushan Bhombale comes from a long lineage of collage and decoupage making , he extends the work by making papier-mache on flat services.  The search of an aesthetic seeking the void is typic of Bombay artists , the most famous being Anish Kapoor.  How do we paint foliage ? Is there politics in the foliage ? Burger artists such as  George Keyt  in Colombo , Sri Lanka began making illustrative mirrored canvases of the landscapes he Inhabited . Senaka Senanayake has made the practice a school today in Sri Lanka  . In Kerala,  foliage , fauna and flora are decorative hidden behind a veneer of political social realism.
The Mexican artist Gabriel Orozco ‘s renditions ignore the mimicking and the mirroring , somewhere he paints the image on the corner of our eye when we are among plants , when we jog through tropical forests , drive through hairpin bends and while cursing plants for mosquitoes. It’s the shadows of plants in our memory . Bhushan paints plants and landscapes that take on elements of abstraction.   Gabriel Orozco  is a vivid art maker of aesthetic arguments – a decolonizing  modernism in a world where temperatures  are not mild . Heat in the tropics has myriad plays with metals . Even concrete takes on patinas of fungus . In degradation there are tonal hues of colour . How are people forced to accept colonial aesthetics, repair and appropriate languages of visuals.
We begin with an amnesia of the origin to these vocabularies of sculpture making and painting , bring out colours and make efforts at –  tongue and cheek conceptualism . Bhushan Bhombale makes sculptures in Paper and Food ,  he follows an aesthetic line that emerges from his paintings. Placing paintings alongside objects such as sculpture for me often is akin to the act of Indian shrine making . A strange element of magic arises when you place in conversations visual vocabularies in tangible ways . Orozco  was born in a colonial city -Xalapa that is  encased in tropical forests . Colonials could not tame forests in the tropics nor could we by using concrete.  His paintings with bright forms in colour are often enclosed in grey surfaces mimicking the green patina concrete takes on during monsoons .
We see  papayas, ferns, trees and fruits growing among the algae in the cracks of concrete in the buildings of Bombay, this is a ‘Pais’ a space emerges to accommodate nature. Discussing the practices of these artists we arrive at an understanding of Bhushan Bhombale’s practice, one that is still experimental and emerging. Aesthetics is an unknown within the Indian school of thought there are two remarkable focal points of discussion here.  One is ‘ Shailikar’ – author of a style and the other is the ‘Apbhramsh’ or the accidental.  Conscious innovation and invention of an individual style in poetry or literature or the beauty of arriving at something accidently in music finds resonances in Indian painting.
 Bhombale uses accidental forms through experimentation in techniques of painting and surface and thus arriving at an authored style or shaili. He picks up from here and uses papier-mache in sculpture and arrives at canvases that resemble the ‘Gondwana’ a tectonic plate that formed India when it broke away from Africa.  This is his ‘ Pais’. The Pais Polity established in 2022 works towards exhibition making ,  art history writing and exchange between rural India and the world ,  it is based in Bombay and works with artists using the interchange between artistic techniques,  industrial crafts and  traditional artisanal practices.  Aesthetics,  folk-stories and diasporas form its quilt of curiosity. ‘Pais’ is a Marathi word that denotes space,  vacuum ,  standing and intersections that arrive at a place of belonging.
Drawn from the Spanish newspaper’s title head Il Pais’ or ‘The Country’ is a nod to our commitment to internationalism as well as the  hope of a similar moment in history akin to the one that brought the daily  into existence. Bhushan Bhombale was born in 1991 in Bhusawal, Maharashtra, he lives and works in Dombivali, Bombay. He studied painting at the Raheja School of Art from where graduated with a Government Diploma in  Art in painting in 2014,  following which he did a Diploma in Art Education in 2015 from the Sir JJ School of Art, Bombay. Bhombale uses a technique that includes an experimental process where he makes an abstract decoupage that deals with creating surfaces using colour both oil and acrylic paints that spread over cloth, paper,  board, box-board, canvas and papier-mache. His work deals with the space for emotions in an expressionist phase that he brings out through the use of mixed media.
Mumbai-Repoter,( Hitesh Jain ).

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