Stamp of Reality

From Gandhi’s changing avatars to the tragic plight of migrants, Ashim Purkayastha’s works throw light on the social and political contradictions around us, observes Mario D’Souza.

A pile of stones covered in painted rice paper rises to form walls enshrining little pieces of glazed and patterned but broken tiles. Reminding one of the detritus after an act of demolition, a flooring or a curious collection, this assembly is constructed out of fragments foraged by Ashim Purkayastha while travelling in the city of Delhi. Having migrated to the capital many years ago, he questions and traces the complex social and economic layers of life and survival here in exercises involving navigation, observation, collection and interrogation.

Shelter (2014-) at the India Pavilion of the 2019 Venice Biennale is an iteration of this enquiry. Employing the aesthetics of frugality and temporariness, the artist illustrates the disparities of our uneven resources. The stones that lie at the corners of temporary houses are also tools of protection, weapons for rioting and the brute objects that are hurled to dissolve protests. Purkayastha, who often participates in sit-in protests or dharnas, places Untitled (2019) on one of the walls of the exhibition. He imagines violence as an abstraction. Painted rocks lie strewn across the canvas like they would lie at the scene of an ‘incident’ or in the press photos that document an ‘aftermath’. This is an image too familiar, fuzzy like our attitude towards intolerance and our growing appetite for visuals of violence. In demonstrating how little reality affects us, lies the power of this clinical, painted reproduction.