A Mirror to Society

Iris C F Gomes

The title of Praveen Naik’s exhibition Notes from the Zeitgeist has embedded in it the idea that an artist is the product of his culture and that the art he produces is the reflection of that culture. Zeitgeist, a German word, comes from a combination of two words: zeit (time) and geist (spirit). Zeitgeist is then taken to mean the ‘spirit of the age’, which echoes the singular attributes of a particular period. India is at the threshold of monumental change which is evident in the social upheaval, unfettered voices and daring revolution being experienced in the country. It is this developing process that has been captured by the series of paintings in Notes from the Zeitgeist.

Artist Praveen Naik is a graduate of the Goa College of Art having secured his degree in Visual Art. This resident of Kumbharjua, Goa, has participated in solo and group exhibitions in India and Germany. His most recent exhibitions have been Kama, Interrupted at Gallery Gitanjali, Goa and Pushing Boundaries in Bonn, Germany in 2015.

Praveen says, ‘Art has always been a medium to convey thoughts effectively. I always try my best in my work to react to socio-political situations. Unfortunately there are comparatively fewer art spectators. Hence, although art may be powerful, due to so many reasons it is limited to the classes and does not reach the masses. Still I try to make statements.’ The 24 paintings in this collection are a testament to Praveen’s ability to understand his environment at a profound level and find expression for it through his art.

Working with acrylics, collage techniques, mixed media, and subtle stencilling which lends the impression of translucence to denote the ability to penetrate the intricacies of our social, political, economic and cultural milieu, Praveen is unafraid to speak out against significant concerns such as domestic violence, gender inequality, religious intolerance, cultural conflicts and rampant consumerism. His desire to depart from conservatism in any form is amply evident in his artistic choices. ‘My inspirations are day today happenings, news, films, books... I just keep my eyes open and my heart sensitive,’ says Praveen.

Praveen masterfully creates a convergence of world religious, mythological and cultural symbols in his tapestry of art. Generation Wind Up depicts the virtual world that has become an integral part of our lives and how our minds have become conditioned to accept anything that it offers us. The use of the mythological Trojan horse illustrates the deception of this allure that has made slaves of us. We have begun to behave like automated beings (the wind up baby) in this age of the internet and consumerism. The intrusive effect of social media that is detrimental to human relationships despite the avenues of communication that it has opened up to us, can be seen in the painting I've Got My Eyes On You. The spectacles show one eye to one side of the frame and a multitude of eyes to the other, which represents us scrutinising individuals as well as being scrutinised. Privacy is no longer sacred here.

The patriarchal attitude towards women is well captured in My Queen Doll, where the female figure is depicted as goddess with her many arms, but this image belies the true attitude towards women especially in India. Although women are deified in temples, they are merely objects of use in reality. Chulha Chakravyuh shows a woman integrated with a cooking gas cylinder, and Post Cards from Patriarchy shows a figure, reminiscent of Venus from Sandro Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus, with a gas mask as if struggling to breath. The subjugation of women is apparent and final with the objectification of their nude bodies and the stamps that say ‘For domestic use’.

Freedom is not so Free and Creative Bloodlines portray Hitler: an interpretation of societies beset with tyrannical rulers. It also points out that history repeats itself when we do not care to learn from it. The irony of being free is that it comes at a high price. There is yet hope in young minds who must learn from the mistakes of the past and make a difference.

In his captivating and pithy artistic metaphors, Praveen is able to encapsulate so much of what is wrong in our country and in our world. Yet he explains the drive for his work very simply, saying, ‘I just wanted to show a mirror to society.  I react to the happenings around me and try my sincere efforts to manifest it through my art.’

(The exhibition Notes from the Zeitgeist will continue until the 4th of March 2017 at Gallery Gitanjali. It has been co-curated by Gallery Gitanjali and Katharina Domscheit-D’Souza)