The Web of Human Foibles

Iris C F Gomes

Unnati Singh’s exhibition Webotika-I am an Alien and this is my Spacecraft at the Cube Gallery at Moira, challenges the norms of quintessential art and jolts one out of the humdrum of routine. A written text that is part of her painting says it all about the appearance of her work ‘When life is not pretty, why the f**k should I make pretty pictures?’ This is not visually soothing art and it provokes one to introspect, so be warned.

‘Webotika’, a word coined by curator Katharina Domscheit-D’Souza, is a combination of three words: web – denoting the World Wide Web, the web of network that connects humans and nature together, and the web created in nature by the spider; robotic – signifying artificial intelligence, the desire of man to scale the heavens by playing God; and erotic – a much evident presence in the paintings in the form of phalluses, vaginas, breasts and body fluids.

The exhibition consists of a series of paintings on canvas; three series of paper drawings: I am an Amplifier, I can see you Naked and Déjà vu of a Déjà vu; and two installations. The paintings and drawings have been done simultaneously. They are mixed media collages with written phrases, cut-outs from children’s books, layers of paint and the use of pop culture symbols such as hearts and robotic figures. The installations have an inclusion of Unnati’s writing, newspaper articles and readymade objects.

Unnati is a Rajasthan born artist who lives and works between Goa, Mumbai and Delhi. She is a bold artist, seeking to stretch the imagination of the observer by challenging our perception of what art should be. The paintings engage one with haunting, slightly disturbing images. Yet there is an element of playfulness in it with the introduction of cut-outs of superheroes, dinosaurs, aeroplanes, emoticons and so on. Her artwork is a philosophical commentary on socio-political and cultural issues, and moral dilemmas.

Unnati takes us along her surreal journey into her dreamlike paintings that feature symbols of the past (dinosaurs), and shows how we have evolved with robotic images, superheroes and aliens: our desire to control all that we survey. She depicts the effects of scientific modifications in Confessions of the black hole, where genetically altered animals live with the spirits of extinct animals. These images emerge from semen, milk and spit. Many of her paintings stress on the conflicted connection between man and science, where the expectation of science is to benefit man but our own inequities allow scientific innovations to turn on us and the world we live in. Web Song, Strange Echoes and There is a chance we might get there, are all paintings that focus on how sexuality and evolution are linked and the manner in which man seeks to control them.

I can see you naked, one of the three paperwork series, comprises images of reptiles, insects, planes, spacecrafts, satellites, Yuri Gagarin, the cosmonaut and Laika, the dog that went to space in Sputnik 2. The impression of chaos is created as planes crash, explosions take place and body fluids are strewn. But the human need for protecting the self and the environment is portrayed by the Earth finding a safe haven under an umbrella that is labelled ‘Handle with care’.

The installation Jigsaw Puzzles has images of body organs in settings which include chairs, a desk, etc. It also has newspaper articles that tell us of the trafficking of organs, and the human obsession with preserving and enhancing the beauty of the body. It sends the message that in our preoccupation with staying ageless and escaping death, we have exchanged our principles for greed and callousness.

This artist dares us to shift outside our comfort zone, our protective bubble where we want to believe all is peace and bliss. She makes us aware that we are restricted by our belief systems and our own narrow thinking.

Unnati’s work has already made an impact in that it has inspired two other artists to start on their own body of work along similar lines. Her unusually powerful paintings provoke us to broach topics that are shunned for their controversial status.

(The exhibition  Webotika - I am an Alien and this is my Spacecraft at the Cube Gallery, Moira will continue till the 24th of April, 11am to 7pm, Monday closed)