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Sisyphus: Time as a Rolling Witness

RIYAS KOMU

PARAG SONARGHARE’S BY CRITICAL EYES OF RIYAS KOMU FOR SAMYAK DRISTI PHOTOGRAPHY MAGAZINE.  

PARAG SONARGHARE

Born in Nagpur, currently lives in Vadodara. He was trained in Nagpur and the Maharaja Sayajirao University, Vadodara. His academic journey traverses a practice-based Bachelor’s degree and a move towards art history and aesthetics in his Masters studies. Being a painter he has also ventured into performances where he has explored ideas like identity, rethinking, revisiting and redefining established concepts. In painting mainly identity, one’s existence in a certain context, masquerading towards finding oneself were his concerns. His experiments have included work in Indian tradition of body painting, taking inspiration from Indian mythological painting and turning it upside down into neo mythological visuals.
Sprit Image

We do not really know where art leads us to and within this paradigm of art as a knowledge, the attempt to fix art into an institutional form fails. The search for a knowledge capable of destroying our own understanding of art rarely takes place and within this rare dimension of time, certain artists lead us towards the uncanny matter beyond human understanding which their work exemplifies. This is how they defy the genre and it’s practical method of fixing ourselves by adjusting to the gaze of drawing rooms and galleries. When an animal speaks in our own nakedness of genital apparatus we confront nature and matter as a surprise to which we are unprepared to look at, our own beginnings.

Often mistaken for photographs, his troubling paintings of faces and bare bodies design a carefully linked chain on the compelling ways that material, subject, and sensibility can align on canvas.

I was first introduced to Parag Sonarghare’s high definition paintings of bare bodies in Gallery Maskara. Led by Abhay Maskara it was Gallery Maskara’s final exhibition titled “TIME” in 2016. In “TIME” Parag’s paintings of bare men fascinated me not only for the application of skill but also in the way it tried to capture a facet of human body ignored through relentless unstoppable progress of clothing and excess of fashion. He attracted me immediately not just because of his art but the human in him that was glued to matter, the skin as an obsession. I had the opportunity to invite Parag in the Young Subcontinent project in 2016 that I curated for the Serendipity Arts Festival in Goa. Three portraits he exhibited, super hyperreal images, became the hallmark of the Young Subcontinent Project.

Parag’s meditative practice of achieving realism on canvas has the potential and the very real danger of entrapping the viewer only into the primary response, and easily available categorisation, of ‘real’. In my recent conversations with Parag, he agrees by the fact that none of his work ever got collected by an Indian collector and it doesn’t surprise me at all. As we look deeper in the art practice, there lies the anguish of an artist trapped inside the dilemma of struggling to stand out in an image-obsessed and image-sickened sophisticated society. Often mistaken for photographs, his troubling paintings of faces and bare bodies design a carefully linked chain on the compelling ways that material, subject, and sensibility can align on canvas.

Each painting is built over a period of months in a process of gradual accumulation, a mad act of immersing oneself into the act of painting. The reality is elicited not only through intense detailing and realistic representation but also through the conceptual layering of socio-political contexts that make the men in these paintings ‘more real’. His subjects are the ordinary people, but his paintings don’t have the patience for sweeping sentimentality or feel-good liberalism in which art world flourishes.

Response to his subjects also relies on the viewer’s knowledge and assumptions of notions of the working-class jobless men and the weight of the normal every day to enhance the feeling of life and act as a stimulant to it. In the end, viewers knowledge goes redundant and you are left naked to this phenomenon of Indian reality. The ‘real’ in these works are derived from the rawness of their life permeated through detailing. It captures the lament of the ‘ordinary’ – who are cast out and excluded from the political processes, people who are quarantined from progress and inclusion in the march to build a new India, as we saw it happening in front of us in recent times. Parag casts them with extraordinary sensitivity and draws our faltering attention to the people who we use and leave behind in the wake of modernity, to the people who are not only isolated from ‘progress’ but progress itself depends on their very isolation from it.

They get discarded, their struggles never get nominations and that is why Parag considers his act of painting an introspection and calls himself Sisyphus. His art not only does communicate but also serves the purpose of double hurt- our sense of vision and our sense of space. His works offend because we have succeeded in erasing the animal in us.

In Parag’s paintings, the bare men sit comfortably with a steady gaze directed at the viewer or waits for the system to feel shame. The gaze of the portrait toward the viewer remains constant, direct, and hypnotic as if inviting them for a conversation however uncomfortable it may be.

In Parag’s paintings, the bare men sit comfortably with a steady gaze directed at the viewer or waits for the system to feel shame. The gaze of the portrait toward the viewer remains constant, direct, and hypnotic as if inviting them for a conversation however uncomfortable it may be. They impart a sense of calmness primary because they seem uninhibited by their nakedness, sitting there as if it’s the most natural thing to do. This loss of inhibition is compelling and strange at the same time, for the subjects are not models or people who should be comfortable posing for an artist let alone with their clothes off. His models don’t just remove the clothes, as Parag puts it they just become what they are. The artist also removes all the trace of context by reducing the background to an abstraction. The primary and the only focus here is their bodies – old, naked, ordinary, scarred with life, about to drift off into mortality’s shade.

When the popular culture has desensitised the bare body, this deliberate provocation of indecency (of the act itself) not only eschews the expectation of established social constructs of class and spectatorial voyeurism but also problematises the so-called pragmatic modern liberal thinking. Through this expose, and externalisation, he highlights the vulnerability, not only of them but of the human body itself – unmaintained, abused, humiliated, marginalised, disturbed, decaying from the effects of life and time. But for the artist to believe that he could capture the vulnerability of his subjects imply that his eye could see their weaknesses, their absurdities, the pain in their lives and these paintings open up wider readings into the society and class structures around the artist. Their battered bodies become our only clues to understanding their life, nothing more, nothing less. The body becomes the being, the skin as a map of their soul, the paint the covering question towards a social hierarchy.

The body becomes the being, the skin as a map of their soul, the paint the covering question towards a social hierarchy.

On this account of bodies in political, cultural and social space, how do we make sense of these figures who are excluded and can never be part of the concerted actions - of the political process, the socio-cultural sphere, and the art world that turns them into an isolated narrative? Yes, in his experience in a country like India the art world has isolated his people along with the artist who draws such experiences closer to being as such.

Even as selfies make spectacles of ourselves, there is a population out there, unseen, unassuming, unwanted, who toil away their lives in the service of the more privileged. We saw them walk thousands of miles to get back home. Parag brings these bodies out in the real-world as a testament to the will of these people. Parag’s work demands the viewer to move past their safe zones of understanding and established notions of looking and seeing. Though ‘bodies’ carry with it the entwined baggage and ideologies of sexism, casteism, classism, colonialism, and other systems of oppression, nakedness or directness in these works is not the end-product, but a construct to articulate and represent politics, and freedom that existed prior for the State-individual dialectics.

But for politics to take place, the body must appear. That’s Parag’s conviction. I would like to see these bodies on Parag’s canvas not romanticised notions of the marginalised or the poor but are portraits of enduring resistance. And it’s this enduring, this resistance against the system, against an established order of cultural and social ways of seeing that the artist highlights. For them sitting casually, as if the most normal thing to do, is to stand up and strike back.

Before I conclude the article as I am always interested in the evolution of an artist let me just take you through a short career journey of this exemplary mind. Parag Sonarghare was born in Umrer Village, Nagpur District in Maharashtra. Since childhood, he developed a special interest in drawings and he used to copy popular drawings and then continued to pursue art by joining Govt college of art and design, Nagpur. But from the early years, he was curious to challenge the weakness which was prevalent in the school he studied and to delve deeper in understanding the art. He moved to Baroda to do Art History in 2010. In his own words, he was seeking exposure away from the very conservative approach and methods of art teaching.

After completing his MFA he was desperate to develop his own style and he started his fresh training by doing iconography, Hindu deities which were also a site of expression for him filled with loads of colours. He immersed himself in doing self-portraits as a form of introspection. He encountered Patachitra painting in Jagannath Puri and transformed that experience into performance art. He asked Patachitra painters to paint his body sharing it like a site of performance. In 2012 he moved to Delhi, taught at Rohtak college for survival but he never felt comfortable there. While in Delhi, destiny hits through a severe road accident. He was left bedridden for months. He couldn’t even walk for many days. The accident was a big turning point in his life. The pain he went through made him more conscious of his body. He re-started thinking painting and kept on dreaming of hyperrealism. He says he could visualise each and every detail before he could paint it. He moved back to Baroda, Space Studio and started large scale works with a notion that figuration is not accepted and especially when it is realistic. But he challenged himself in moving more and more closer to realism and reached hyperrealism and he respectfully remembers the support he received from Monica Badlani from Chicago who recognised the talent in him. 

For him, from the very beginning when he imagined colours, painting for him was like a mask covering a body with colour. With this enigma of masks, he comes closer to a discovery where colour would not mask again but decorate the bareness of scarred bodies. In doing so he reaches towards that point where we are capable of imagining our limits and yet presenting to the world our own uncanny appearances. Parag recites his life as such. Such is the simplicity of colour that approaches us by distancing us from the truth of canvas.

SAMYAK DRISTI MAGAZINE GIVING THE VOICE TO INDIAN PHOTOGRAPHY 

To promote documentary photography that gives voice to the human condition in such a way that it inspires and enable positive change.

To orient photographers about documentary photography and to create a pool of competent and dedicated photographers committed to telling stories about issues that the mainstream media often ignores.

Facilitate interaction among photographers in India – create a forum in which exchange of ideas, techniques, and philosophies can be shared between both established photographers and newcomers of the profession of photography.
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PHOTOGRAPHY ART MAGAZINE

SAMYAK DRISTI

Photography magazine promote documentary photography that gives voice to the human condition in such a way that it inspires and enable positive change.

CRITICAL EYE

RIYAS KOMU

Riyas Komu is one of the prominent political artists in the contemporary times. His works question the existing disturbances in the social order. Komu's works include sculptures, installations, paintings, video etc.

ARTIST

PARAG SONARGHARE

Often mistaken for photographs, his troubling paintings of faces and bare bodies design a carefully linked chain on the compelling ways that material, subject, and sensibility can align on canvas.

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