06.09.23 to 12.10.23

What could a typical spice box, commonly found in every Indian home, signify? Separation and ordered segregation…containing and protection…unity and diversity? Collectively playing the singular role of providing source for added flavors and yet each one distinct from the other. Metaphorically seen, it draws parallels to our society. We humans share the cosmos with other beings, as well as people from many walks of life…compartmentalized and playing a key role to make the world what it is. Each one taking up space and the hollow void refilled in the event of them ceasing to exist. Philosophically, the human mind itself is much like this spice box. Innumerable emotions and memories, all coexisting and often jumbled up, but together providing potent psychological energies to the consciousness.

Harmeet Rattan, N Ramachandran, and Yuvan Bothysathuvar have responded to the very idea of our contemporary society in uniquely diverse ways.

Harmeet grew up in a small town in Punjab. Migrating to the hustling and bustling capital city of Delhi he was taken aback by aspects that are distinctive to the urban culture. Most significantly, he found the thought of surveillance to be intriguing. From metal detectors and X-ray machines that scan us at every point of entry within the city, to technology enabled scrutiny of our virtual world, Harmeet feels that in the process we have lost our personal space. While it appears on the surface to be sophisticated and underplayed, there is a strong interplay of confidentiality (or the lack of it) and human behavior. And this allows for a multifaceted subject for interrogation. It provides a wide spectrum of governance, with control and curbs at one side and liberty on the other. Pictorially, symbols like security cameras and neon lights lend themselves for a visual hypnosis. The elements are themselves loaded with meanings that tell stories of conspiracy, fear, revolution, or even dystopian futures.

Ramachandran on the other hand relies on two key references for his works - his mother’s spice boxes and Warhol’s time capsule. Hailing from Chetinad, traditionally the spice box would contain as many as five varieties of just chilli-powder. Creating a colour spectacle, he reminiscences how they added subtle nuances to her cooking. Almost always improvising the ritualistic process of adding seasoning to her dishes, the process became an act of performance. In contrast, Andy Warhol’s biography describes viewing his own art from a time capsule. His notes reciting how he collected found-material and his detailed orientation has inspired Ramachandran’s art. His present preoccupation is to connect seemingly distant dots of the notion of contemporariness. There is an abstract sense of immateriality that layers with tones of connected-unrelatedness, giving birth to several stories to be inferred.

For Yuvan, material yet again plays the guiding role in the creation of his works. Intricate minimalistic lines harmoniously oscillate with bold burst of colors. Offering multidimensional interpretations, the imagery invites contemplation. He aptly labels them as ‘abstract collages’, there is influence of the pop-art culture in Yuvan’s repertoire.

Material carries meaning. And when it is a found object, it also carries history. The choice of printed recycled paper from magazines and newspapers adds metaphors of mass production and carriers of knowledge in Yuvan’s work. Similarly, Ramachandran explores probabilities in how existing material creates connections that are often unintended and even random. There are immediate cultural connotations that might emerge. Much like an Artificial Intelligence algorithm that sources from pre-existing text and images, Ramachandran rides on matter that exists and comes loaded with tales.

Harmeet’s source of material is non-literal. While the physicality of it remains the traditional paint-on-canvas, he documents his daily life on his handheld. This repository acts as the library of ‘material’ to choose from. It often contains apparently mundane uncommon textures, or juxtaposition of arbitrary objects. Viewing this with a fresh perspective allows Harmeet to imagine stories and transform ordinary sights into something special. This process is further taken forward by experimenting with techniques, the inclusion of sculptural ingredients, and lighting. It all leads to an altered and surrealist appearance of real-world elements. At a deeper level, his visual vocabulary comes highly charged, allowing to communicate of obscure emotions. Ramachandran employs text as trigger points. Unlike images, words are direct connectors, and often disconnectors for those who cannot read it. And that itself makes it a subject of socio-political postures.

Yuvan makes an inward journey for a highly personal interpretation of the external world. It is neither a documentation nor a reproduction of anything that is visible to the eyes. Rather, it is his response to those stimuli in a language that is purely intuitive. The visual manifestations are narrative of the complex and deep emotions but always place the burden on the viewer to engage and transform them with a personal perspective.

Harmeet’s fragmented structures evoke fragility and disorder. It is a way to express personal or social turbulence and the complexities of life at large. They challenge established perspectives, giving space for critical thinking.  Dark palette is his reflection of mysteries of life and corresponding depth of emotions. He celebrates the dark, for without it light cannot exist. Concurrent is the offering of Ramachandran’s art. His works are like Indian street visual, multidimensional in matter and material, unmistakable unity in diversity, highly democratic. He brings forth pun, fun, and deep essence together. He feels that we are living in the best as well as the worst phase of the human evolution. The science and technological advancement provide for the best of comfort and yet there is devastation and fractured existence.

In the hyper-digital contemporary world of our times, each of us adorns multiple personalities. One for ourselves, one for the physical world, and multiple that we project through our digital avatars. Are these multiple ‘selves’ also contained in a spice box – to pick and choose from, like one might choose a piece of jewelry? What about our minds that carry nostalgia, memories, and emotions? Are they held in a spice box like structure in our minds (and hearts)? And then each of us as part of the larger universe (and beyond) …sharing space with innumerable beings.

Spice box is then not a mere object with voids to be filled. It is an idea, an emotion, or may be a complete philosophy.


Rahul Kumar