What do we lose when we forego the painstaking ceremonies of love for the easy impersonality of technology? This is just one of the many questions artist Sharmistha Ray tackles in We are all islands, her first solo show in Mumbai after a five-year hiatus. Known for her abstract oil paintings, the artist says she felt the need to take the time to experiment before she showed in the city again. The result is a multi-media exhibition, with painting, photography, sculpture, digitised poetry and graphite drawings that elegantly ruminate on the ways in which we forge our identity and sense of belonging in this rapidly shape-shifting age of the internet. Ray takes us through her process.
ELLE: What have you been up to in the five years since your last exhibition in Mumbai?
Sharmistha Ray: I gave myself time to explore other media and methods through project-based work. I’ve also had solo shows in New York and Singapore, and launched the Bellevue Salons, an itinerant platform for cross-cultural engagements across disciplines. I’ve been passionate about bringing that collaborative spirit to the visual arts.
ELLE: How do you think technology impresses itself on experience?
SR: We are increasingly shaped by technology. Globalisation and digital technologies are turning everyone into itinerants, islands adrift in a network of virtual connections. The electronic work, A lonely wilderness blooms (2016), is a scrolling LED that spells out a pithy poem that I wrote in absentia of my loved one. It’s a love note, the kind that probably used to be scrawled on bits of paper and passed on to the beloved. Today, we type these messages on our phones, and hit send. There are no longer any rituals for love, or monuments built to its memory.
ELLE: You are concerned with the outsider, you allude specifically to the LGBTQ community.
SR: Being an outsider forces you to devise your own map of orientations. These ideas are clearly evinced in an installation that represents the traditional light spectrum of seven colour bars. I disoriented the indigo colour bar to break the formal purity of the linear placement while referencing the gay pride flag, which has six colours. The search for oneself is a search for meaning, which is inherently a spiritual quest. Light is widely accepted as the material of transcendence. I wanted to bring these two idioms together.
ELLE: You’ve made 108 graphite drawings from a single mise-en-scène—what does that kind of rigour do for your practice?
SR: Durational rigour has always been present in my practice, mostly so with my large paintings which can take months, sometimes years to complete. We confer objects with meaning by directing our attention to them. Drawing is an incredibly intimate act—the small-scale of these 108 drawings, the one-on-one-ness, the tenuous lines of graphite pulled across paper, attempt to recover the outlines of an absent love. It’s very different from the instant gratification of clicking a photograph and surrendering it to a digital graveyard.
We are all islands is on till November 6 at Nine Fish Art Gallery, Mumbai