Comprehending Violence

Review by Abhishek Bandekar

It is amazing how you can know an artist as a friend for well over a decade, but still be surprised to learn aspects of his personality from his works. I’ve been proud to have Ali Akbar Mehta as a friend since 1999. My occasional annoying retreats into absence and isolation aside, his has been the voice that has spoken to me time and again from beyond the veneer of superficial film-informed notions of dosti.

To see, nay experience, Ali’s staggering and overwhelming collection of paintings in his first solo show was speaking to Ali in the non-diegetic. I’ve had these conversations with him, agreed non-emphatically over a society that has increasingly become desensitized to violence, both physical and emotional. And yet, witnessing on canvas all that has been spoken and that which has been unexpressed thanks to the finite nature of language, written or spoken; I was rendered speechless and in awe to respond clinically to what was a series of works that had hit me in the gut.

At Tao then, as I walked past the acrylic Sacrifice & Redemption from his Identity of Violence series to the digital prints on archival paper from his Harlequin series, I was challenged. The naïve critic in me questioned the lack of tangibility and the fabricated burden of the synthetic in the digital prints. But by the time I reached the Soliloquies in the Garden of Earthly Delights, it became amply evident to me that I had let my conditioning to govern my appreciation. The absence of ‘touch’ in the digital works precisely addresses the absence of the ‘enigmatic’ in our lives. In the post-apocalyptic world that Ali Akbar imagines, prophesizes, in his works, the digital prints on ‘archival’ paper offer a critique beyond just the content of those works.

Ali’s preoccupation is with ‘comprehending’ violence, more importantly violence as an entity that refuses to be transient but is instead embedded in our collective consciousness as an atavistic construct. This comes across most strikingly in his titular painting. But it perhaps is assertively addressed the most in what to me is the best work of this exhibition- The Great Mother Reconstruct(ed). Ali’s works have always dealt with man and beast, of the (d)evolutionary chasm between them and/or the lack of it. In Suppression & Rapture contrasted with Shwait, he explores this concept with remarkably effortless clarity. And yet, the absence of the ‘female’ in his works had always allowed room in his works to be ‘orphaned’. The Great Mother is one of Ali’s first works that introduces the trope of Eve in his paintings, and thereby adds promising dimensions to his already rich work. To have the image of Kali reimagined in a post-apocalyptic setting is to see the ‘creation’ of a myth. If the other works talk of a ‘detachment, of an existence after the seeking of the light (see the Ascension of Karna), the Great Mother is a direction back to the womb, of understanding all of Ali’s works and their concern from a damned cyclical perspective. This, and the graphite work War herald the next stage in Ali’s works. The promise of a brave new artist in a not so brave world!

Thank you Ali!