Magazine article Artforum International

Shambhavi Singh: Talwar Gallery

Magazine article Artforum International

Shambhavi Singh: Talwar Gallery

Article excerpt

NEW DELHI

Shambhavi Singh

TALWAR GALLERY

Poor, illiterate, lawless, caste-discriminatory Bihar is every Indian's stereotype of rural backwardness. Yet today the state is touted as a shining example of economic development, which is greater than in Prime Minister Narendra Modi's home state of Gujarat. But problems remain deep, and out-migration high. And when migrants arrive in India's metropolises looking for work, a so-called anti-Bihari sentiment offers them a cold welcome.

Shambhavi Singh, a native of Bihar based in New Delhi, has for many years been exploring the plight of the Bihari farmer in her work. Her preference has been for metonymic images that depict not hardship and displacement directly, but rather their traces through paintings of things like feet and trains, or through sculptures made of punctured vessels. For "Reaper's Melody" at Talwar Gallery, Singh took this a step further, with haunting metaphors of obliteration and absence in various media, seductively wrapped in luminous color and texture.

Truly beautiful was Megh Meyrd (Embankment Cloud; all works cited, 2014). This set of fourteen acrylic paintings depicts gray rice paddies from an aerial perspective beneath a sky heavy with clouds. A related set of canvases titled Meyrd Ga showed a similar landscape in rust tones. The press release contrasts "the farmer's role as nurturer and provider" with "the division and exploitation of land that threatens to dissolve its very existence." Singh's landscapes make this conflict look like the smoldering aftermath of trench warfare--minus the bodies, however, and minus the politics that make land such a deadly issue across India.

Oppression hovered over the show. With a vertiginous effect similar to that of looking up into Rodchenko's radio towers, Singh's two Kuan (Well) paintings peer down into the dark depths of a widemouthed bore well. The viewer knows that the glimmering pinpoint at the center of one of them is not the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel, drought and farmer suicides being familiar news items in India. Rehat/Water Garland, a thirty-one-foot-long iron sculpture, hung the length of the gallery's five-story atrium staircase. It re-creates the bucket chain of a bullock-powered water wheel (a rehat), but with the buckets perforated to create a sievelike figure of Sisyphean effort. …

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