Digitally Remastered

Film maker Ashok Ahuja’s prints and imprints speak by their silence and drive the viewer to a badly needed contemplation amid cacophonic noises, writes

Gopika Nath

With four characters drawn from the language of electrical wiring of spotlights, he signs his autograph.  He is Ashok Ahuja, a film-maker making his debut of works on paper.  Anagrams on hand made paper, myriad reflections of the facets of a mind, voids and spaces, shadows and stairwells, dents and indents are part of the 51 prints and imprints, being showcased at Art Inc., Shahpur Jat, New Delhi.

In writing about film, Rudolph Arnheim, Professor Emeritus of the Psychology of Art, Harvard University, says: “The ancient desire of man to make likenesses of his environment found new satisfaction when he seemed able to reproduce movement… because the fundamental biological reaction is that of reacting to happenings, not that of contemplating objects.”

Ahuja trained in journalism, theatre and film and also as film director at FTII.  He has written, produced and directed award-winning feature films like Aadharshila and Vasundhara.  He belongs to the school of thought that reflects these ideas presented by Arnheim who also says that “painting and sculpture are static arts: they seize upon the characteristic theme of an action and record it but they cannot show its temporal unfolding.”  Yet the works under consideration, Ahuja’s prints and imprints, like painting and sculpture, cannot depict or reproduce movement in this likeness but perhaps create a mood that represents it.

Ahuja has been a Fellow in Residence at the Harvard University Centre for the Study of World Religions.  And this, his first exhibition, is primarily created from what he calls ‘found objects’, which he has worked upon and reproduced through digital technologies.  All told a very

interesting  mix of experiences and media and one look at the works tell you that if the artist were willing to talk, then he would be a very interesting person to talk to.  I suggested this to him but he still revealed very little, leaving me with the prerogative of my own perception.

When I walked into the gallery I had braved some 30 minutes of traffic on the Outer Ring Road and a huge traffic jam at the Panchsheel and Siri Fort Road crossing.  After the cacophony of what is almost a daily experience for most Delhites, despite the numerous flyovers that are supposed to relieve traffic congestion, how can one really be silent enough to appreciate works that are deeply silent and reticent and thereby obscured from the mind precisely because of the kind of environment we live in?

However, this is exactly why Ahuja’s works struck a chord within me, even if it took a while to relish the silence, envy the sense of comfort and ease despite the apparent aloofness and then, appreciate the nuances of a search of a very personal but fundamental nature presented with a quiet dignity and honesty without hiding the struggles or chaos of mind, or the moments of emptiness and its angst.

Antony Storr, through his examination of creativity, reveals that men are impelled to create for a number of reasons,enumerating that “he (the artist) may be driven to produce an original conception by his need to defend himself against depression or by the feeling that he must restore what he has in fantasy destroyed” or that he may be “impelled to reunite himself with a world from which he feels alienated or “he may experience a compulsion to impose order upon a world which he feels to be chaotic or, more simply, wishing to compensate in fantasy for what he feels to be missing in reality.”

Since Ahuja does not tell us much by way of words or even titles for most works, each viewer is left to draw his or her own

conclusions and that eventually becomes a matter of one’s personal experience and therefore perception.  However, what is shared on a visual plane appeals much more than this, because it reflects a subtlety and quiet dignity that is so precious today, in our times where each speaks louder than the other.

Traffic snarls aside, there is much more that makes our lives cacophonic and therefore render works like Ahuja’s obscure.  But for those with a refined sensibility, who are craving an inner silence and resuscitation of wounded and beleaguered spirit, Ahuja’s works are a relief, for in them you have found a friend.  Imagine then, a collection of these o the walls of a quiet space!  It would be like a familiar companion you could return to, to alleviate the loneliness of a spirit even in a life crowded with people and events.

Life is essentially about each one of us communicating with each other.  We share our views, our experiences, ideas and concerns.  Some do it through words, some paint their images, some embroider their themes, Ahuja does it differently.  His tool is the computer and inkjet printer, but what is he trying to tell us?  The film-maker has deviated from the desire to make likeness of his environment and reproduce movement, to ‘contemplate’ the mundane, the everyday images that he found in photographs and other visual media.  He is not trying to reinvent the wheel, but reorient the mind.  The suggestion, I hope will not be lost on us, for it is essentially in contemplation that we even begin to understand what we seek, why we need and how to fulfill this and restore our sense of selves.  In this exhibition, I see a timely reminder for a world so caught in its numerous battles in and against time, that were Krishna himself to appear on our shoulders, we may shrug off the guidance, too busy to see that it’s time to move inwards and prepare for a battle of another kind.


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