Art Heritage, Delhi’s prestigious art gallery known for its unique art shows curated by gallery owner Amal Allana, recently hosted an exhibition that put Artist’s Book as its theme. It is a generic term that refers to the book the artist creates as being the artwork itself. Called livre d’artiste (The Artist’s Book) in France, they are normally published in limited editions, each copy being individually numbered as to its edition, and is signed by the artist himself. This show ran till January 27.
Three books in this show were by Ravinder Dutt, an artist who loves Mughal arts. An avid reader of history and architecture, and a believer of science and logic, he fuses all these and creates a heady work of art seethed in layers and complicated in its method. Yet, it tells a tale, a fictional story that he weaves around it.
Most interesting one is Safarnama, a zig-zag book, made of archival prints on paper, wood and brass. It is large, flashy, with stories in pictures. It can be folded into a suitcase.
The glossy, shiny, wooden-yellow Safarnama contains all lost royalty-related elements like a ship, treasures like the famous peacock throne which is now looted and lost, a flying carpet, an elephant - the seat of royalty and entertainment, a gunpowder flask which was the mother of pearl and ivory, a huqqah, a woman guard and Kohinoor, the diamond. The story he builds here is “if the royalty had any threat from anywhere, it could gather all its precious jewels and transport them to a safer place in the ship”. He puts the pages in a certain chronological order in which the diamond and a woman are placed right at the end, them “being most precious”.
The Scented Deer is another book installation of carved hand engraved wooden blocks. This book has several hand engraved pictures, example a musk deer, hamam, rosewater sprinklers, bejewelled carpet, transgender guards, musical instruments, etc.
The concept is taken from the Mughal hamams or the bathing space of the royalty. It was like a bejewelled carpet where people would indulge in leisure. But it was not only a place of pleasure but important decisions and palace intrigues. The musk deer used to roam around the hamams, music was played. Rosewater sprinklers, huqqahs, cyprus trees added to the grandeur. The (transgender) guards would keep an eye on the activities and be a part of the palace intrigues.
Dutt weaves his story in it. He engraves a nuclear reactor beneath the hamams, “which not only keeps the water warm but also is an instrument to destroy enemies if they ever attempted entering the hamams,” he said.
The inspiration came from hamams which Dutt observed in old paintings. On why he used engraved block printing in reverse order, he said, “This process is almost lost and forgotten, so for me it is adoration of the neglected.”
He reasoned, “Everyone talks about ajrakh or kalamkari and prints that came from Sanganer. But not the blocks and from where these prints come from. We just wear them without realising its historical importance”. So Dutt travelled to Rajasthan to work on his project.
Charbagh, the third book, is made of steel plates and acrylic sheet in an album style like our families used to have in the old times. This book weaves a fantastical story with science and space built into a Mughal theme. He uses steel plates to indicate permanence. Charbagh is a double-dome, secret garden inside the Taj; a time portal, a pillar, an observatory and an alien ship are etchings on plates.
“Through the time portal, an observer could see through the observatory that those resting inside the double dome in the Taj Mahal go to the galaxy or the heaven,” he said. This mysterious story triggers from Dutt’s readings and observations of architectural marvels of the Mughal era like the Charbagh. “I feel some alien force must have helped the creators build the Charbagh. Otherwise how could it be so perfect,” he reasoned.
The exhibition was strange, innovative, a bit weird, yet amusing. One wonders what happens to such works of art? Dutt said, “There is a niche market for such works too but even if I don’t sell them, I am happy to keep them at home and treasure them.”