by Kusumita Das | September 25 2016
To the world, artist Sharmistha Ray is primarily known as a painter. But for her next solo show, her sixth one, she has gone beyond paintings for the first time. Titled We Are All Islands, this exhibition marks a new conceptual direction for Ray where she creates a multi-sensory environment to explore how the absence of touch has distanced us in a digitised world. The grungy interiors of the Nine Fish Art Gallery, nestled in one corner of the 150-year-old Great Eastern Home, offers a dramatic canvas for the story Ray tells.
“The concept stems from my own migratory and transitional experience of many years,” says the Kolkata-born artist, who grew up in Kuwait and then went on to live in Switzerland and New York, before making Mumbai her home. “I have also lived in island-like cities. Existence, transformation, transcendence — these are ideas that interest me. The chasm between a digitally-mediated world versus a touch-mediated world,” explains Ray, who is also a TED fellow.
The artist has used the sprawling interiors to create a space where the viewers must engage with the art, and not be mere passive observers. Also, no one art form defines this show. “I am interested in seeing how people move, where they stop, what they look at.” She has used multiple mediums such as paintings, woodwork, installations and light projections — each medium challenging the idea of self in its own language. In one corner of the expansive interiors, is a well installation where she will be projecting a disrupted sequence of 108 intimate sketches of the female form. “The well revolves around the idea of looking in it and looking into yourself.” In another corner, an image of herself taking a selfie printed on a mirror, attempts to challenge the idea of the selfie — “our own battle with our sense of mortality”. It is placed in a ritualistic altar, replete with incense sticks, to magnify the idea of self-worship. “And because it’s a mirror, it also shows that as much as you are gazing at something, it is gazing back at you,” she adds.
The concept of islands is further enhanced by a metallic interpretation of her own thumbprint — an installation titled ‘The space that lives between us’. “Interestingly, the portions in between the ridges of a thumbprint are called islands. It is also hinged on the fact that the thumbprint is the one truly unique thing about oneself.” And to underline how precarious human existence is in a digitised world, the structure has been tilted slightly.
Ray’s last exhibition in Mumbai was five years ago and the city has been a monumental influence in her art. There’s one painting in particular that draws from how she sees Mumbai. “It’s a landscape called City of Eros. I have painted it in the colour of marigold. Mumbai to me is the sacred and the profane, constantly pulling against each other.”