Varunika Saraf

CHEMOULD PRESCOTT ROAD

Caput Mortuum
How do we stop the exponential rise of violence? Is it still possible to dream of an egalitarian society? Can we find love and hope amidst hate? Will we be able to heal the festering sores that riddle our world? How long will we continue to remain silent? To speak about a present besieged by brutal acts of violence, this body of work takes its name from the synthetic Iron Oxide pigment Caput Mortuum (Dead Head) that resembles dried blood. In alchemy, Caput Mortuum is classified as ‘worthless remains’– the residue left on the bottom of the heating flask once the nobler elements sublimate. Perhaps, like our society, an outcome of a flawed experiment. Using this metaphor of decay and decline, I seek to highlight much of what we leave unspoken in our complicity and attempt to dispel the collective amnesia that sustains the cruel illusion called progress.
After grinding it into fine watercolour, I deposit Caput Mortuum in thin washes onto the burnished plane of the Wasli. It appears to haemorrhage through the overlying stratum of intense colours, staining the surface of the painting in the same way as historical injustices seep through the cracks of time to mould our present, just as wounds inflicted by hate scar our society. In this process, Caput Mortuum also becomes a marker of a past rife with injustice and comes to signify the complexity of our current predicament. The blots of bleeding colour disrupt the picture plane, positing the explicit imagery portrayed as fallouts of all that lies underneath, i.e., the effects of deep malaise and structural violence, and, at the same instance, become portents of futures that are yet to unfold.
The events inscribed onto the surface of each painting document the extraordinary struggles that people are facing and bear witness to life without power and political agency. I draw upon medieval imagery of interpretations and revelations to develop a language that allows us to process not just portents and spectacles but also anxiety caused by political and social upheavals. Drawing inspiration from Griselda Pollock’s seminal work that highlights the importance of remembering the past that “agitates the present” to warn us of the enduring threat of systemic dehumanisation, I engage with the ever-growing phenomenon of violence that is bringing us to the brink of annihilation. The language that builds on stains, scars and disruptions is further supplemented with ‘remediations’ of the iconography of miraculous and apocalyptic visions, specifically the Augsburg Wunderzeichenbuch, or the Book of Miraculous Signs and other depictions of infernal realms. My works are at once a reference to, a subversion and perhaps even a hijacking of complex and ever-changing processes that we call tradition. They are a result of deep love for and a grounding in the material processes, and at the same time, are shaped by a discomfort with the idea of tradition and what this word implies. Thinking through such imagery and recent events with equal dread and hope is a call for urgent action to unmake the future that current events have set into motion.
Varunika Saraf
2021

Chemould Prescott Road
Land that Bleeds, 2020-2021
Chemould Prescott Road
Caput Mortuum (a series of 12 works), 2019
Chemould Prescott Road
Portents III, 2018
Chemould Prescott Road
“Love Is Contraband in Hell” (Assata Shakur), 2020

Chemould Prescott Road

Holding Space (for the Global South) In the oft disputed battleground of global history writing and history making, showcasing one’s own history is not an easy task, nor is it a unilateral one. This curated presentation of drawings, sculpture, textile and mixed media installations by Chemould Prescott Road balances this very delicate tension of multiple vantage points of identity, memory and territory whilst steadfastly holding crucial space for the South in global narrative building. Desmond Lazaro’s gold and pigment laden Dymaxion Map III creates a non-hierarchical comprehension of the world, absent of embedded cultural identifiers of up-down, North-South. This cartographic revisitation is complemented through Shilpa Gupta’s 100 Hand Drawn Maps of my Country documenting the differences in people’s idea of territorial belonging versus the reality experienced by them in Ecuador, India, South Korea, Israel/Palestine. The above multiplicity of mark making through carbon on paper find their static copper sculptural companion in Gupta’s MapTracing#1-IN. This is nuanced further by Reena Kallat’s River Drawings displaying the aching futility of physical barbed-wire boundaries attempting to create ownership of natural entities like water Mithu Sen’s Nothing Lost In Translation insists on widening this story telling of public consciousness by creating ambiguous forms on Japanese kozo paper, not restricted by immediate locality, or gender, race, caste, class. This continuing paradox of certain realities being cultural equalizers, such as endless, yet finite, consciousness experienced while sleeping, is captured through Jitish Kallat’s The Infinite Episode. The restful slumber of it’s scaled down sculptural animal forms is in contrast to the dense pigment dyed animals and birds in Noah’s Ark clamouring at the bottom of this descending scroll-tent in Lavanya Mani’s The Ark Animals of the World Complain to the Raven (after Mishkin). They are sparing no one the urgency of this approaching ecological distress. In an increasingly divisive world, these ideas of identity, memory and territory presented by these artworks create a much-required space for contemplation, collaboration, and conversation. Shaleen Wadhwana, 2021
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