Vivan Sundaram

Engine Oil and Charcoal: Works on Paper – Vivan Sundaram
After the outbreak of the First Gulf War in 1991, Vivan Sundaram made an important set of around forty drawings, Engine Oil and Charcoal: Works on Paper, as a reaction to the horrors of massive oil spills, oil fires of volcanic lava, and the army squadrons burnt alive. Occupying a place in between drawing, painting and installation, these compositions mark a pivotal moment in the artist’s practice at a crucial historical juncture. Here, for the first time Sundaram abandoned conventional painting; this series marks his transition to the installation, video, digital photomontage, and multi-media work that defines his practice from 1991 onwards. The slick of crude oil becomes his medium, as he begins staining the surfaces of his paper with it to convey the televised accounts of the war. By rubbing charcoal with his fingers he creates a smoked effect, suggesting the scenes of a war-devastated landscape and the tortured earth, and signaling an unhinged common future. As Sundaram introduces burned engine oil into his drawings, he moves us to see and smell a barreling smoke and contamination by energetically applying the heavy fuel onto the surface of his paper. These drawings have become fragile artifacts in their own right, growing more brittle, discolored, and faded over time, reflecting the reality of eco-historical change that itself of crucial concern in the works.
Extracts from Mathur, Saloni. A Fragile Inheritance: Radical Stakes in Contemporary Indian Art. Duke University Press, Durham, 2019.

Chemould Prescott Road
Fragments in a landscape, 1991
Chemould Prescott Road
Teeside Joint, 1993
Chemould Prescott Road
Flowers/Fragments, 1991
Chemould Prescott Road
Assault , 24 May 1991

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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