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The Brooklyn Rail

OCT 2021

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OCT 2021 Issue
ArtSeen

Hemali Bhuta: and the epic did not happen!

Hemali Bhuta, <em>In this world of the familiar I search for the unknown In wonder my song bursts forth</em>, 2021. Lac dye, dye from dried leaves of trees on Bangal khadi cotton, 216 1/2  x 216 1/2 inches. Courtesy Ceysson & Benetiere. © Adam Reich.
Hemali Bhuta, In this world of the familiar I search for the unknown In wonder my song bursts forth, 2021. Lac dye, dye from dried leaves of trees on Bangal khadi cotton, 216 1/2 x 216 1/2 inches. Courtesy Ceysson & Benetiere. © Adam Reich.

On View
Ceysson & Bénétière
and the epic did not happen!
September 8 – October 30, 2021
New York

This warm and elusive show can be befuddling. Its reach is far and subtle, and embraces many modalities while its expression is quiet and minimal. It is what it isn’t. Titled and the epic did not happen!, Hemali Bhuta’s two-room installation, curated by Anne Couillaud, renders the COVID shutdown concrete in its physical investigation of time and place and color, but its effects are fleeting.

In the main room hangs a huge sheet of fabric, colored in reddish-stained squares sewn unevenly together with pronounced seams. The fabric extends to the ground where it meets a strip of white, perhaps unbleached cloth, and falls into a large swath of blue on the floor. In back of this curtain of fabric, but in front of the two windows behind it, are two faded green cyanotypes on cotton with images of plants and flowers that continually develop as the sun bleaches them.

The fabric attracts, retains, and loses color as the dyes fade over time, transformed by light, atmospheric conditions, and use, tracking in the process the passage of time and place. Bhuta has used lac, a kind of resin deposited by the female lac insect on twigs in South Asia. The substance can act as a varnish or sealant and imparts a reddish hue.

Hemali Bhuta, <em>The fragrance of the flowers lifts my soul</em>, 2021. Cyanotype print of all the leaves and flowers from the CONA garden on unbleached cotton cloth. Courtesy Ceysson & Benetiere. © Adam Reich.
Hemali Bhuta, The fragrance of the flowers lifts my soul, 2021. Cyanotype print of all the leaves and flowers from the CONA garden on unbleached cotton cloth. Courtesy Ceysson & Benetiere. © Adam Reich.

Like a stage set as well as a dreamscape, the installation embraces the viewer who may perceive shades of memory, experiencing a subliminal effect. The work is, in essence, a fabric of memory and is very much art that makes itself, telling a continually unpredictable story of its evolution—an unending epic. The title of each work is that of a verse from Akash Bhora Surjo Tara, a song by Rabindranath Tagore from the film Komal Gandhar, by Bengali director Ritwik Ghatak, suggesting a narrative text embedded in the textile.

Installed in the second gallery space is a selection of works and discarded fragments from Bhuta’s current productions, neatly laid out. A pile of pieces of lac wax lies on the floor forming a mound beneath a hanging hand-woven carpet with the lac globs affixed in the middle. From a distance, the mass calls to mind Philip Guston’s abstract canvases of the 1950s, but without the color, while the mound of shed debris below it evokes the stashes of candy set out on the floor by Félix González-Torres to engage his audience.

Hemali Bhuta, <em>on the bosom of the earth I pour my soul</em> <em>(3)</em>, 2021. Lac buttons sourced from Balrampur, West Bengal, hand ground with mortar and pestle at the artist’s studio, 10 x 10 x 10 inches. Courtesy Ceysson & Benetiere. © Adam Reich.
Hemali Bhuta, on the bosom of the earth I pour my soul (3), 2021. Lac buttons sourced from Balrampur, West Bengal, hand ground with mortar and pestle at the artist’s studio, 10 x 10 x 10 inches. Courtesy Ceysson & Benetiere. © Adam Reich.

Bhuta takes objects out of her art and life—including dirty, dusty fragments, torn and previously discarded materials—furnishing her room with past and present art. In so doing she keeps her projects up-to-date and imbued with nostalgia as in a 17th century Dutch still life, where each item has a personal or symbolic reference. Here, dignity and meaning are built on refuse—becoming the precious objects of today, like the artifacts of immigrant communities laid out on the street. For the rug, Bhuta crumpled up the stiff, sticky lac and appeared to have thrown pieces of it at the canvas, clumped together as if to mimic an Abstract Expressionist gesture, with the action of applying it implied in the stillness.  

Bhuta fills time and space in her Goa studio, addressing motion and narrative in her visual poetry, which bridges dream and reality. Trained in design, she has said, “My attempt in current practice is to explore the idea of a hybrid space, in between the studio and the gallery, between randomness and composition and, most importantly, where the form ceases to become space.”

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The Brooklyn Rail

OCT 2021

All Issues