Art review: Sarika Goulatia and Gauri Gill at Penn Galleries
Two rather small but exciting exhibitions, side by side Downtown, are part of Pittsburgh Cultural Trust's India in Focus series and should not be overlooked.
First, Gauri Gill's “Birth Series” at 707 Penn Gallery features photographs made when Gill spent several days with a midwife named Kasumbi Dai in a remote Indian village in Motasar, Ghafan.
Dai had invited Gill to photograph her delivering her granddaughter, and Gill agreed to assist her with the birth. Dai died in 2010, but the images of the elderly midwife delivering her granddaughter on the sandy floor of their desert hut are indelible, to say the least. Not only for the drama depicted, but for the idea that there still are places where babies are born in such rudimentary conditions.
“Let me say, when I saw the work in Delhi, I found it ‘breathtaking' in its honesty and directness,” says Murray Horne, who discovered Gill's work in Dehli earlier this year when tracking down artists for the fall India-focused events. “What the lens sees is what is printed, nothing more, nothing less.”
The other exhibit, Sarika Goulatia's installation “A Million Marks of Home” on display next door at 709 Gallery, proves that Horne didn't have to go far to find great art by an artist of Indian origin.
“Being of Indian origin, this was a tough show for me to do because the show was focusing on India, and I think my work is atypical of Indian art,” says Goulatia, who lives in Squirrel Hill with her husband, Amit Goulatia, and two children, daughter Maanya, 8, and son Eshaan, 5.
Goulatia also keeps a studio in the Mine Factory, off of Braddock Avenue in Point Breeze.
Inside the installation, visitors are immersed in an entire room with more than 250 wood panels indented and drilled to varying degrees to wrap the entire space. Goulatia says, “The interplay of light and shadows play an important part in highlighting the impermanence of our existence.
“I was born and raised in a country that is a visual treat for the senses. In my past life, I pursued a career as a textile designer, primarily a weaver, and traveled within rural India to revive dying arts and textiles. That was the most satisfying experience for me, both emotionally as well as cognitively. It wasn't easy for a 22-year-old to tell experienced weavers and craftsmen to modify their current work and go back to the tradition because it had such richness to it, and when that shift happened, it was just a start of a new journey that opened many possibilities.”
For this show, Goulatia decided to go back to the Indian art forms she remembers from her youth and deconstruct them through the ornate wood carvings as seen in furniture, wall pieces, textile block prints and the intricate art form of floor sand paintings.
These are done across the subcontinent and vary in styles from state to state. From an American perspective, they are pure Indian art forms and don't have regional associations.
“For me, (there's a) push-pull that an immigrant experiences as a result of living in one country ... yet always pulled by the roots of the country of one's birth,” Goulatia says. “Nostalgia for home inspired this work.”
The work “A Million Marks of Home” is a tribute to the immigrant and is a metaphor for everything that one leaves behind: the memories, the relations, the customs, the language, the jokes, the stories and the religious traditions that are quintessential to the place that was once home.
“Once you have left a place, the only way is to look forward,” Goulatia says. “Because if we go back, it is never the same.
“This is not unique to a person of Indian origin but for anyone who has moved homes and places both far and even in the same city.”
To create the work, Goulatia drilled through 281 panels of pinewood to wrap the entire gallery.
“I responded to each wood panel individually — the inherent qualities of the wood, the knots, the grain of a panel dictated my marks,” she says. “No panels are the same.”
Goulatia juxtaposed this with a formal rectangular arrangement of the sensorial overpowering bright-colored red chili powder, an everyday ingredient used in Indian cooking.
Upon entering, even the most casual visitor will notice the smell of pine, while the scent of the settled chili powder is strong and engulfs the gallery.
The red chili powder in the center of the room visually contrasts with the bleached panels of the wood — and the smell and the vibrant color add to the nostalgia for a place that was once home.
“Million Marks” addresses deterioration. The lines, indentations and drilled wormlike holes are meant to illustrate the passage of time.
Kurt Shaw is the art critic for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.