A review of the exhibition ‘Atlas holding the Heavens’ that was held from July 13 to August 14, 2019 at the Vadehra Art Gallery in New Delhi.
A conscious mélange of archival images is created through the careful rendering of subjects in the works of Moonis Ahmad Shah, an interdisciplinary artist working with video, photography, painting, programming and installation. Titled Atlas holding the Heavens, the exhibition, organised by The Foundation of Indian Contemporary Art (FICA), in collaboration with Pro Helvetia, the Swiss Arts Council, is a result of FICA’s Emerging Artist Award that Shah received in 2017.
Moonis Ahmad Shah, Accidentally Miraculous Everyday from that Heaven, Photogrammetry print on aluminium diabond, 33" x 54", 2019. All Images Courtesy of the Artist and Vadehra Art Gallery, New Delhi.
Shah’s works often blur the lines of a stringent interpretation of archival material, while playfully incorporating the notion of a historic narrative as a mode of personal expression. As quickly as we adapt to technological advancements, the more easily we let go of the memories of our past, and this exhibit, using materials that have little to do with futuristic ideas and more to do with a fading past, attempts to whimsically bridge that gap through innovative sculptures, digital painting and installations.
Moonis Ahmad Shah, Good Politics, Bad Art, Grass Led text processing arduino audio, Size variable, 2019. All Images Courtesy of the Artist and Vadehra Art Gallery, New Delhi.
The light installation Good Politics, Bad Art is a great example, as the words ‘The Valley of Eternal Happiness’ light up at random intervals. The combinations that we see inspire the viewer to envision rolling hills, but with a dark undertone of where the valley is possibly located – in Kashmir, his hometown. Seamlessly merging the geographical and political landscape, so to speak, Moonis brings to mind the notion that all things may give the illusion of being beautiful and perfect, but are not that way at all. Good politics would attempt to create the illusion of happiness, while bad art would promote the same – making the title quite apt. In another work titled The Birds Are Coming, we see mug shots of various bird species, some placed at the Alcatraz Penitentiary, threatening to fly at the viewer if they ventured too close. Disheartening and amusing at the same time, it merges the past and the present seamlessly, reminding us of the urgent environmental crisis at hand and the dystopian future awaiting us.
Moonis Ahmad Shah, The Birds are Coming, Digital painting,clear print,web archive,light box,qr code, 23" x 16", 2017. All Images Courtesy of the Artist and Vadehra Art Gallery, New Delhi.
Shah’s fantastical reimagining and use of digital media to enhance one’s visual experience brings an ingenious flair to the exhibit, where the paradox of the familiar existing in the unfamiliar evokes a long-forgotten memory now waking up.
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