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Lands, Waters and Skies

A review of the ongoing exhibition featuring the works of artist Nikhil Chopra held at Chatterjee & Lal, Mumbai. The show is on view until January 5, 2019.

Nikhil Chopra, Lands, Waters and Skies: Sundersar, Charcoal on paper, 22.25'' x 29.75'', 2018. Image Courtesy of the artist and Chatterjee & Lal, Mumbai.

Nikhil Chopra, Lands, Waters and Skies: Sundersar, Charcoal on paper, 22.25'' x 29.75'', 2018. Image Courtesy of the artist and Chatterjee & Lal, Mumbai.
‘I want to understand the mysteries of what is up beyond the mountain pass, and down in the depths of the ocean.’ Nikhil Chopra’s new solo exhibition – after a gap of eight years – is his largest display of works yet. The expansive title, scrawled in charcoal at the gallery entrance above a sprawling landscape, prepares you for meditations on nature with a certain scale and grandeur. Evoking the Art of the Sublime of the 18th and 19th centuries, Chopra’s drawings, both in black and white and colour, are devoid of human form and imbued with transcendent meaning.
It isn’t just through the drawings of oceans and mountains, valleys and lakes that he achieves this ethereal quality. A video installation at the gallery captures the artist capturing his subject in situ, presumably high up in the Liddar Valley that looks onto Pahalgam in Kashmir, where Chopra spent summers in his formative years. A lot of his pieces reflect his now home, Goa, and its tropical, languid quality. Stark rock faces and glassy water bodies, green fields and grazing animals, spectacular sunsets and groves of trees – the collection’s subject matter is timeless and the mood is reflective and meditative, with the occasional epiphany bursting out of a frame.

Nikhil Chopra, Lands, Waters and Skies: Musandam, Mixed media on paper, 11.5'' x 15.5'' , 2018. Image Courtesy of the artist and Chatterjee & Lal, Mumbai.

Nikhil Chopra, Lands, Waters and Skies: Musandam, Mixed media on paper, 11.5'' x 15.5'' , 2018. Image Courtesy of the artist and Chatterjee & Lal, Mumbai.
Chopra considers his studio work to be a rehearsal for his performance pieces. For the Lands, Waters and Skies exhibition opening, the artist’s companion performance offered a dramatic engagement with the themes of his work. Stripped down to a langot, Chopra created a ‘live drawing’ involving aluminum foil, water and earth. Covering his face in foil, drenching his skin in water, smearing himself with mud, the artist, through convulsive body movements and eloquent facial expressions, conveyed a deep sense of oneness with sky, water and land – and of being brutally separated from it.
Many of Chopra’s recent drawing performances – he shares in his artist statement – reflect the spirit of travel, transience and nomadism. Seen by themselves, the drawings communicate the ideas and emotions that have left humans in awe of their natural surroundings since the beginning of time. The works, which are quiet and contemplative, acquire a whole new dimension when seen in conjunction with the performance. Stillness breaks into movement; emotions trigger actions; the past transforms into the present.
The mix of black and white and colour, too, provides a dual lens through which to view the collection. The quietness of monochrome occasionally gives way to a burst of yellow, orange and blue that fill up the canvas like a grace. All in all, the sublime landscapes, with their non-human forms and inhabitants, offer a vision of a prelapsarian earth. It is in the unsettling performance, in which a human grapples with elemental struggles, that the collection acquires a sense of the fall.
Rehana Munir is an independent writer based in Mumbai. To read more, click here.

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