Sunday, October 7, 2012

An artist rejects ‘cult of victory’

Project 88 presents a new solo exhibition, entitled ‘Barwa Khiladi’, by Sarnath Banerjee. It’s a sort of tribute to those fighting individuals ‘hardwired to lose’.  On view are a series of posters specially designed for the just concluded London Olympics plus two new sets of curious graphic works ‘High Jump’ and ‘Arboreal Reduced’ , which elaborate on the unconventional theme of Olympian losers.
A press release elaborates: “A boxer whose entire career is built around dodging punches, a pole-vaulter who, just before a jump, realizes that perhaps he has chosen the wrong sport, a judoka who learned judo through correspondence courses, a high jumpers who achieves levity by eating light food, listening to light music and reading light literature.

“A race-walker’s legs cannot keep up with her mind as it moves steadily towards the finishing line, a ping pong player who is suddenly aware of the eerie silence of the indoor stadium and tries to remember how one spells ‘eerie’, a javelin thrower who accidentally hits a long jumper thus disqualifying himself and destroying the medal chances of the other. A hockey player who faces a wall of bureaucrats sitting before the goal as he prepares to take the penalty shot.”

‘Gallery of Losers’, a collection of about dozen graphic vignettes, was recently displayed on large billboards individually across the whole eastern boroughs of London. It was part of a public art project organized by the Frieze Foundation, to mark a cultural festival arranged as counterpoint to the London Olympics.

The artist’s contrarian streak found full expression in the study of defeat and dejection at the Olympics event, historically a celebration of the human physical skills and a campaign that celebrates losers, The gallery went against the very grain of other Olympics-related advertising that lauds winners.

These billboards get in the skin of the loser. They ruffle up the clichés that surround winning and propose the heretic thought that winners can sometimes be vulgar. That Sarnath Banerjee’s work received uncommonly wide publicity and acclaim in the Indian and the international press shows that his gamble to play the wet blanket, the naysayer paid off: articulating through his work an earnest need for compassion for the losers, equanimity towards success and failure, and a rejection of the cult of victory that would restore balance and justice to a world increasingly, deeply divided into winners and losers.

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