Ankit’s sculptures take you on a nostalgic journey down memory lane, weaving tales with a twist. The twist is enhanced with the combinations of media as is apparent in this body of Ankit Patel’s works in “Familiar Sounds…Lasting Silence”.
“Biloney ki Khanak”, or “Silte Hue Sur” or even “Pinjare ka Music” – each work begs to tell you it’s tale. Tales of Ankit’s village life that resonate in his consciousness, strongly familiar even after thirty years. The human element is conspicuous by it’s absence, sometimes appearing as hands in motion as in “Sur aur Ras”. One is struck by a sense of wistfulness that lingers through the visual dialogues with these works!
While celebrating his memories in his tongue-in-cheek style, Patel pays his tributes nonetheless. In his communal milieu, his craftsman and his musician both vie for one’s attention – their sounds differ, the rhythm does not – undeniably saluting and celebrating the protagonists of his memorial journey!
Dr. Tarana Khubchandan
Director, Gallery Art and Soul
an orchestra – ankit’s homepage to the music of daily life
The harmonium playing its sur sangam. The typewriter going tuck,tuck, tuck, tick, tick, tick, TINGG. Bells jingling while sugarcane is crushed to sweet juice, butter being churned by bangled hands, the clicketty clack of a sewing machine, cotton being fluffed in rhythm, the routine ringing of a school bell… sounds of everyday life which Ankit Patel left behind in his village, thirty two years ago.
A life that revolved around tunes and beats that defined for him a sense of lilting music. Life itself was following a tune which came from familiar, functional sounds. Sounds which you and I wouldn’t really give a second thought to but Ankit has drawn inspiration to work on creating a whole series of sculptures by fusing mechanics and music.
The “devilish correctness” of mechanised movement have been brought alive by combining his cultural roots, memories of his childhood and a firm grounding in folk art. Using this as a bouncing board, the artist has traced a parallel existence and kept alive a past by contemporising each sculpture through a simple take on shapes, forms and textures. The creativity in all of this comes from his adding what can be called “the twist in the tale” – each sculpture has an element of lyricism, the reality of the machine taking over human existence and yet there is a triumph of the spirit to see all that is beautiful from within the world he seems to have lost to the past. Keeping it alive seems to be his major concern.
In a predominantly agricultural village where jagirdars ruled, Ankit was used to a pinjara coming home to fluff up the cotton used for filling quilts and pillows. The traditional instrument used by the Pinjara had a dori made from the intestines of a goat and a ring was used to tighten this cord and that is how the sounds emerged to a regular rhythm. Pinjara’s Music encompasses a childhood and a faithfulness to the artist’s own roots.
There used to be a mitti ka matka and long stick used to make butter out of soured cream by the woman of the house. Ankit’s version in Biloney ki Khanak has an additional design and textural element to it – the cow dung that was used as fuel in a regular village home with the impressions of hands imprinted on them, denoting the connection between cow’s milk, the dung and finally the end product – butter. The bronze rod has knot and bangles at one end conveying a sense of unity, harmony, an interweaving of daily routines with music.
The sewing machine used to be imported during the time period when the sculptor was growing up. His sub-conscious mind recalls the feel moving on two separate pedals held together by a rod which then moved the two parallel wheels in quick succession. The cloth didn’t move forward as it does in present day sewing machines. It moves to the side and in Ankit’s sculpture, Silte huye Sur, it is shown to move towards items that were commonly used by a tailor – the spool of thread, scissors, his jootis and a pagdi. The cloth shown here is like the keyboard of a harmonium acting as a symbol of Ankit’s belief that just as a piece of cloth takes shape after stitching, sounds emanating from a harmonium unite into a raga – a unified piece of musical creation. A Wheeler & Wilson sewing machine used to be used to stitch on the top of the table. Old steam engines and the sewing work in the same way.
A sculpture of an old harmonium harks back to the days when nautanki and Ram Leela were popular forms of entertainment and had every one from the village equally involved, speaking of moments of social and cultural unity. As Ankit says aptly, “this series of sculptures speak of a never-ending dialogue between art and the spectator, between myself and the rest of the world. With the subjectivity of opinion that the Ram Leela evokes from people, there is also something that appeals to everyone. For me there is a very thin line between a musician performing with his musical instrument and a craftsman working on his machine. They both have rhythm.” The old harmonium folded up into a neat box and could be carried comfortable. The sounds produced by the harmonium reached out of far in term of sounds travelling distances since there were no loudspeakers available then.
Manu Vakil, the only lawyer in Ankit’s village used a seventy year old typewriter. The sculpture, PPP ddd PPP MP has a scroll of typed paper in bronze, shining with the lyrics of jai Ho, once again, bringing together, in essence the connect between music and machines. “The ‘tinngg’ at the end of each typed line is a constant sound and gives an interesting rhythm,” says Ankit.
Other pieces range over the drill machine, the school gong, the bell in the temple. “The bell used to ring five times in a day. It sounded like a hammer to a child who didn’t want to get up in the morning to go to school. When the same bell rang for a lunch break and finally when school was over, it became a welcome sound since it spelled freedom for the child. As the same gong sounded from a temple in the evening, it was likened to aarti time when you got prasad, which induced a pleasant and peaceful feeling. The same sounds can rouse different emotions at different moments from different people.
A ten feet sculpture of a drill machine that was used to drill into wood gives the sculptor a sense of making music with the rod, like while playing a violin or even in other musical instruments like the tanpura. The bow drill appeared in Mehrgarh between the 4th -5th BC and was then used to drill holes into lapis lazuli and cornelian. A bunch of scrunched up flutes are pushed through a sugarcane juice machine and the measuring cans standing on the side are reminiscent of the way the Sculptor recalls drinking the juice from. Sur and Ras meet here and added to this is the sound of ghungroos – it’s the making of a piece of music that is symbolised here. Moving from one childhood memory to another, the machine that makes baraf ka gola is like a song to a child’s ear and the sculptor has in his own way, paid homage to each of them. The sculpture, Teen Paise ka ek Gola makes all of trip down memory lane and brings a delighted, gleeful smile to our faces. “It also stands for the pressures we are facing today, ‘crushed’ by life. The colours of the sherbets are the primary colours and akin to the various shades of our daily lives “, says Ankit.
A scrunching sound of footsteps on the path made by the traditional jooti actually did serve a purpose in the past – it helped to make animals run away and alert the labouring from hands in the fields, warning them of the approaching master. The jooti was adopted by Rajesh Khanna and it had become a fashion trend during the seventies. The walk conveys the nature of the man. The motion of walking is a unifying element for all of us – the rise and fall of each step has a tempo of its own. This sculpture, Kadam Badhay ja, has the accompanying umbrella and the pagdi, acting as a metaphor for a working man, out of the house, trying to earn to livelihood.
To culminate the whole series, Ankit created a sculpture of the aate ki chakki, the start point of daily existence – Hae Jaag ne Jaadawa. He recalls how the woman of the house began their day by grinding wheat into flour and singing a prabhaatiya. That was the early morning music with songs sung to welcome a new day. The sculpture has a jute bag of wheat which is to be sown up by the thick needle. Ankit says, “the movement of the chakki has its own continuing movement – the noise at the starting it louder and as the grain keeps getting ground finer, the sounds become softer.” Its akin to the mellowing down of human beings with age.
There is a consistent absence of the human figure in this series of sculpture by Ankit. The story of everyday life of simple villagers is told through tools and machines being used. A grass cutter is used for cutting dried grass into finer pieces for cattle feed with a very fine blade. The sound is also a fine cut-cut-cut and is hardly in use anymore because of the availability of ready-made packaged food for cattle. The Grass Cutter is the only sculpture which has a hand to symbolize the presence of human beings.
Who can capture the romance of a sambelu (a rod) and an oakhli used to grind fresh spices and condiments like red chillies and ginger. There is an emotional bond that comes into a play here – its always the team work of two woman of the house who grind the spices together. Timing and rhythm are important here. They sing songs while the activity is on though its mostly during weddings to add a celebratory note. The sambelu can well be seen as a musical instrument which produces a softer version of a drum beat – dham-dham-dham. Delving back into the past is not Ankit’s way of bemoaning the loss what used to be such intrinsic elements of life – its his way of celebrating it and keeping it alive.
Mita Kapur, Jaipur
(A literary consultancy)
The Silent Presence
“What I love most about the machines and instruments is its tangibility and it’s truly democratic nature, which is quite nature, which is quite natural for a sculptor” Ankit Patel.
Sculpture had been India’s major art from – ecclesiastical, didactic, narrative and decorative – for a number of centuries, until the colonial intervention. Within modern India art discourse, the binaries of tradition and modernity, urban and rural, classical and folk remain a dominant core of creative configuration. Contemporary sculpture of the last two and half decades has marked important signpost, particularly in terms of materials, concepts, forms and medium. The materials include both new and traditional as latex, wax, polyester fibres, stuffed polythene, resin, papier mache, leather, epoxy and canvas, ceramic and sheet metal, wood, bronze, granite, aluminum, including the use of water put to innovative use. Concepts have become the mainstay of artistic expression demanding artists’ active intervention to address diverse issues from personal to cultural. The conceptual content is directed not only towards the marginalized; addressing issues of caste, gender, race, nuclear holocaust, terrorism, environment and general social concerns but also towards culture including regional. This is because India finds itself in the postmodern construct – a situation arrived at, not through a process of having lived through the experience of modernity, but in its drive towards reacting creatively within the mainstream internationalism, which juxtaposed with changing political and social milieu within the country, the focus had been on the marginalized including a retake on tradition.
Tradition is the future out of the past. Tradition, among other things, is an appeal to the past. Arguable modernity in India has never been a fixed paradigm. That is, it is relational, with notion of tradition, modernity and contemporaneity becoming by default mutually inclusive of our times. Tradition and Modernity are concepts/conditions that establish tension between an old order and new adventure. They are terms that functions dialogically. As a matter of fact there is no opposition but the two modes weave together centuries of symbolic experiences into a new texture that carries within it both the old and the new. “Modernity is an economic force with social, cultural, and political correlatives; Tradition is a cultural force with social, economic, and political correlatives” [Partha Chatterji].
Sculpture as a medium has undergone rapid transformation defying any definitives. Some methods as bronze casting remain bound to tradition but revitalized with many new different alloys recasting it with a new avatar that makes it very contemporary. Sculpture has come away from its earlier decorative and embellished functions to become an essential human resource touching all spheres of life.
This preamble is mandated in order to contextualize the role of tradition within the fluid and osmotic global milieu today. Certain artists have approached tradition to excavate memory of cultural practices that are now losing grounds because of advancing technology. Further it is also the perception of the artist in looking at tradition as a concept that can advance his art. Hence within art historical discourse, either in India or the West, patronage had foregrounded the taste of patrons and connoisseurs, which perceptually reflected the social, political and cultural milieu, rendered insightfully by the artists. Hence it was not uncommon to see the same thematic content delineated distinctively and differently by various artists or schools because of their different sensitivity, discernment and perspective. Therefore perception dominantly undergirds and defines the contours of the artist’s personality, a value which has remained constant and evident in artists’ – past or present. One artist who has brought to his works the perceptions of traditions of a culture of life particularly his happy and cherished days spend in his native town of Gujarat is the Jaipur based, Gujarat born sculptor- teacher Ankit Patel.
PERCEPTION AS AN ARTISTIC MODE OR PROCESS
The perception of the artist contoured through his imagination becomes important in configuring his identity and artistic posture. Yet perceptions and definition of culture, has also changed through time – a change, which has been enormously accelerated by technology and scientific innovations. Reflecting these changes are Ankit’s recent series of works “Familiar Sound…Lasting Silence” gesturing towards his perception/interpretation of rural life that has witnessed dynamic transformation of its populace through modern devices as machines and instruments, replacing the hand operated one’s, which now remain irreparably lost to posterity/history. The familiar sounds emanating from utilitarian instruments, used by skilled artisans for domestic or public purpose, for Ankit becomes a source of reference for initiation of his concept, which is both nostalgia and rhythm conveyed directly and metaphorically. The former would indicate the various levels of sound translated as music and the latter to the rhythm of life lived in a community that offers not only variety but an underlying sense of belonging. Ankit connect these concepts to his life lived in a village in Gujarat, where he grew up, nostalgically meandering down memory lane resurrecting sight and sounds, which were integral to the rural ambience. Inherent in his perception is a sense of relationship with the land he lived in, the land he occupied, and the land of which he is a citizen. Ankit reconfigures temporal experiences through the powerful transforming quality of remembrance, making use of sensorial dynamics of the metaphorical process. To metaphorise was to see the similar in the other, to institute similarities by bringing together that which was distant or separated. That is, he has recreated in bronze sculptures certain instruments or has installed ‘antique pieces’, which today technology has made obsolete; for instance the juxtaposition of sewing machine with the harmonium, becomes a symbolic reflection of his intent and purpose as unity and harmony of family or community sewn together for a peaceful and meaningful life. In many respects there is a Gandhian thread of philosophy running through these works of Ankit, unconsciously or intentionally visually inscribing the notion of India living in her villages and the rural economy contributing to its own healthy growth and development.
MATERIAL AS METAPHOR
Ankit has worked with various materials as wood, bronze and stone. In this series the material is bronze and translates as a metaphor. His bronzes describe the celebration of his life’s journey – once upon a time lived in his native village – and laced with sentiments and emotions. Bronze as a material is a composite alloy, which symbolically enhances his concept, making his works significant in the context that he is creating. My glance is of course towards bronze as an alloy, serving as a metaphor of coming together of various strands of Ankit’s life’s vital moments as his happy childhood and teen that pushed in shaping creative tensions and artistic thoughts that are integral to his artistic persona.
Perceptually the works therefore are framed within tradition of artesian craft practices; the conceptual engagement of which in the 60s had opened space for alternate modernity in Indian art practice. By retrospection to it in a glocalized milieu, Ankit is refreshing the memory of such a practice, but it is a practice with difference. He is not positioning himself to engage with the craft practice rather through the recreation of those objects and instruments [typewriter, bilona, the vajapeti], Ankit is marking the absence with presence. That is these instruments of utilitarian and non-utilitarian uses loops back into memory and morphs to become ‘memorials’; activating the absence that becomes the presence. Ankit significantly has translated them into aesthetic objects with titillating visual textures, forms and shapes that conflate his feelings and sentiments. Hence each sculpture/installation becomes a reinvention because there is also an inherent message conflated to the idea of recreation. The symbolic attitude is towards cultural harmony and unity that resided in activities in which these object and instruments were embedded.
But this is not the sole purpose for Ankit to retrace his memory space. Because the dimension of community living which dominantly defined the character of its society also involved a cultural life when entertainment was not music plugged to a pair of ears, or a confined to technology box [TV] that limited viewing to a family, but the entire village community came together for enjoyment in watching either Ramleela or folk dance performance during festivals. Interestingly Ankit makes connection with the visual culture of his native town and to the instruments that were integral to it. For instance, the vajapeti or the harmonium, the tailor indirectly with his sewing machine fashioned drama costumes, the sugarcane juice vendor musically made ‘sur aur ras ‘ whetting appetites, or the flavoured ‘teen paise ka ice gola’ refreshed parched throats in summer. More than glancing at the machines, Ankit is significantly drawing attention to the music produced by it. The intrinsic ubiquitous rhythm conflates with life’s humdrum rhythmic existence and hence valorizes these otherwise quotidian machines and instruments, which solely had served the purpose of fulfilling life’s essential demands and requirements. It is within this space that Ankit heroically glamourizes and valorizes not only the instruments but indirectly the artisans responsible for its production. The machine technology has made obsolete the craft and the art, erasing from memory those artisans responsible for creating the instruments also.
An analysis of Ankit’s works therefore demands a close scrutiny in the way he has engaged with the formal language, in the articulation of his artistic expression. Under girding his nostalgia and remembrance concept was the element of rhythm connecting it to music and metaphorically to life. Through insertion of the fragmented human presence, particularly the working hands, he takes his sculpture to a different plane, which stops being a simple reinvention of instruments lost to technology and imbues it with nostalgic sentimentalized reverence. It is this quality which makes his sculptures endearing, they take on emotional aspects of joy, laugher, delight, mirth, enchantment etc marking them symbolically as anthropomorphic presence. And once again it would be interesting to make reference to perception as a foundation on which artists construct their concepts. Ankit contours his advancing artistic maturity through different perceptions that life offered him at different moments of his career to carry forth his restless creative desire in to a realm of distinct difference, enabling him to mark a posture of difference within artistic fraternity and establish a distinct trajectory that would also offer opportunities of intellectual enhancement. And this body of work clarifies his perceptive intentions by looping back to his cultural roots to offer a variety visual fare.
The bronze sculptures and installations opens site where Ankit marks the versatility of various utilitarian instruments and negotiated to by the rural folks. Implicit in his works therefore is not only its physical presence but the music that was generated when worked. And the music translates as space of nostalgia, which has vanished to be replaced by contemporary chaos of modern devices. Ankit’s sensitive persona from a young age had internalized the rhythm of these sounds originating from instruments when worked at home by various craftsmen or within the local community in public spaces. Hence the bilona creates its jhankar, when a pair of women, in alternating rhythm churns the butter and separates it from whey. This mundane domestic task produces the musical raga making him a rasika, with melody and rhythm produced by their bangles and tinkling laughter, echoing the joys of a simple act, which created the butter much enjoyed by every member of the household. The bilone ki khanak, a reinvented sculpture as mentioned earlier was not a faithful reproduction, but Ankit gives it a different definition when he makes a knot on the bilona and hangs the bangles on top, inscribing it with feminine presence. Symbolically he extends the meaning to convey familial unity and values that are slowly eroding in society today. The pot in which the bilona is used for churning butter has hand impressions, aesthetically imparting texture and simultaneously serves as a trope; the nurturing aspect connecting to mother earth as well the woman.
The Vajapeti or harmonium was used in nautanki and Ramleela, when sound technology was unknown and this instrument, which neatly collapses to become portable, was used behind the stage. It was physically operated with feet so the throw of the sound could reach a wider audience. Ankit in opting to choose these varied instruments is insightfully triggering memory to bring awareness that in life, simple pleasures can be enjoyed as offered by the Vajapeti player the chief protagonist transforming as the equivalent of today’s music director. The hands playing the harmonium with the music sheet on the stand is not only evocative but poetic. It exudes sentimentalism as the absent player is presented symbolically through his turban, umbrella and the jutis.
Every work of Ankit produced in this series has a narrative and besides evoking memories he also assumes the mantle of the story teller, narrating musically. And this narrative is layered. The layers manifest in the representation of the instruments. They are not pure mundane reproductions as sculptures or installations; rather he has enhanced the narrative with symbolic subsumed social message. That is, the narrative assumes valence with juxtaposition or integration of elements as ‘flutes’ in the sculpture “Sur aur Ras” instead of sugarcanes, harmonium placed next to the sewn cloth, in “Siltey Sur”, the knot in the bilona in “Bilone ki khanak” pillow in “Pinjare ka music”, becoming indicative of a parallel narrative like unity and harmony. If the works convey an agenda of social and communal harmony, then it also reverberates with the rhythm of its music as evidenced in his equally musical titles, namely “Pinjare ka Music”, “Teen paise ka Gola”, “Sur aur Ras”, “Siltey hue Sur”, “Hae jag ne Jaadwa”, “Dham dhama dham Sambelu”. Implicit in all the works is also sense of rhythm movement. The sculptures/ installations are not heroic and monumental, but intimate and endearing communicating a sense of immanent working namely that the sewing machine peddles will start working, or the bells of the sugarcane machine will create jingle of music. Therefore Ankit brings to his works a vibrancy that moves beyond simple portraits to acquire psychological depths.
These works are also assemblages as he has sourced out the sewing machine, the vajapeti, typewriter, sugarcane machine etc and cleverly juxtaposed with hands and other objects creating a field of semantics that offers layered meanings. The works either as sculptures or installations have a strong visual appeal and the dynamics of the mechanical arrangement reinforces it further. There is a sense of wonder when looking at it, engaging the viewer to hold a dialogue and investigate. Ankit foregrounds his imagination in combining and integrating the machine and the human elements sharply and insightfully, reinventing the sculptural space; and charges it to manifest a vibrancy. He wistfully and passionately weaves a fabric of connectivity with traditions in culture as well the manifest beauty in nature. It is this dimension of his works which establishes his perceptions of traditions, culture, memory and nostalgia.
A sculptor dedicated and committed to his artistic task, this series of works undeniably has advanced and enhanced his artistic status remaining faithfully committed to his vision of working towards the fulfillment of ideas and dreams. Undeniably his sculptures are distinct and different with his innovative perceptions and approach in handling varied themes and the subject. His works have an aura of his culture weaving the roots of tradition within it.
Dr. Ashrafi S. Bhagat
Ms. Ashrafi S. Bhagat M.A., M.Phil, Ph.D, is an Art Historian, Art Critic and on Author. She is Associate Professor and teaches at the Department of Fine Arts, Stella Maris College, Chennai. She writes exhibition catalogues for artists and on issues contemporary art in newspapers, magazines and journals.