The Surface of Memory: Recent works by Sudipta Das

Exhibition dates: 30thJuly – 10th September 2016
Venue: Gallery: Latitude 28, New Delhi

Exhibition view of 'The Surface of Memory'. Image courtesy: Gallery Latitude 28.

It is a phenomenological function of skin to record. Skin re-members, both literally in its material surface and metaphorically in resignifying on this surface, not only race, sex and age, but the quite detailed specificities of life histories. – Jay Prosser, Skin Memories.

Socrates compares memory to an allegorical wax tablet, a gift from one of the Muses, across which time inscribes the mark of its passage. This exhibition sets itself to exploring the material equivalent of the mythical wax tablet. In this quest, we move away from the expected domain of the gray matter to re-locate the houses of memory onto the surface of the skin and even outside the corporal soma, on the surface of objects what are commonly referred to as mementos, souvenirs or memorabilia. Our skin functions both as an envelope for our viscera as well as an interface between the interiority and the exteriority. It bears traces of our loves and labour – serves as a surface that records the duration of our personal history. Similarly, objects that surround us carry the capacity of adsorbing these lived temporal traces, akin to a duplicated record generated by a carbon paper. What qualifies/activates these objects to perform as memory-holders is an intimate proximity that impresses, not unlike the embodied gesture that rehearses the sign on the carbon paper. Once externalised in this manner, these mnemonic signifiers function as portals to displaced halls of memory where the past is relived and its impression re-membered. Here, memory is understood as the force that subjectivates, and since recollection is mediated by the subject in turn, identity emerges both as a sedimented sense/overview of our memorial enclaves (both individual and collective) as well as the more particularised re-collections that are engendered in the moment of encounter within the specific frame of reference i.e., it is both cumulative as well as momentary and constantly in a ‘becoming’.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sudipta Das, The Great Shift, Water colour, coffee, wash, pulp, acid free paper on board, 107 x 47 inches, 2017. Image courtesy: Gallery Latitude 28 and the artist.

In his essay entitled "Skin", Czech-born philosopher, Vilém Flusser forwards the notion of ‘skin atlases’ that ‘show our being in the world’ and ‘a dermatology that is anthropology’. The call for becoming ‘superficial’ and cultivating interest in the ‘surfaces’ as opposed to the ‘mysteries’ they purportedly cover up is issued in answer to the need for ‘new types of maps’ to help us ‘digest the information inflation’. Sudipta Das’ visual topographies can be seen as an externalised re-enactment of these acquired ‘skin maps’. The result is a heteroglossia, where the phenomenological and the sensual come into an agency of its own in and out of sync with the verbal account. While the undulating surfaces made of small paper pieces turn into a serene water body in which an uprooted tree floats alone to nowhere in one of the works, it forms an intimidating dwelling for alligators in another work. The attempt to create a subtle lyricism continues with Sudipta’s use of allusions of great works from the history of visual art – stained paper strips surge along with ‘The Great Wave’ of Hokusai and boats carrying refugees ride those waves, Noah’s ark from the painting of American folk artist Edward Hicks reappears as made out of paper pulp projecting out from the surface, and sails over the unending ripples of a vast ocean-scape. 

The unending voyages of the dispossessed across cultural and political boundaries in human history serve as a vast backdrop for Sudipta’s artistic pursuit. As a fourth generation Bangladeshi migrant in India, the artist re-members her past into visual repositories such that the act of tearing out bits of paper and reassembling them into the subjects of her boards becomes symbolic of piecing together an inherited memory of dispossession and diaspora. The identity that is sutured through her practice is one that is constantly in transit and is not merely representational of her received history. The ephemerality and versatility of paper makes it her favoured medium for playing out these fragmented recapitulations whilst a displacement and externalisation of memory in this manner allows her a sense of perspective and agency about this borrowed historiography. Each bricolaged iteration becomes a retelling of the accounts of migration transmitted from her grandmother and brings out the performative aspect of grand-narratives. Consequently, these personal memoirs fracture the doxa of stereotypes and extant historiographies by seeding its foundations with subjective and para-fictional retellings. 

For more information on the exhibition click here.