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Thoughts on Vibha Galhotra: Metropia

January 22, 2013

The first time I walked into Vibha Galhotra’s exhibition, Metropia, I was taken aback by the colossal size of her works.  The immense tapestry-like “Veils” and sculptures are formed with ghungroos: tiny metal bells that Indian dancers wear during performances.  Bringing these two elements together—the ghungroos and the size of the works—is a visual marriage that creates a powerful message about the effects that rapid building in New Delhi has had on the city, its history, and environmental issues. The massive scale of her work evokes the modern buildings of New Delhi while the ghungroos suggest the citizens affected by the development of the city. The shining metal of the ghungroos, which are quite reflective in the light, could embody new construction while also representing cultural tradition.  The ghungroos almost create a visual sound as if, when you look at the piece, you can hear the bells ringing in a way that mimics the hustle rapid pace of city life.

Though the exhibition is filled with Galhotra’s “Veils” (abstract landscape tapestry-like landscapes made with ghungroos), I am going to discuss two of these objects from the exhibition that reflect her message.  Landscape Remade depicts a cityscape in a triptych of three tapestries.  Though the image is luminescent in the light, the use of the various colored metallic ghungroos is reminiscent of a pollution that plagues the city—turning the vibrancy of color associated with nature into a metallic grayscale.  A crane pierces two of the tapestries, and the eye is drawn immediately to the ominous hook in the center of the tapestries.  The buildings are overwhelmingly present, and there is no sense of nature in the piece, reminding the viewer of the change caused by erasure of the environment.

Another piece that is striking and sizable is called Dead Monster, the skin of a deflated bulldozer.  Galhotra has created many “monsters” in protest of construction and damage done to the environment.  Dead Monster is sprawled out across the floor as if defeated in battle, giving it a sense of hope for the future, as well as awareness.  This sculpture is also made of ghungroos that evoke the metal of the bulldozer as well as the echoes of tradition.  The idea of this bulldozer being “dead” represents its cold, lifeless quality as opposed to nature and comments on how such dead objects are haunting present life.

Though Galhotra works with ghungroos in a lot of her pieces, it is not her only medium.  She also utilizes New Delhi to create art that informs her audiences of the pollution and the way that other people are affected by environmental neglect.  Galhotra’s mixed media piece Sediment is a stunning work of abstraction.  On closer look, one realizes that the medium she used to create this piece is collected waste from the Yamuna River, the largest tributary of the Ganges River (the most sacred river in India).  Sediment is a mixture of beauty and shocking revelation, and it is a strong reminder of the pollution that people encounter, create, and ignore on a daily basis.  Seeing the piece for the time and learning the medium reminded me of the environmental problems we all face and to be more aware of the consequences of pollution.  Interestingly, Galhotra creates a visual dialogue between art and awareness, which makes this exhibit so enlightening.

Another piece that employs daily life in New Delhi as the medium is 15 Days of May.  This work centers around a rope that was placed outside in the city to accumulate ambient dust and detritus that are present in the city for a period of fifteen days in May.  As you look at the photographs of the rope before it was exposed to the dust and grime of the city, the ropes are clean and unmarked—making their shift to crusty gray innards all the more unsettling.  These works are a reminder that we should be more proactive in taking care of the places in which we live, whether its New Delhi or Winston-Salem.  What’s so interesting about Galhotra’s is that she creates art with materials and subject matter that people tend to ignore (or attempt to ignore) on a daily basis—bringing these issues to the forefront of our attention. Her works are a reminder that we should be aware of the environment in which we live while also calling to question what art can be.  She gives ordinary—or even disgusting—objects a new context with a powerful message that is meant to make us think about ways in which we contribute to the destruction of our environment and ways in which, however simple, we can improve it.  Metropia is on display at SECCA until Sunday, February 17, 2013.

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