Abstraction hasn’t figured prominently in modern Indian art, critics often interpreting it as a foreign visual language. It’s an observation that has been vindicated by recent survey shows in both India and abroad, which filter the country’s art through the prism of its social and political transformations. The works presented in these exhibitions often take the form of hyperrealist life-size sculptures of middle-class subjects, popular culture-inspired collages or video installations themed around Hindu-Muslim tensions. Yet the artistic production of a new generation of artists increasingly departs from engagements with South Asia, in both content and form. In this context, the young Bangalore-based Ranjani Shettar has carved a unique position for herself: she approaches the social and ecological consequences of India’s rapid urbanization from the vantage of non-figurative art, engages with traditional material and seeks inspiration from the country’s threatened natural environments, rather than its urban setting.
The centerpiece of her exhibition of eight new works at Talwar Gallery was a slender stainless steel installation covered in muslin and tamarind paste and suspended from the ceiling (Scent of a Sound, 2010–11). The dazzling interplay of twirling lines spanned the gallery and curved around the edge of its outer wall. Its starting point in one corner of the room was a concentration of small leaf-shaped ledgers soaked in brownish lacquer. From there, the armature expanded into conic shapes and arched over visitors. Downstairs, another installation, Aureole (2010), consisted of 15 flat bronze sculptures which were horizontally aligned to the wall at regular intervals. The flaky green patina of the flame-shaped cut-outs contrasted with the shadows cast on the rest of the wall and on the floor.