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House that?

Kavita Chowdhury | Updated on April 20, 2021

Mansion house: One is left wondering what came first — the house or the artworks — for the two are integrally entwined in Sinha’s universe. Photo: Reena Chowdhury

Inside Narayan Chandra Sinha’s universe house, metal and nature’s footprints are churned into an organic whole

* Humongous creations of iron and metal with overgrown roots inhabit this house

* Narayan Chandra Sinha’s project Firelight is the culmination of a decade-long artistic journey

* He even assimilates the massive tree trunks that fell during Cyclone Amphan last year into his installations

* The artist uses his works as a range of metaphors

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Open the dilapidated gates leading to a decrepit old mansion — and you will find yourself in a fantastical world. Humongous creations of iron and metal with overgrown roots inhabit this house in Queens Park in the heart of Kolkata.

Stepping into artist Narayan Chandra Sinha’s universe is quite unlike anything you’ve experienced before as house and metal are churned into an organic whole; the contradictory textures of automobile parts meld seamlessly with the sprawling house. One is left wondering what came first — the house or the artworks — for the two are integrally entwined, quite unlike what we see in any ordinary art gallery.

Reflections: Artist Narayan Chandra Sinha’s dream project ‘Firelight’ is intensely personal

 

Sinha’s project Firelight is the culmination of a decade-long artistic journey — a period through which, he says, he has grown in confidence and stature, becoming comfortable with his identity and expression. Kolkata businessman Ujjwal Upadhyay opened the doors of his unoccupied house for the exhibition, which is on till the end of May.

Describing the house as his “wife”, Sinha says, “I am the loving and respectful husband; I do nothing to disturb the natural state of the house.” So Sinha even assimilates the massive tree trunks that fell during cyclone Amphan last year into his installations. To enter Sinha’s dream world, in fact, entails stepping across one such tree.

I believe I can fly: Massive engine parts of trucks are soldered into phantasmagorical bird-like creatures, evoking awe and wonder. Photo: Reena Chowdhury

 

The installations at once evoke awe and wonder; massive engine parts of trucks are soldered into phantasmagorical bird-like creatures and colossal bulls. Sinha’s creations are strongly reminiscent of poet William Blake’s Tiger — “What the hammer, What the chain in what furnace was thy brain…”

Growing up in a business family which dealt in automobile parts, Sinha’s childhood memories are suffused with the acrid smell of burnt grease. The artist confesses to being repelled by heavy metal scrap as a child. Over the years, however, he started befriending these materials and making them pliant to his touch. With the initial horror giving way to creative wonder, Sinha coaxed out of the material unimaginable and unfathomable shapes and forms.

The artist uses his works as a range of metaphors conveying his world view — his critique of avaricious humans plundering natural resources or the decadent and erstwhile nobility hunting animals to display their trophy heads which he describes as images of shame.

“Those twisted metal animal heads I’ve placed on the bathroom walls are more a symbol of cowardice,” he says.

Interestingly, each of the pieces seems to be imbued with a life of its own. So the otherwise unaesthetic ceramic insulators of power lines are transformed into large blooms adorning both sides of the imposing wooden staircase. Even plastic toy horns metamorphose into a gigantic red spring bloom.

Rooted: Sinha’s artistic vision is an all-encompassing one where he incorporates nature’s footprint lovingly into his art. Photo: Reena Chowdhury

 

A self -taught artist, Sinha, 44, gained prominence with the Ina Puri curated solo show Debi in Kolkata in 2011. After that, he painstakingly crafted his dream project Firelight for 10 years. Several of the 150 pieces exhibited here are intensely personal and suffused with the artist’s inner turmoil — such as when he and his family battled Covid-19 last year. In the work titled Pranshakti, where a decapitated animal-like form is suspended from a high ceiling, Sinha attempts to depict the life force that helped him fight the dreaded infection.

Sinha’s creative genius finds expression in anything — be it a minute brass piece titled Kudiye Paowa (picked up from the ground) or the massive goddess-like form made of car silencer pipes. In yet another work, mounted prominently at the top of a staircase, a row of erect spines made of engine parts seems to take flight with wings made of an Ambassador car’s side windows. Undoubtedly, this project has been a labour of love for Sinha who confesses to “baring his soul for all to see” with his insecurities — warts and all.

“The house challenged me in many ways, it has its own story to tell,” says the artist. Therefore, dry brown leaves find their way into his art installations, onto table tops and even covering an entire room! Sinha’s artistic vision is an all-encompassing one where he does not extraneously remove nature’s footprint on the house. Instead he incorporates it lovingly into his art. In many ways it’s a celebration of abundance; overladen trees of jackfruit and banana in the garden below jostle with fountains and creations made of heavy machinery.

The haunting sounds of a hooting owl and cricket, played by a recorder, add to the impression of a house that has been left undisturbed. The artist invites visitors to his world not before dusk but between 6pm and 9.30pm, so that the spotlight and the shadows that it casts accentuates the lost-world ambience.

For the overwhelmed viewer, swept into the vortex of Sinha’s universe, time indeed stands still, as they try to grapple with the fecundity of the artist’s imagination. A contented Sinha signs off, saying, “I feel blessed to be alive.”

Kavita Chowdhury is a Kolkata-based journalist who writes on development, politics, culture and gender

Published on April 20, 2021

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