“See your reflection from here – all distorted.” Jaideep Mehrotra wears a look of sly delight as he shows us his latest exhibit. Perhaps the shiniest object on display at last month’s ArtBAB 2018 in Bahrain, this tantalising metal work is titled ‘Magpies Attraction’ and has its origins in evolutionary science. In line with Mehrotra’s previous works, Magpies Attraction explores the artist’s lifelong curiosity in that eternal “reality versus perception” debate.
On the sidelines of ArtBAB 2018, we chatted with one of India’s leading new media artists whose work makes a witty and whimsical commentary on the digital world, metaphysics and the nature of perception. Wife Seema, an eternal force on Jaideep’s life and work, joined us as the Mehrotras took us on a behind-the-scene journey of the creation of art, being partners in work and life and what keeps them going as a couple.
As a regular visitor to the Gulf region, what’s your impression of the art scene here?
The Middle East art has huge potential. They haven’t had much exposure and critical comment but it’s changing. Artists here are finding new language to express their reality, hopes and dreams. I lived in Dubai for four years and I can tell you that Arabs and Indians are very similar as people. Our food habits, family structure and culture are similar. I love Middle Eastern architecture, for example. It has its own distinct language. And yet, in the current content, they are giving it a modern twist. Just look at buildings in Dubai!
Coming to your art, what draws you to the abstract? Tell us something about Magpies Attraction.
Pablo Picasso famously said, “There is no abstract art. You must always start with something. Afterward you can remove all traces of reality.” The essence of his remarks is that we should not block our minds to abstractions. Abstraction is like the subconscious coming out for a walk. It allows you to innovate. Magpies Attraction is based on magpies who steal jewellery but never store it – (laughs) unlike humans. Scientists say that man’s love for shiny objects like jewellery is linked to our need for water. Water also meant, in those days, a place to see your reflection. So, I made this painting in metal. It sits there quietly and when you stand in front of it, you see a distorted reality. In a way, life is like that. We want to make sense of it as straight and perfect but it isn’t like that. It’s got its merger of everything. I want people to look at it and make their own opinion.
You want the conversation to be going through your art.
Exactly. Banksy (English graffiti artist) said that the work of art takes its own life only after it is finished and people make a conversation with it. With your work, it seems you are playing with the viewer’s mind and enjoying a wicked laugh quietly in a corner later. (Laughs) Yes, because humour is an essential part of life and if we lose that, we lose our humanity.
We know that the digital world fascinates you. What other questions define your art?
The metaphysical has always intrigued me. I am fascinated by reality and perception. It’s an unanswered question, of course. But I never fail to put a spin
Seema, what’s your contribution to Jaideep’s work?
Jaideep: (Interrupts) She’s my biggest critic.
Seema: On the contrary, being with him has brought me closer to art. It’s brought so much creativity into my life which I never knew I even had. I look at life differently, thanks to him – and have become bolder and more confident in trying out different things because, I guess, I see him experimenting so much. It excites me to see creativity in such close proximity. It’s inspiring.
Jaideep and Seema
Inspiring, indeed. But artists are also known to be difficult people to share space with.
Seema: Of course, artists are temperamental, moody and highly sensitive. They are like children. But between Jaideep and I, there’s that added pressure because we are not simply living together but also working together. We stick to our own spaces. Even when we have to talk work-related things, we talk on the intercom. That way, we don’t allow any scope for conflict.
Jaideep: When you live with somebody for so many years you share so many things, ideas, dreams and aspirations – even something mundane like sharing the view of a sunset can become meaningful.
What’s the secret to a happy and successful marriage?
Seema: (Laughs) Set the ground rules early and give each other some space