Upon entering the gallery, viewers were confronted by a sprawling, 53-foot photographic mural of an expansive stretch of New Delhi, with houses and buildings squeezed together in a chaotic, cluttered urban landscape. Seven mannequins wearing military or security uniforms—made of fabric printed with the same design as the mural—stood before the metropolis, at once presiding over and merging with it. In this 2008 installation, appropriately titled Neo Camouflage, artist Vibha Galhotra criticizes the state of urban development in India. Born in the modernist planned city of Chandigarh in 1978, Galhotra now makes New Delhi her home, and her relationship with it appears to be a conflicted one.
Evoking issues of overpopulation and the unequal distribution of wealth, the mural’s crowded panoroma is echoed in the wall-hung work Untitled (Veil Triptych), 2011. An image of what looks like an immense Pueblo village or a favela in Brazil spans across this work’s three fabric panels; a construction crane looms in the foreground. At a distance, the piece appears to be made entirely of wool. Up close, however, the image is seen to be composed of countless ghungroos-small bells traditionally made into anklets worn by Indian classical dancers-in hues of silver, gold and nickel, recalling El Anatsui’s metal-scrap works.
Ghungroos were encountered throughout the show, providing motifs of the feminine and of craft labor in the face of industrialization (to stitch the bells into her compositions, the artist employs local women whose husbands, she said in a recent interview, don’t allow them to hold jobs). Another of these highly embellished works is the elusive Word Trash (2012), which, suggesting an exercise in free association, features traces of words including earth, destroy, experience, meaning, writing, conceptual and age rendered in ghungroos on two fabric panels.
Most compelling perhaps are Galhotra’s more intimate pieces evoking global concerns. In Altering Boon (2011), for instance, the fragility of the world is translated into a map of the continents woven into a hammock made of nylon cord and white glass beads and suspended in one corner of the gallery. On the ground below, this world map is cast in shadow form. In Between Known and Unknown (2011), an elegantly crafted antique table with cabriole legs is the support for a small globe made of charred wood-a literal portrayal of a scorched earth. From the table’s underside hangs a cluster of ghungroos suggestive of a natural formation, an organic conglomeration that lies beneath this representation of an abused world.
Galhotra’s exhibition indicated that she will use anything to convey her ideas, even sediment from the sacred but sewage-contaminated Yamuna River, as in the abstract composition Sediment (2011). Albeit tied to process art on one level, her works deal with issues such as industrial pollution and disease, serving as a critique of urbanization and an examination of her own place in the world.
Photo: View of Vibha Galhotra’s Neo Camouflage, 2008, digital C-print on fabric and vinyl, mannequins,
shoes and belts; at Jack Shainman.