Life in Prints: Pinaki Barua

Life in Prints: Pinaki Barua

Project 88 is pleased to present Life in Prints: Pinaki Barua, curated by R. Siva Kumar. It is the artist’s first major exhibition featuring prints spanning the three decades of his distinguished career. Barua (b. 1951, Kolkata) trained at Santiniketan under Somnath Hore and is among the finest printmakers of his generation. The works in this show reflect his technical engagement with printmaking to explore formal artistic concerns, as well as his deliberation of the human condition through his sensitive responses to socio-political trepidations. Ultimately, they serve as poignant documents of his inner reflections, preoccupations, and memories considering he was diagnosed with dementia in 2008 and suffers from Alzheimer’s disease.

In his works, Barua has harnessed etching as a medium to explore its formal and poetic potentialities. His process and style are inspired by his mentors and colleagues at Santiniketan, as well as Masters such as Rembrandt, Goya, Picasso, and Georges Rouault. He builds up his imagery through an elaborate process of plate-making that involves scrapping, reworking, making and erasing, as much as it incorporates etching, engraving, and aquatint. He achieves a rare range of density in his prints, enabling his images to engage viewers through their detail and complexity. While his early prints feature silhouettes emphasising the distinction between positive and negative space, he progresses to use various textures, tones, scratches and scribbles to transform his negative spaces into palpable entities. His renderings contribute towards the evocative moods portrayed in his works.

Although Barua’s early works depict landscapes around Santiniketan, his own experiences and observations of society around him start to inform the content of his prints. Having spent time in the rural landscape in Santiniketan, as well as lived in urban Kolkata, his works respond to issues ranging from economic inequality to communalism. As a Founder Member of the  Realist group in the early 1980s, he consciously portrayed works that conveyed socio-political messages or responded to political events such as the Apartheid in South Africa and the Iraq War, among others. Although geographically distant, these events raised important human concerns for Barua. In his works, he focusses on relations between individuals as well as the spaces they inhabit in light of external circumstances, capturing notions of loneliness, claustrophobia, and tension. The works invite viewers to think about inter-personal and social relations, and what it means to be human.

In his latest works between 2008-9, Barua deftly portray abstract, geometric shapes, forms, and lines rendered in varying tones of black. They depict complex and immaculate interweavings of form, shape, and colour that invoke a surreal world order. Although in their abstraction, they arguably start to convey the artist’s own cognitive dissonance, these works appear remarkably clear and deliberate. Kumar explains, “Looking at them it is difficult to foresee that the coordination between mind and hand, between memory and action that allowed him to work and imagine for over thirty years would snap so soon. But it snapped sooner than expected.”

The exhibition was showcased at Galerie 88, Kolkata, last year.