“Life is Beautiful” (2010) by Indian contemporary art duo Thukral & Tagra is on display at Arario Gallery, central Seoul, and is the artists’ first work in iron.
/ Courtesy of Arario Gallery
By Ines Min
Complementary pairs have always managed to win the hearts of audiences, from the comedic Cheech and Chong to the infamous Bonnie and Clyde. The contemporary art world has a new duo to present, however, with the sharp expository work by Jiten Thukral and Sumir Tagra.
Better known as Thukral and Tagra, or T&T, the artists made their Korean debut with a solo exhibition Thursday at the Arario Gallery in Samcheong-dong, central Seoul. The New Delhi-based friends shot to fame in 2005 with their pop-culture infused, color saturated, extravagant works on consumerism and life in the middle-class, producing commissioned works with Conde Nast and United Colors of Benetton while showing everywhere from Art Basel to Mori Art Museum in Tokyo.
As T&T first saw their artistic sides take root at an advertising agency, they soon transferred their commercial savvy with their homegrown Punjabi background to create artwork with an appealing, honest edge. Some of their most well-known endeavors include the creation of the fake label ``Bosedk,’’ a derogatory Punjabi term for female physiology.
``Middle Class Dreams’’ confronts those issues closest at heart to T&T, taking a deeper look into familial life within the middle-class, dreams of making it big, finding success abroad. The first floor of the gallery is overtaken by floor-length blue gingham curtains ― an iconic fabric used in Indian schoolchildren’s uniforms.
``Everything has been covered because it’s like the closed society,’’ Tagra told reporters at a walk-through. ``Most of the work is documenting people’s lives.’’
The exhibition largely focuses on the lives of the children who live in contemporary society, providing a dialogue between the past and future, home life and commercial prevalence. Under the concept of ``Punjabi Baroque,’’ a fiberglass table precariously perches on an expanding ball of air, while a chair rests askew on two legs and cheap lanterns painted white mimic the symbolic call of ``I Heart NY.’’ The first half of the exhibition describes the aims of the middle-class to reach something higher, simultaneously feeling triumph and despair to push their children to go abroad. Punjab itself, a region of India that borders Pakistan, is known for sending its youngest sons elsewhere, buying visas with money earned from selling family land.
Paintings of grand, floating houses on lush gardens a la Roger Dean suspend atop the curtains, serving as ``windows’’ into the families’ lives.
``The architectural values have changed,’’ Tagra said of the Western-style residences. ``The change is totally inspired by the outside world,’’ although often it is done ``without really knowing.’’
The second half of the exhibition starts audibly, rather than visually. A looped segment of the song ``Addiction’’ is played to a video of a child jumping on a giant trampoline ― located in the center of a mall. The scene is one seen throughout the Delhi suburbs, T&T explained, with one spot bursting with 27 malls in a 5-kilometer radius.
The song itself stirs an automatic, emotional response, being the representative track of drug-film glory ``Requiem For a Dream’’ by Darren Aronofsky, which sees the lives of its characters degraded by substance abuse.
``It’s pretty addictive in its own sense, because the entire thing is looped,’’ Tagra said of the need for commercial outlets. ``The imagery is looped, the idea is looped, it happens on an everyday basis.’’
Ironically, T&T themselves partake in the capitalist trade, having collaborated with such names as Pepsi. However, it is their approach that makes all the differences and the two emphasize their inclusion in the scene, never forgoing their roots. At one point, Tagra mentioned that they themselves live in one of the houses depicted in the paintings (T&T live together with their wives). The same paintings often reveal self-portraits, with miniature, cartoon-styled characters of T&T finding their way into the work.
``We are the middle class,’’ Tagra said with a laugh when asked about their approach. ``When we started doing expressions in terms of art, we also come from a design background where it is kind of a description, or problem solving exercise... These things come very naturally to us.’’
``We are a part of society,’’ he added. ``And because a work takes 20 days or a month to finish, by the time you’re done you’re so much living in the work.’’
The exhibition is on display through Nov. 21. For more information, visit www.arariogallery.com or call (02) 723-6191.