By Monica Arora
As soon as I realized that I was to review the very intriguing installations at the show entitled ‘The Art of Chess’ at the Apparao Gallery in New Delhi’s Lodhi Hotel, my mind instantly conjured up a celluloid image of two erstwhile Nawabs deeply engrossed in a game of chess. The maestro Satyajit Ray in his 1977 movie ‘Shatranj ke Khiladi’ or ‘The Chess Players’ captures India at the threshold of the 1857 mutiny. The two protagonists are such avid chess players that they fail to notice how the British capture Awadh step by step and gradually approach its capital Lucknow where a weak and hedonist Wajid Ali Shah, the last nawab of Lucknow just lets his territory slip away whilst he is busy amidst his world of poetry, courtesans and gastronomy. The nawabs are depicted effortlessly by Sanjeev Kumar playing Mirza Sajjad Ali and Saeed Jaffrey as Mir Roshan Ali. Interestingly, even when they are with their wives or at other social gatherings, the two chess-obsessed nawabs are completely controlled by the moves and intricacies of this engaging game of chess and fail to notice the crumbling city surrounding them.
In fact, the game of chess is modeled as a twin player strategy board game with pawns, bishops, knights, horses, camels, king and queen, et al, and the aim is to surrender the opponent’s monarch into a checkmate. Renowned worldwide as a mind game with deft moves and clever tricks deployed by each player against the other, the game is akin to modern politics marked by intrigue, power games, defeats and resurrections. Or it can be compared to any strategic or tactic based scenario which could range from a battlefield to a corporate acquisition and has many parallels with the contemporary world. Moreover, it is a test of one’s mental acumen and agility and is played with much gusto and enthusiasm by people of all age groups and hailing from myriad walks of life.
Keeping in sync with this spirit of the game, the Apparao Galleries has undertaken this unique initiative to get together some 25 artists and create signature chess pieces for this show ‘The Art of Chess’, a show which opened on 23 January 2015 and will run till 30 March 2015. This is a limited editions collection by contemporary artists and will travel throughout India during the year 2015. And the pieces are such brilliant strokes of genius in their own right with unique colours, various medium and some very original interpretations.
Rahul Kumar deftly juxtaposes different medium such as terracotta representing rural and porcelain representing elite, or, the organic and the processed, or, the rich and the less-privileged in his quest to decipher if chess is a battlefield or a game on board.
Sudhir Pandey’s awe-inspiring installation Dropad in mixed media on plexi-glass derives itself from Draupadi’s tale of disrobing in the epic Mahabharata where the only Kauravas who stood against the misdeed were Vikarna and Vidura. Vikarna appeals to the assembly to answer the questions raised by Draupadi, but in vain. Vidura openly calls Duryodhana a snake and a demon, but after finding no support, even from his own brother, Vidura is helpless. Draupadi herself verbally eviscerates the entire court, threatening that once Drupada heard of his daughter’s insult, he would tear Hastinapur to the ground. Just as she is about to curse The Kuru dynasty, she is interrupted by the queen mother Gandhari. The artist feels that art without cultural or historical roots cannot be freed from the subjective the act of wrapping. The metamorphosis of wrapping and day to day ritual of reciting a mantra in contemporary context even as life is trapped by emotions of blind love, faith and trust is the conflict of his piece – the wrapping up of reality amidst outer layers.
Dimpy Menon sees chess ‘both as a game of mathematical possibilities and a treasure trove of visual interpretations. My chess set explores the sensuousness of the rounded pieces; I have used the human form as I do in my work, paring it down further to accentuate its tactility. The heaviness of the metal gives every move gravitas, and the glow of the bronze richness. Thus, while the mind enjoys the game’s intricacies, the body enjoys the feel, the eyes take in the beauty.’ Her stunning installation ‘To Have and to Hold’ in bronze is truly a work of beauty and aesthetics.
Rajkumar Panwar, Chess of Democracy, 2015, Ceramics, 48 x 48 x 15”
Rajkumar Panwar’s ceramic and bronze ‘Chess of Democracy’ is a stunning work in visual appeal and sculptural beauty. Using only natural elements of Mother Earth, the artist depicts each piece staring heavenwards as if seeking some divine intervention for his existential angst.
Hailing from the city of nawabs, Lucknow, and drawing inspiration from the movie ‘Shatranj ke Khilade’ the duo of Mainaz Bano and Chandan Agraval have created ‘Golden Heritage 56’ representative of the life and times of the last nawab of Lucknow, Wajid Ali Shah. Prasanna Kumar’s exceptional chess piece ‘Battlefield 2’ deals with the question of whether the ‘pen is mightier than the sword’ or whether all lines are drawn in the battle field?
I was particularly intrigued by Kumari Nahappan’s bronze piece ‘Moves on Spices’ featuring beautifully sculpted spices in resplendent hues ranging from habanero, Naga chilli, bishop cap, jalapenos, bell pepper and cherry chillies. According to Kumari, ‘the power of these varies in strength and these have been identified as metaphors for this game of life where the queen is all powerful and is presented in the form of Shakti.’ This kind of inspiration completely is perhaps a perfect example of interpreting life through an artist’s vision.
Anju Maurya confesses to not understanding the game of chess and her neat mixed media installation is very aptly titled ‘Let’s Play’ wherein she keeps the intrigues and complexes of the game in mind.
Similarly, another non-playing artist Shitanshu Maurya found this to be a game of extreme mental acumen and leisure, associated with royalty and hence, he aptly gives his work the title of ‘The Royal Game’.
I walked out completely rejuvenated at the fresh ideas and interpretations of this group of artists and their take on the game of chess, historical and yet so relevant. It almost seems that these artists were reliving what the Inimitable poet-philosopher Rumi said, “Don’t be satisfied with stories, how things have gone with others. Unfold your own myth.” And what stories unfold with each piece…