Known for his engagement with toys, cartoons and caricatures, Anant Joshi’s collateral exhibition at the Kochi-Muziris Biennale is a playful and satirical take on the world narrated through a fictional character called ‘batata’.

True to its English equivalent, which is a potato, the ‘batata’ in Anant’s exhibition is an organic-looking, cartoonish form that has a unique appearance in each of the frames and canvases mounted as part of the show.       

Titled ‘Batata Eyes and Other Peel Spiels: A Little Further Down the Alley’, the exhibition at Fort Kochi is a reflection of the artist’s preoccupation with popular culture and politics, which are at the centre of his visual critique. 

Focusing on present-day scenarios of governance, politics, science, news reporting, law and order, the show places the character of ‘batata’ in a series of complex social, political situations that resonate with the viewer. The narrative form of the exhibition is achieved through detailed and often sarcastic captions supporting each of the artworks.  

Here’s a sample: “Actor-politician batata with long-drawn out ears, portrayed self, as listening to each and every, sympathetically during election times. Prolific ‘shapeshifter’, has his success as fox-politician to his ability to don crowds, sweetly seducing and secretly stealing hearts of the masses.”

For the Vadodara-based artist, who studied painting at Mumbai’s Sir. J. J. School of Art, the form of ‘batata’ surrenders to the viewer’s eye, a suggestion that the artworks are open to individual readings.

Referring to the ambiguous-looking ‘batata’ form in his exhibition, Anant, 50, says, “It has been read as a letter form as well as something that obstructs the view, something that conceals what is beneath, perhaps. And in the latter sense, it leaves a hint as to what is beyond the image or the spiel, beneath what meets the eye.”      

The exhibition’s 50 works on display use different materials and mediums such as acrylic on canvas, while others are gauche and dry pastels on paper. A tour across the gallery reveals the artist’s imaginative exploration of the ‘batata’ form, often resembling the amoeba. These blackish, organic forms appear more prominent with the use of different patterns created on/around them, which are further emphasized by a diverse palette of background colours.   

Before he began his training to be an artist, Anant lived in a middle-class, Maharashtrian household in Nagpur. During the 90s, he moved to a completely different social context, the cosmopolitan Mumbai, where he studied art. Before he travelled to Amsterdam in 2002, he lived in Dharavi, one of Asia’s largest slums, whose congested space dynamics is believed to have informed his early experimentation with toys and kitsch elements.    

During the two-year residency at Amsterdam’s Rijksakademie, the artist worked with different forms of art, including ceramics, toys and collages culled from newspapers.       

Winner of several awards such as Prix de Rome and Bendre Husain scholarship, Anant was among the participating artists during the first edition of Kochi Biennale in 2012. His work has also been featured at Mumbai’s Chemould Prescott Road, Kashi Art Gallery, Kochi, and a major exhibition in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.

Pictures showing Anant Joshi’s Biennale collateral, ‘Batata Eyes and Other Peel Spiels: A Little Further Down the Alley’, on display in Fort Kochi; courtesy – KBF

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