In his second solo at Akar Prakar Contemporary, Debasish Mukherjee meditates upon a history of personal memories that are woven together in fabric, his primary medium for the exhibition. Titled ‘River Song’, the show puts together abstract and figurative forms created out of fabric, along with the use of allied materials such as embroidery, beads and thread. Like a river, Debasish’s new work personifies the diverse qualities of a water body, in the form of stillness, gentle motion or cascading rush. Debasish Mukherjee at his studio in Delhi The river has been a crucial part of his life because of the cities where he grew up—Chhapra, Banaras and now Delhi, his permanent home; each has an abiding connection with the river, other than being known for their rich histories. While Delhi and Banaras are dotted with historical monuments, religious sites and riverside vistas, Chhapra was once a depot town, where European colonisers setup their trading stations. Debasish was born in Chhapra, where his father was posted with the Indian Railways. Living in the railway colony, which was situated away from the main city, Debasish grew up in a house that overlooked a large water body and an agricultural field, which appeared like “a picture postcard” through his bedroom window. Although Banaras was his maternal grandmother’s home, he moved to the ancient city at the age of 17 to study visual arts at Banaras Hindu University. Recalling his student days in Banaras during a conversation with critic Ranjit Hoskote, Debasish says: “Every day I would travel 12 km to Dashashwamedh Ghat and sketch. That was one thing I did every day, for four years. If you sit on the ghat steps and draw the architecture of Banaras—it teaches you about perspective, which is very difficult to learn in a classroom.” It is this sense of space, perspective and history that has shaped his new exhibition, which can be read as an extension of his first solo, ‘The Museum Within’, which raised questions of preserving Indian heritage. One of the most evocative works in the ‘River Song’ is a piece of intricate thread work, hanging from the ceiling. It is made to spread into the gallery space, like a river. In the middle of it, a meandering band of deep red invokes many imageries, such as fertility or a suggestion of foreboding. For Debasish, the omnipresent red evokes the sight of vermillion on his mother’s forehead. Portrait 1, Digital print on fabric, wood and metal, 2019 Nostalgic autobiographical references such as these have informed the making of his new work, which also demonstrates experiments with diverse forms of art. These include sculptural forms, installations, wall-based mounted works, and archival portraits created over a pile of fabric. The tactile quality of his work stands out for its textural roughness, much like the ebb and flow of life. An act of self-cleansing seems to be taking place through these exhibits, which is enhanced by minimalist use of colour, while amplifying the bare whiteness of cloth. “I prefer to use less colours in my work. My strength is a minimalistic approach towards the subject,” said the artist, who began working in the field of textiles about 25 years ago. Although Debasish has worked with mediums as varied as canvas, wood, plaster and clay, textile is the focus of his second solo at Akar Prakar Contemporary. In the process of working with textile experts and weavers from states like Rajasthan, Gujarat, UP and Odisha, Debasish developed his own vocabulary that is an outcome of his cross-cultural learnings and personal experiences. “The various textured surfaces inspired me to weave my own stories parallel to theirs, they allowed me to get inside their fine veins filled with scripts, unread,” said the artist, who is also a photographer and poet. Debasish Mukherjee’s interview with Ranjit Hoskote. For complete version, visit our Youtube Channel. Featured image: River Song, Threads, Variable, 2019 Writing by Ankush Arora, host blogger, Akar Prakar Contemporary.