Jagadish Chinthala is a beneficiary of that revolution in art, which, beginning in the late 1950s and triumphing generally by the early 1980s, has overthrown the traditional academic differentiation between painting and sculpture, and made possible the emergence of a variety of hybrid practices. OVer the last decade, Jagadish has addressed himself patiently to the development of one such hybrid practice. Liberated from having to choose between surface and volume as the preferred focus of his work, the artist casts papier-mache and Acrylic on Aluminium sculptures, either as columnar figures or as masks. These sculptures are then painted usually in the high-keyed palette that is identified as Jagadish’s hallmark.
Born in 1956 in Hyderabad, Southern India, Jagadish took a diploma in painting(1978) from the Fine Arts and Architecture College of the Jawaharlal Nehru Technical University in his home city Hyderabad. He then studied mural design at Maharaja Sayajirao University, Baroda, graduating in 1980. Seven years later, the artist travelled to the UK on a grant that enabled him to study Henry Moore’s sculpture: it was there that he underwent what he regards as a peak experience, when he stepped into the gallery of African masks permanently on display at the British Museum, London. The African mask-maker’s art had an electric effect on jag dish, triggering off a process of discovery across mask traditions, which was to transform the graph of his development as an artist.
The Artist now divides his time among homes in Michigan, Florida, and India. He visits the UK as often as he can, stopping over on his voyages across the Atlantic. A transcontinental figure, he finds that he must tap into the life of various societies, fit into various communities, decode various cultures. Globalisation pervasive as it is, cannot homogenise every feature of cultural specificity, and even though the same consumer goods may not be available in Miami and Mumbai, the same attitudes do not necessarily obtain in the two locations. The processes of globalisation unite people within one flow of goods and services, only to separate them by differences of value and power.
This continual slipping from one identity to another finds articulation in the mask on a mask effect that Jagadish often summons up, it is a though one dissimulation were slipping off, to reveal yet another or perhaps as though one version of the reality were being peeled away to reveal another. Such masks demonstrate the simultaneous operation of two processes, that of understanding the other, and that of self-making. Jagadish’s masks testify to a private inquiry as well as a social orientation. Also, less noticeable than the celebration, but no less active for that, is an element of social critique. Jagadish seems to ask: What is it like to live in a global society in which one operates from behind a sequence of masks, as from behind the visor of an armour-suit, and can never reveal one’s true face? And then, can there ever be a true face in the masquerade?
But these questions are not shouted out with passionate intensity: rather, they are attended by a gentle smile. For these masks are the records of a traveller at large in world society, products of relaxed art that is of an for the present. Jagadish’s art communicates his relaxed curiosity about other people, their lives, their interests, how they make and display themselves, construct their identities, announce themselves to the world. This attitude leads him neither to romanticise the social, cultural or sexual Other, nor to deal in an updated anthropology of the global contemporary phrased in stereotypes. Rather, it enables him to engage in an art of portraiture that is sympathetic even in its critical moments: Jagadish’s images embody, above all, that need to connect which provokes the artist to form a relationship of dialogue and discovery with his world, without being paralysed by anxieties about a water-tight, travel-proof ethnic or national identity.
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