Meaning rarely makes itself apparent with any degree of clarity. More often it takes on frustratingly insidious forms that are incongruous and, at times, downright inappropriate. Different artists explore different mediums to convey their truths. The Grotesque is a vehicle par excellence as it shocks the viewer into attentiveness and necessitates an attempt at understanding, arriving at veracity through distortion. Etymologically speaking, ‘grotesque’ comes from the Italian ‘grottesco’, hinting at the hidden as it literally translates to ‘of a cave’. Through her Grotesque Series, Manmeet Devgun explores the dark hiding places of the self, reflected on the face, sending echoes down the caves we rarely explore within ourselves.
Faces stare back – stark, fluid, caught in motion. Could meaning possibly emerge from such grotesque images, meaning that can inspire? For they are cruel, they are ugly, they shock. They stop you in your tracks and hold you by the hair. They force you to look at an everyday face, one you might pass on your way to the grocer’s, and not take much note of, a face that could be you. Or me. Or her. Even him. A face looking out from a realm of pain and doubt, asking questions you have always felt tugging at the edges of your consciousness. Questions like who you are really – not your job, not your parents, not your spouse, not your child, not the walls around you, but you, yourself. They are reminders of the person you need to take a good look at before you can even begin to push away the cobwebs, or, as the artist wrote, push aside the “residues of the other night when the screams jumped the balcony”.
Faces stare back, fluid, obviously superimposed and sometimes reminiscent of Francis Bacon’s works. They are unavoidably feminine, exploring the strengths and weaknesses simmering within. They give away Devgun’s fondness for Cindy Sherman. They are silent screams into a night of tortures inflicted silently – by the self or another – inflicted in passing, unthinkingly, insidiously. The familiar topography of the subject’s brows, cheeks, lips, nose, and let’s not forget the eyes, is disrupted by motion and reconfigured via Photoshop. The features slide along mysterious trajectories. They clash and fall back to form contours of unsightly wounds. Wounds that are open, wounds that are stitched up. Wounds reminiscent of the vagina in impossible locations. On the face, disfiguring it into visual echoes of the searing pain felt within. They spill out the insecurities and fears hidden within. They act as metaphors for the marks left behind by those endless compromises made everyday to build and retain your identity.
The Grotesque Series is not unrelated to another of Devgun’s series of around the same time, Self Portrait, in which she constantly looks at herself and questions the unease with which one lives continually. Many of us feel it too, but we keep it ourselves. Devgun, however, tries to dig and find what causes it and to whom – who is the ‘I’ that plays all these roles, everyday, all the time? She asks, “If one is not hurt physically, how do you heal yourself? How do you cancel the wounds which no one can see?” Her photographs are moments caught by the camera from performances. Blurred, in motion, they are performances in stasis, captured from the bigger drama called life, allowing you a peek into her past and an outlet for your soul.
Kurchi Dasgupta is an Indian artist and writer based in Kathmandu. Her works have been showcased and published widely.
Manmeet Devgun is a multimedia artist who explores and questions prevalent notions about women's vulnerability, identity and gender roles through her work.
Perennial discontent is the determinant characteristic of human nature. Our aversion to satisfaction is what keeps us eternally curious, always searching for something more meaningful around the next corner. We peck through the unraveling entrails of our past for prophecies of the future, chase recurring motifs to root out their significance, and search for signs in the banal backdrop of everyday life.Read More
By Kurchi Dasgupta, Issue 25, Meaning: In Search of Significance.