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Between Land and Sky - Grosvenor Gallery

Exhibition preview

GROSVENOR Vadehra is presenting Between Land and Sky, the first international solo show of Sunoj D, at the Grosvenor Gallery – from July 14 to August 14, 2009.

Cities are growing; their borders are overtaking the farmlands that surround them. In Between Land and Sky tracks of lush green land are placed in trolleys to be carted away. In the background bulldozers are digging the ground in preparation for highrise buildings, like the one standing proud in the left hand corner of the canvas.

This painting sets the tone – Sunoj’s paintings are situated in the battlefields where differences between urban and rural land use confront each other.

Land is an economic and emotional matter. The problems stem from the inherent difference in the way land is viewed and utilized in rural and urban zones. While for the former, land is productive and alive, for the latter it is a blank base on which to build houses, offices, shops, roads – concrete settlements.

Above Ground Level is a painting in which multi-coloured multi-shaped buildings are placed at the edge of land. The artist has cut away a piece of the metropolis, exposing a cross-section of the city and the land it is built on. On the roofs of the buildings are paddy fields. Sunoj seems to be pointing to an inevitable fact – if all the land is built over, then the roofs become the ground and thus the new harvest plots.

At the centre of this settlement is a concrete water tank. Civilizations have grown around water bodies, rivers and lakes, for these provided water for cultivation. Modern day water reservoirs are man-made and perched on stilts.

It would seem that there is a new urban agenda for the world. The Promise of the Metropolis creates the lure of the big shiny city, a lure that every rural dweller is encouraged to feel and thus, in Sunoj’s words, “lose his farmerness”.

A farmer is encouraged to trade in his fertile lands, open spaces, active and productive life, along with the debt, social hierarchy and inherited prejudices and move to urban dwellings – faceless housing in multiples of sameness, with no sign of humanity apart from the lights blazing through windows.

In the past Sunoj has used self-portraits to focus on the meaning and symbols of identity, situating himself firmly in the centre of his work. Sunoj ancestors were farmers in Kerala. And while we may allow for the possibility of this work being a search to connect with his ancestry, this project is an exercise in looking ahead, not back.

The processes of cultivation have grown into a tremendous industry but, at least in India, the individual farmer or small family holdings continue to be a large part of the sector. Will our generation witness the unraveling of a once-strong culture of family and community that is so common in the farmland of India? The project poses the question, if the future bodes ill for small holdings, then what will the thousands of displaced people do instead? If farming is what they know how to do, where will they farm in their concrete jungles?

Sunoj’s preoccupation in this exhibition is two-fold: firstly, the visible loss of farmland to urban development and with it an implicit loss of man’s relationship with harvest and cultivation. Yet the loss of a particular relationship with land may give rise to a new methodology, an urban language and in some ways a more intimate version of the man-land-cultivation triangulation. Acreage may be lost but the urge to grow and to be surrounded by greenery continues and finds new manifestations in the cityscape.

And in this urban landscape begins the second aspect of the exhibition, what kinds of relationships can we have with nature that is an uprooted but perhaps still workable agrarian model. And thus the man and nature association will get reconfigured in the new century.

Sunoj D comes from Kerala but lives and works in Bangalore.

Times: Monday to Friday from 9.30am to 5.30pm.

Grosvenor Gallery, 21 Ryder Street, London, SW1Y 6PX

Tel: 020 7484 7979