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Interpreting An Ouvre

Annapurna Garimella

Edited by Ratnottama Sengupta
Mapin Publishing, Ahmedabad, 2006, pp. 120, Rs. 1500.00

VOLUME XXX NUMBER 10 October 2006

Alternate Lyricism is a confused mélange of essays written for Jehangir Jani’s different shows and some composed specifically for this publication. Contributors include Shivaji Panikkar, Ranjit Hoskote, Nancy Adjania, Mortimer Chatterjee, Girish Shahane, Anupa Mehta and Deeptha Achar. The essays have been gathered by Ratnottama Sengupta, whose own contribution is an interview with Jani.   Jehangir Jani is an interesting artist. His works traverse a range of materials, formats and issues. This book has works which date from 1991 when he had his first show to works from 2005. Throughout, Jani’s work has focused on discussions of alternate sexuality (particularly gay), religion (particularly Islamic and Hindu practices), figuration and the materiality of art. His work is rich, always offering the seduction of the work as the context for analysis and advocacy. The book amply provides the reader with a sense of the sumptuousness of Jani’s oeuvre; there are no blurred lines and dull images which induce glumness and disinterest in the reader though the design appears to be rushed and executed without much nuance or forethought. In terms of practical use, the editor has not taken care to include a list of Jani’s works with dates, sizes and location or a calendar of his exhibitions and projects. When writers discuss specific works in their essays, often those images are not provided. Instead, reproductions of the art function as punctuation between essays rather than as forms which engage writers in a dialogue. In effect, this disjunction between image and text contributes to the monologic tone of much of the essays.   The lackadaisical quality of design continues in the book’s essays. To start with, editing this book seems to mean gathering various essays and conducting an interview. There is no introductory essay in which Sengupta takes on the task of writing a history for Jani’s art nor does she gather and thematize the various perspectives in the book so that the reader has some sense of how the Indian art world positions and interprets Jani’s art. The individual writers too seem more interested in presenting their interpretative skills rather than doing the hard work of historicizing and critiquing art. Sentences such “Jehangir Jani’s protagonists inhabit a Foucaltian (sic) world, where desire and power face off without any apparent mediatory possibilities”1 and “not only does it (Jani’s work) oblige us to face the discomfiting reality of ...

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