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Interpreting Metaphors in Art: Part I – N. S. Harsha

Metaphors work as an unambiguous shift. The pictorial metaphor works around the concept of individual perception. Let us explore the interpretation of metaphors in art further in this blog, featuring N. S. Harsha.

N. S. Harsha: Decoded

Based in Mysore, N. S. Harsha’s works explore representation and detachment, repetition, absurdity in the actual world, and everyday experiences. His technique has been influenced by Indian miniature painting.

N. S. Harsha (image source: Artes Mundi Prize 3)

The paintings of N. S. Harsha reflect the artist’s witty and poetic political and social answers to a range of topics about cultural heritage, and global economics. The artist’s own trip experiences, photos, and media images are braided together to create figurative and narrative paintings. 

He received the Artes Mundi Prize, and in 2012, he was granted the esteemed DAAD Scholarship. International locations have hosted recent solo exhibitions and initiatives, such as Hong Kong, and London, in 2008.

Artistry of N. S. Harsha: Interpreted

N. S. Harsha, Agrarian Climb, 2018  (Image source:  Vadehra Art Gallery)

Similar to a chronicler, Harsha portrays on his canvases small-town Indian life in these increasingly globalised times by frequently borrowing from popular stories and local perspectives on international news events. His finely drawn canvases contrast pictures of little Indian towns and villages that appear unrelated to more obviously multinational ones.

Mass Feeding and Apron Hues, 2020 (image source:  Vadehra Art Gallery)

Incorporating exquisite banners into his paintings, N. S. Harsha deftly manipulates words and text. It’s clear from the form and treatment of his flattened figures, skewed perspectives, and thin lines that he draws heavily from children’s textbook drawings and the forms seen in handcrafted folk toys. He also draws inspiration from popular street and poster art.

Emission Test, 2021, N. S. Harsha

N. S. Harsha, Emission Test, 2021 (image source:  Vadehra Art Gallery)

In the Emission Test, healthcare professionals are arranged in rows, taking tests to identify COVID-19, with stamp-like blue and white splotches. Their faces hidden under the bright blue safety gear, their attitudes mysterious, they carry out this vital work for victims in varying levels of willingness, sitting in red plastic chairs. A child in yellow, a few rows above, is having his throat swabbed while holding a red chocolate box fashioned like a heart and a bouquet of Valentine’s Day flowers. 

Since he was a young boy, Harsha has been going to the same market in Mysore, and he has seen firsthand how the emergence of supermarkets in the city has led to significant shifts in cultural customs and eating habits. These days, the artist walks the aisles of grocery stores, taking in the vibrantly coloured packaging that is on show. Harsha views these areas as inspiration sources; he adopts the role of an objective spectator, but he is a distinct kind of consumer.  

Reclaiming the Inner Space, 2018, N. S. Harsha

N. S. Harsha, Reclaiming the Inner Space, 2018 (image source: Victoria Miro)

N.S. Harsha is a very perceptive artist who focuses on the little details that add up to greater events. This is evident in his intricate paintings, sculptures, site-specific installations, and publicly engaged projects. Harsha grasps from a variety of genres, such as popular art, comic books, children’s textbook drawings, and Indian painting 

Harsha’s focus on regionally localised events offers an opportunity to investigate globalisation and cultural change. The world is constantly present in a local context in Harsha’s artworks. 

Harsha imagines the elephants blasted through this cosmic aperture and emerged into a sort of liberation. Elephants were brought in to carry the load, and they consistently lifted objects for people. The larger cultural significance of elephants in Indian culture is alluded to by the carved wooden elephants. The elephants are portrayed as the natural world bearing the environmental changes brought by humans.

A layer of unfolded cardboard packing, an acrylic mirror, and a succession of hand-carved wooden elephants make up the wall-mounted installation Reclaiming the Inner Space, 2018. The packaging’s printed designs are inverted and only visible when seen against the mirror’s reflective surface. Gathered from various sources such as acquaintances, relatives, and recycling centres, the unlabeled side of the container facing the observer is adorned with a symbolic depiction of the universe and its collection of planets, stars, and gas.

To sum it up

Although N. S. Harsha’s art occasionally serves as societal commentary, its fundamental purpose is to portray the enduring uniqueness of human nature in a lighthearted and striking manner. His themes include our evolving relationship with nature, mass production and fast modernisation. 

To learn more about traditional and contemporary art, download the Rooftop app from the App Store or Google Play to stay updated on our upcoming art events and workshops. Stay tuned to rooftop blogs and follow us on @rooftop_app.

By Soumya Kotian

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