The Indian writer Mulk Raj Anand believed that "art is the most important weapon of creative humanism-the only 'ism' left in which we might believe." This is perhaps why a show like Shova Adhikari-Wagley's comes as a saving grace in a country like ours
"Realities" is Wagley's fourth solo exhibition and displays 37 paintings in mixed media. Most of the paintings in the show are linked by theme-portraiture that shows distorted and elongated faces in the manner of expressionists. Wagley paints ears like karkaloko pat, a mouth like that of a large lazily burping fish, and eyes like the mascaraed eyes of a Kathak dancer that seem to wan to capture the whole world in one look. Ears, eyes, brain, mouth, all relate to the senses. And as it is Wagley's conviction they are underused, she paints them distorted to show their full potential.
These works are largely successful, mainly because they refuse to be literal representations. If they have a fault, it is in the use of colour: Wagley's hues look as if they were applied by a novice artist, and this enervates the conceptual strength of the paintings. And it is paradoxical that a show which foregrounds the senses is stronger on concept than on the pure experience of viewing.
There are also other paintings in the show that privilege perception through the senses. These work through highly textured surfaces like sawdust on plywood, canvas or paper. These tactile paintings are of temples standing solidly or undulating, like paddy against the breeze, all in a multicoloured blaze. In these, blocks of flat colour and the way space is organised eliminate the illusion of distance and the viewer's eye is gently directed to see what Wagley believes is the gist of the painting. Concept and execution mesh well here, asking that we explore new, more sensory ways of knowing and understanding the world. A good show.