Kursi (Friends)

Kursi (Friends)
signed and dated 'R. BROOTA / 1978' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
50 x 69 3/4 in. (127 x 177.2 cm.)
Painted in 1978
Sotheby's London, 8 October 1996, lot 85
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Indische Kunst heute, exhibition catalogue, Darmstadt, 1982 (unpaginated, listed)
R. Karode, Visions of Interiority: Interrogating the Male Body, Rameshwar Broota: A Retrospective (1963-2013), exhibition catalogue, New Delhi, 2015, pp. 55, 227 (illustrated)

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Lot Essay

“Only some painters watch their steps as carefully as Broota. He has little of the humanity of the maudlin humanists, none of the gentleness of saints. His is a savage indignation, in which a crisp style is being forged. He makes use of alternation in scale and we observe the absolute power which his creatures can exercise over ordinary mortals. But in the end his monkeys are like us. He lampoons even himself often enough. Thus, in his viewpoints, vanity and casualty and the avarice of every day life are freshly perceived” (K. Malik ‘Rameshwar Broota’, Visions of Interiority: Interrogating the Male Body, New Delhi, 2015, pp. 34-35).

When Rameshwar Broota embarked on his Ape Series in the 1970s, it was a complete departure from his previous subjects – the nude and often emaciated bodies of the urban poor. These bodies were never objects of desire, they were meant to offer a jarring window into reality. In the Ape Series, Broota turned to simian-human figures to satirically highlight the animalistic attitudes and interactions of humans, particularly those of high social and political rank. In most of the paintings from this series, the artist’s figures are, as Roobina Karode describes them, “bulky, overgrown, indolent, and greedy-looking” (R. Karode, Visions of Interiority: Interrogating the Male Body, New Delhi, 2015, p. 41).

Like his previous figures, however, these anthropomorphic ones also represent the artist’s commentary on the social system and attitudes, depicting everything from isolation and corruption to confusion and consumerism. The ape-men in his paintings frequently occupy positions of privilege or power, and partake in activities ranging from lounging on furniture to having meetings with no regard for anyone or anything existing beyond their immediate environs. “Satirical in nature, [this series of works] showed up the moral vacuum, with baboons and their ilk occupying positions of responsibility, therefore literally monkeying around as guardians of mankind, as policemen, having discussions on the state of the nation [...] sitting on sofas” (K. Singh, ed., Manifestations 5: 20th Century Indian Art, New Delhi, 2011, p. 42).

In the present lot, with their individually patterned bodies, the four ape-like figures are at once similar and segregated. Rejecting traditional confines of space, the artist seats them on a bench that seems to float in a garden alive with greenery. His four ape-men are neither realistic nor imaginary; they are simple consumers of the environment in which they have been placed together as friends, a relationship Broota suggests in the title. While two of the figures seem to interact, the differences between them, which the artist highlights using patterning, seem to supersede any shared relationships. The other two figures, with their long limbs and featureless faces, seem to simply exist, underscoring the ennui and ineptness of those who can afford the luxury of leisure.

Eschewing sentimentality, Broota focuses on external concerns in paintings like the present lot, which voice his commentary on social and political realities of the times, expressing the many conflicts and dichotomies they encompass. These large-format paintings are mirrors in which the viewer can see their own reality. What is comedic at first glance becomes a vision of the fragility of masculinity in particular and humanity in general. The artist employs humor and satire as weapons to deal with inaction, despair and angst. Over time, this humor was replaced by a more philosophical approach as the artist turned to engage with larger, more universal issues.

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