Lost Worlds

Even as a budding artist studying printmaking and painting at Delhi's College of Art, Shaurya Kumar's artistic concerns were not limited to the aesthetics. He had other areas of interests which developed in him a sense to see art from a larger point of view — connecting it with history, media and archiving. One could wonder what kind of tangible art form that would make, given its almost academic approach, and Kumar's works are unusual indeed. The exhibition of his works, on view at the Bhau Daji Lad Museum, Mumbai, till February 15, is a series of distorted digital prints of near erased evidences of historic artwork of the world.

The subject as the title, "The Lost Museum: The Fate of World's Greatest Lost Treasures", suggests is the lost art of the world — cultural and historical artefacts that were destroyed in various wars or conflicts throughout history. At the core is the eventual two-fold loss — the destruction of original artwork followed by the damage suffered by their photographs stored in digital archives. Here, the artist draws the big picture in connection to human history.

"We understand our history through art — whether it is literature, visual art, cultural artefacts or music. An artwork thus embodies a past, a history in itself. Any distortion and disruption of art thus affects our understanding of history and hence, our present and future," says Kumar, who graduated in MFA from University of Tennessee, Knoxville in 2007. He is currently an assistant professor with the Department of Printmedia at School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

The images include the Buddha sculptures in Bamiyan, Parthenon in Greece; murals of Nalanda; Hindu and Jain temples in Lal Kot which were destroyed to construct the Qutub Minar; destruction of works worth over $100 million at the World Trade Center; over 15,000 works that were looted and many destroyed from Baghdad Museum in April 2003 and destruction of cathedrals, frescos and sculptures during Nazi regime. Viewers are told that the images have been sourced from a certain Council for Documentation of Lost Art and Cultural Heritage (CDLACH). However, no such organisation exists in reality. It's Kumar's satir-ical commentary on the fragility of contemporary digital practices.

"By creating fictional entities and organisations like the CDLACH — whose mission is to recover, preserve and electronically restore treasures of lost art — I have often employed rhetorical and paradoxical ways to critique the role of historians, curators, collectors and museums in shaping history, culture, and contemporary practices in which we perceive and experience our own heritage," says Kumar.

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