Ranbir Kaleka's Phantasmagoria

Kaleka is known for his erudition in language and his metaphorical moorings that brim the banks of imagination between the past and present.

Two days at Bikaner House became a stroll down fantasy land to look at the works of Ranbir Kaleka in the Capital city. As an artist, Kaleka is known for his erudition in language and his metaphorical moorings that brim the banks of imagination between the past and the present. Stories tumble out of his canvasses, you have to hunt for the wry wit, the message that is contained in one of the nooks or crannies of the paradisal frame replete with all kinds of exotica as you look at an intensely rich landscape.

Ranbir shares childhood memories: "My two uncles, mother, father and grandmother were great storytellers. The two uncles invented stories, one of them told brief short stories, rude and funny involving talking animals, he often enacted them at night, throwing his shadow with a lantern on the haveli wall (phantasmagoria). The other told one long unending story, night after never ended. These stories were of fairies and magicians."

For a moment to peer into his paintings is to be drawn into the prism of the past, like a flashback into yesteryear where a mosaic of memories unravel full of stories, history, with the wonder of narratives and phantasmagoria that continue to inspire and validate.

"My grandmother told stories from what little she knew of Mahabharata, Ramayana and the Sikh Janamsakhis where Guru Nanak flew on his rabab," states Kaleka. "My father told stories from the Panchatantra. My mother sang stories, of birds losing their nest in the storm etc. these made us sob under the blanket. Her village was full of prowling demons and ghosts which swung upside down from the ceiling and shapeshifters. The house mason whispered erotic tales to us children in the darkness when the house slept."

Two stunning works are Stretching Cheetah and Lion Forest Books Small. The latter consists of a monumental garden replete with birds, and butterflies and beetles and flowers as a still life, there unfolds an intricate, panorama, a visionary universe populated by numerous trees simultaneously having a modern looking bookshelf with a pack of lions in satiated comfort. Upon a rich verdant background with a pool and fountains, Kaleka weaves a mesmerizing optical dialogue, the foreground and background shift in and out of focus giving us historical, mythological, and poetic references.

"An old series of Woman Wrestling with a lion shows the woman always in thing in mind was the macho Punjabi man calling himself the sher hard Punjabi.

The Lion in the Forest is originally from a video I made: Forest is a space of possibilities, the Lion is the Guardian of Knowledge," explains Kaleka.

The second work that caught your gaze is Stretching Like a Cheetah. Inside a palatial hall, are flowers and birds of all plumes and colours, the mandolin on the carpet speaks of the silence of music while the absence of the human has suggestive intonations.

Kaleka recreates interiors picked out from a surging repository of imagery channeled through a precise, finely-calibrated method. While your gaze rests on the graceful bones of the cheetah, you know that the artist takes inspiration from the indulgent extravagance of Moghul India – its floral fabrics and marble inlay designs.

"Cheetahs hunt birds, here it creates a harmonious communion between bird and beast. The cheetah's curvaceous lines guide us in a circular gaze around the painting. The Palace Pool: As the cheetah's intense gaze holds the entire composition together, we see the tear marks running down its cheeks, Kaleka adds.

An apt epitaph for the predicament of the earth today with questions of conservation.

He also shares early year memories in Punjab. "The first five years of my life were spent in our ancestral village haveli. Hardly ever was I taken out. My brother and I were the only children in a large house. Most of the time each of us was alone, totally lost in small miraculous 'non-events': richest and most imaginatively fecund time of my life. We moved to the town for our schooling but my paintings consisted only of enclosures...proportions were dictated by the architecture of the haveli. Landscape trickled into my imagination after a very long lingering outside the heavy confines of my mind."

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