Three Searing Works Worth Seeing At Mansoor Ali’s Powerful Debut Solo Show
How do you move a six level-high stack of miniature wood chairs, each tucked into each other without the help of nails or any adhesive from a studio in Delhi to a gallery in Mumbai without it falling apart? Very carefully, if you’re Mansoor Ali whose rickety composition glued with nothing more than thick cobwebs is part of his compact debut solo show Anatomy of an Unknown Chair at Gallery Maskara. “At first I wanted termites to eat them and see what would happen but they didn’t come,” says Ali. The type of wood (pine) he had used he soon discovered wasn’t all that enticing to the insects. Instead, colonies of spiders soon claimed the structure for their own, spinning springy webs in between legs and seats and in crevices deep inside. “I told the carpenter, don’t move the work until I tell you,” says Ali, which it turned out was two years later. There are just five works in Ali’s show, each delivering a punch of a message about the politics of power play, something he first did very effectively in 2008 when his pyramid of “sarkari” chairs titled “Dance of Democracy” was acquired by Charles Saatchi. Here are three works to ponder from his latest exhibition:
Beautifully Corrupt II
In the first “Beautifully Corrupt”, Ali managed to get a colony of termites to gnaw up a chair. Here it’s spiders who do the dirty work instead, decorating this monument to political apathy in the ultimate symbols of an aging democracy: dust and cobwebs. The insertion of a single red chair is the artist’s age-old call to attention and by extension action – that it lies buried at the bottom, almost impossible to remove without causing this stack to tumble is it seems the point. In this fresh start heralded by a new government, some symbols are worth dismantling.
Monument to an Unknown Politician
Let’s call this an ode to anyone who’s ever had to file paperwork in a government office and been shunted from one department to another in a frustratingly byzantine system. This looping of chairs works in both directions – you can move up to the highest seat of power (where if you’re lucky someone will finally give you the document/stamp/form you seek) and just as easily be kicked back down to start again in an endless ring of bureaucratic hell.
Weight of the Political Brain
There’s a double layer of meaning in this searingly droll comment on our leadership – on the simplest level Ali implies that the entire Parliament has the brains of just a single person (1.37 kgs is what the average brain weighs). And on another that the entire system is cradled in the lap of just one ultimate seat to which its beholden – the Prime Minister.