MetCollects from The Metropolitan Museum of Art - episode 07 / 2018

Every month, MetCollects introduces one work of art recently acquired by the Met.
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Kneeling Bearded Figure

Ranjani Shettar is an Indian sculptor based in the Southern state of Karnataka, India. Her work Seven ponds and a few raindrops, now on view through September 16, 2018 in gallery 916 at The Met Fifth Avenue, recently joined The Met collection as a gift from the Tia Collection. Composed of sixteen individual components, the immersive installation was made over a period of nearly a year. Shettar, who was trained in sculpture at the Chitrakala Parishath, College of Fine Arts, Bengaluru, combines both natural and industrial materials in this work. She handcrafted each element of the piece herself; first welding and molding the stainless steel base, then staining the organic muslin with three different dyes, and finally binding the cloth to the steel armature with tamarind paste.

This distinctive technique of fastening the muslin to the stainless steel is one Shettar derived from a local crafts tradition employed by doll makers that she observed in the small town of Kinhal, in the Southwestern state of Karnataka. While traditional doll makers use rawhide and leather as a base, Shettar's adapted technique of employing woven fabric instead speaks to her personal code of ethics. In her MetCollects interview, she says "As an artist, when you make something, the material becomes a metaphor, too."

The title, Seven ponds and a few raindrops, compels audiences to apprehend the sculpture's abstract elements as a literal landscape of seven ponds, but they could also perceive the forms more figuratively, to be, perhaps, shape-shifting cellular organisms that lie beneath the surface of water, or even the constituent biology of natural forms. What has become somewhat of a signature gesture, the components of the installation are suspended in midair, seemingly defying gravity, and are dramatically lit, casting a series of spell binding shadows. These elements together contribute to the sense of having stumbled upon a frozen moment of pure sublimity.

Shettar has always maintained that the natural environment of rural India has been an abiding source of inspiration for her work. That environment is now under assault by multinational corporations that are involved in land grabbing, mining, and rapacious deforestation. Such threatening circumstances can inform another understanding of Shettar's work, in which we are asked to bear witness to the beauty and fragility of nature and to see it as something worth preserving.

The abstract sculptural tracings of this work place Shettar in context with other Indian Modernist artists such as Nasreen Mohamedi and Zarina Hashmi, both of whom are now represented by works in The Met collection.

Shanay Jhaveri
Assistant Curator of South Asian Art
Department of Modern and Contemporary Art



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