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Posted at: Dec 2, 2018, 1:55 AM; last updated: Dec 2, 2018, 1:55 AM (IST)

Curating a happy dream

In his latest exhibition, Ranbir Kaleka deviates from the darkness and turmoil associated with his works

Arushi Chaudhary

A sprawling banquet inside a palatial palace done up in hues of gold and adorned with massive chandeliers, birds fluttering all around, an elephant, a zebra and a gazelle drinking from a pool of water with swans floating about, a stallion galloping on the sidelines and a cheetah studying its reflection in a mirror...Sounds like a distorted dream? Far from it. These are the visually stimulating elements of New Delhi-based contemporary artist Ranbir Kaleka’s recent work, Palace of Wilderness, part of his latest exhibition, A Summer Night’s Dream.

The exhibition has been curated exclusively to support an NGO, which works toward improving the quality of life for children, women and vulnerable families. “I have been associated with Khushii for a long time now and admire the great work these volunteers are doing in supporting children, women and entire villages in some instances. They approached me for an exclusive show for them, and that’s how A Summer Night’s Dream came about,” says Kaleka, in a heavy British accent that in no way gives away his Punjabi roots.

Speaking of the concept and the theme of this exhibition, Kaleka, who spent his formative years in Patiala, says, “My works usually revolve around darkness and turmoil stemming from emotional and social issues. However, for this one, I decided to break away from these themes and work with imagery of animals, flowers, people, foliage and water, placing them in the setting of some sort of architecture to able to weave them into a story left to be interpreted.”

“In that sense, these works do obliquely touch upon surrealism but are closer to magic realism. The work, Freedom of Flight, for instance, shows remains of a meal, animals approaching, a boat with a cloth half immersed in water, depicting a sense of foreboding. That work is somewhere in the space between possible and surreal. The same can be said of every other work from A Summer Night’s Dream,” he adds.

Every piece in this collection is a digital collage brought to life using light boxes, and, in some cases, blended with the use of canvas. “I work with digital pens and brushes to digitally sculpt and tweak images to make them fit the larger context of the piece and play with light and colour to create that desired effect of highlighting certain areas while pushing the others into the background. For some of these works, I have first created a piece digitally, transferred it on to a canvas and then touched it up with oil paint. Fusing digital collages and canvas painting is an elaborate and intricate process that requires work on hundreds of layers for the final structure to take form.”

So, what drives Ranbir to keep revisiting a blank canvas and bring it to life with stirring, stunning imagery? “For me, the beauty of any work lies in the little details that become clear only if you look long enough. The full meaning of a work has to remain slightly elusive to me. It has to mystify me for me to continue working on it. If the full picture becomes clear in my mind before a piece is completed, I abandon it. One has to feel the emotions one is trying to portray,” he explains.

A Summer Night’s Dream garnered enormous response both in Delhi and Mumbai, helping raise money for a good cause. A plan of taking the exhibition to London next is in the works.

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