Hostile Witness: Baaraan Ijlal’s work narrates a tale of creatures displaced from their moorings

Artists Baaraan Ijlal’s compelling artwork which remains etched in the memory once one has stopped to admire it was recently on display in an exhibition titled “Hostile Witness” at Bikaner House, Delhi. Richly colored visual narratives record the pleas and silence that need to be documented and fragile structures tell tales of their inhabitants that might soon be lost.

Baaraan infused life into crumbling structures and wild creatures slipping into oblivion — her ancestral home in Bhopal to Parsi Colony in Mumbai and Alexandra Court in Calcutta and others through her fantastical narratives in rich colors — adding occupants and telling stories of lived spaces. The show was actually the culmination of nearly a decade’s work where Ijlal walked around recording sounds, photographing and painting fragile portions of a few cities including Bhopal (her ancestral home), Calcutta, Bombay, Lucknow, Benares.

The array of artwork includes – Rising seas lap at the paintings and look in the water, there’s a floating man with a violin. Elsewhere, a gun-headed business suit representing Jaabir—the destroyer of worlds, would-be colonizer of space—menaces a family on a scooter. To counter him, Zaagh-e-Zaman, the crow-woman, is everywhere if you’re paying attention to the margins.

For the show, Ijlal collaborated with her historian-artist brother, Moonis. Together, they devised and unfolded a series of bizarre events happening on earth but seldomly noticed with the alacrity they demand. So contrived creations like Jehel (of silence) and Peshrau (species fighting erasure) are interwoven with oral histories and real cities.

Jaabir, the tyrant who means business, watches Peshrau who is going extinct, and like the ibex (wild goat), constantly coming back and resisting this erasure. (With Picture)

It’s admirable how she plays with time, rendering history within the present moment—already disappearing. One cant help but be stunned by the intricate beauty that each vast canvas in her series, Hostile Witness, offers—muted but rich blues and browns darkening into black, imposing facades of crumbling buildings packed with people and fantastical creatures.

Image courtesy: Shrine Empire Gallery and the artist

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