Monday, October 31, 2016

W/underland : Maya Bhalla's solo exhibition

My trip to W/underland was full of adventure. Yes, I met my Alice and she had big eyes all dilated and brown. She was in her denim shorts and hair tied up high, all set to put up memories of her W/underland. Maya Bhalla / Sohonie is what many of us call her.
I knew this wasn’t going to be easy, writing about her or the work. I’m taking the plunge and yes this will be a little personal. I first met her in 2008, her first show in Singapore, and she was showing her paintings, while I was covering her co-artist, in an exhibition happening at a gallery in MICA. Singapore and its transient ever changing nature effects the live span of galleries and their existence too. The gallery and its proprietor have relocated since.  I can’t say we immediately clicked, but we kept in touch. She went on to become a Mother and I waited and waited for her to come out and play. It was in 2010 that I told her it was time she broke her poetic silence and we work together. A good six years it has been and many group shows and collaborations together, Maya and I have come to know a lot not just about our processes in thought and technique, but also to our reaction to our environment.
Fragile in her consciousness, yet very strong physically, Maya, with all her contradictions, reacts to her physical environment in a microscopic way. Much of her material and techniques, create that up-close, tactile, macro vision, to the world which one will not assume she has due to her quiet demeanour. She is observing and watching her subjects can be that little bug on the wall, or that shadow that just creeped up behind you.
Maya in W/underland is playing the role of the transient nature narrator, recording what she sees, and the corresponding feeling, that it creates, surfacing a childhood memory. Her primary symbol, be it Alice or Liana (her daughter) stand as a symbol of a past, of a fleeting present, of a ray of light being caught in the palm, only to find its wings like the butterfly trapped in her photographic frame. Maya is making her tangible, tactile, memories linger, and create a poetic dance of their own. Poetry emanates not just from her lines, but from the fine lines she has painted in silver metallic shades, recording the childhood, carefree, state of being. Maya writes, “My memory is tinted in the shades of cyan blue and white, they feel cool to the touch. Preserved and shelved in little white boxes, to be taken out and examined, as if upon prescription by a doctor for a particular ailment or situation in this adult world.” These cyanotypes record her state of mind, her need for a pristine white boxed memory, an almost surgical presence, of a doctor carefully removing away painful thoughts and just keeping a pleasant one to box away. In a Sylvia Plath mode she continues to web her own W/underland, where memories survive the perils of time, where we leave behind a legacy of happiness for the child; where innocence is upheld in those beautiful lost moments spent in natures company, where watching a spider and its web is more a spiritual experience than a arachnologists work at hand.
With the clean slate of porcelain she webs her ink of memories sometimes in the shades of mud, and sometimes in blues, and then the grain of time that gather in lines of black all gather around and converse on the floor. Through these conglomerating lithography’s in porcelain it almost seems like Maya makes a comparison between herself and the nature of the clay. “We forget that we are of the earth, we polished beings. Layer upon layer of excavated things, mined things, dead things, we pile on top of ourselves, becoming a conglomerate of stuff”. Or is she making a universal statement about the loss of an age and legacy we are leaving behind for our generations to come. W/underland throws these various thoughts, questions, feelings and responses through mediums such as photography, clay, painting and printmaking. To sum it up I use a line from Maya again, “It is a mixed bag, and like a child with closed eyes, we periodically reach in and chance upon something”. Go and experience your own response to the Alice within you. W/underland runs from 1st to the 6th of November at Objectifs Centre for Photography and Film.
Meanwhile I shall store away my memories of yesterday's adventure with Alice in her W/underland.
 *arachnologists : Those who study spiders and other arachnids are arachnologists.