Canary in a Coal mine
Solo exhibition by Prabhakar Pachpute
Clark House Bombay
Prabhakar Pachpute is often amazed and perplexed that his village now rests on a series of pillars - the land beneath carved hollow from excavation. These extraordinary murals in Clark House are potent expressions of Prabhakar's descents deep into the coal mines in Chandrapur, where his family has worked for three generations in one of the oldest mines in the country. They are acute observations of the lives of miners, and convey the sublime trauma of the mine's psycholoical impact on those who work in and those who live above the mines. Electric fittings within the walls, turn to symbols of power, of the source of electricity from thermal plants, and of a manager whose socket face and broad frame is fed by power. Thin wiry bodies with pin heads, in need of energy, walk in a slow line to work, clad in shorts and miners' shoes, shovel in hand.
The exhibition's title, taken from the eponymous song by Sting & Police is a warning of danger:
First to fall over when the atmosphere is less than perfect
Your sensibilities are shaken by the slightest defect...
Now if I tell you that you suffer from delusions
You pay your analyst to reach the same conclusions
You live your life like a canary in a coalmine
You get so dizzy even walking in a straight line.
The Indian government discourages the use of charcoal in cooking, prevalent through much of India, as its use leads to significant deforestation, and the smoke has serious health consequences. Prabhakar has spent many weeks creating murals in charcoal, putting himself through risk, acting like the canary in a coal mine, a bird brought by miners deep into the coal shafts to warn workers of poisonous gas leaks in the ground. The devastation beneath the land, may not be apparent. Like the dark lines of charcoal drawn over the primer form the skeleton of works, beneath layers of bright oil paint that disappear, only to be seen by conservators centuries later under an ultraviolet scan, the lakes that were once mountains, shift the whole ecology of the land.
More than fifty percent of India's energy needs are met by coal. India's dependence on coal will only increase as the cost of alternate energy remains high, and the infrastructure to produce it needs significant investment. The recent national power grid failure across India provides a cue to the need to plan energy needs, and how it is distributed. Millions of Indians do not have access to electricity, and thus coal found abundantly in India is likely to be the dominant energy source for the future. It also powers the steel industry and is often exported, bringing in crucial foreign exchange. Coal is found in eco-sensitive areas that share terrain with endangered species, like the tiger. Coal has created immigrant mining communities around its centres of production and displaced farmers whose lands often cover vast reserves of carbon formed more than three-hundred million years ago. The low monetary compensation for these immensely fertile lands is compromised further by corruption. Farmers are offered jobs as workers in the mines, forced to ignore their health, and the environmental devastation.
Prabhakar Pachpute was born in Chandrapur, Maharashtra, called the 'City of Black Gold'. He graduated in Fine Arts from Khairagarh University, Chhattisgarh in 2009, and in Sculpture from MSU Baroda in 2011. Most of his preceding works, were sculptures, or mixtures of sculpture, drawing and light. However, he has been drawn to artists like Kathe Kollwitz and William Kentridge, and has previously written in an essay titled 'The Possibilities of Drawing': "In my opinion drawing is the only medium that itself tried to become a popular art form. And when the modern technologies came, what happened to 'drawing' is also important." Other works by Prabhakar have expressed the stories from the mines, as he had seen and heard them, in a style not so much expressive, as wise, humorous and giving - invented proverbs and relations between people, things real, and abstract and those that have accrued cultural or local social meanings. He mixes stories heard, with the thoughts discovered during the process and problems of making.
Previously he has used light focused on his own incomplete sculptures to throw shadows onto the surfaces of walls, whose figures are completed in drawing. The Beethoven Frieze at the Vienna Secession by Gustav Klimt is a discussion of the human desire for happiness, interrupted by travesties and the suffering caused by others, but also by inner deficiencies, while it celebrated Beethoven for his musical genius. The curators at Clark House have commissioned these murals celebrating and acknowledging its inspiration from the Vienna Secession.