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Bharat Sikka on ‘The Sapper’ and his quest for his father


A person stands shielding his face with a board as a canine turns again to take a look at him from a number of toes away. Each of them are framed by rocky and desolate terrain. The air of solitude and enigma that surrounds this composition is intrinsic to artist Bharat Sikka’s ongoing collection, The Sapper, presently exhibiting on Nature Morte gallery’s on-line viewing room. The VR platform, a well timed intervention to deal with the closures compelled by the pandemic, provides to the mystique of the work, permitting the viewer to zoom in or look from afar. Distance and proximity illuminate the that means of this physique of pictures—as a measure of the closeness and gulf between mother or father and grownup baby, previous and current, fiction and truth.

For Sikka , the collection started with a easy urge—to rediscover, as an grownup, his father, who had labored all his life as a sapper (an worker entrusted with engineering duties) with the Indian Military. Posted to far-flung areas, he was away for a lot of Sikka’s childhood and rising years. The boy by no means had an actual sense of his largely absent mother or father—who he was and what he did—and this hole in understanding lends a tender romantic high quality to the grownup Sikka’s imaginative and prescient of the mission. “The Sapper was extra about my father and the state of his thoughts,” Sikka says on e-mail, “however within the course of, I did really feel nostalgic about sure issues and locations, which took me again in time.” Our mother and father are different individuals but additionally those that make us who we’re—there’s no escaping this double bind.

An image from ‘The Sapper’ series by Bharat Sikka.

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A picture from ‘The Sapper’ collection by Bharat Sikka. (Courtesy Nature Morte)

The collection is way from an train in portraiture alone, although portraits vividly outline its narrative arc—the one among Sikka’s father dancing by himself, together with his eyes closed, is a basic. However step by step his corporeal presence will get rarefied, encapsulated in mementos. An archival {photograph} of a bungalow is spliced into two by a wood body. A detailed-up of the palm of a hand is juxtaposed alongside a glove resting on a thorny shrub. A glass crammed with a drink empties out sip by sip, by way of 9 panels, till nothing stays. The trimmings of documentary images develop into charged by a performative impulse. Seen collectively, these visible languages type a poetic synergy—one quirky, the opposite sure by conference.

Though The Sapper is mediated by way of Sikka’s grownup eyes, there are vestiges of childlike awe and surprise within the pictures—in addition to a pressure of elegy. The frailty of the physique, the ebbing away of life pressure and the sense of an ineffable solitude hang-out the work. Sikka has spoken of the American painter Edward Hopper as one among his early influences. A chronicler of city loneliness, Hopper created poetry out of empty streets, rooms and bars, normally that includes a single brooding determine. Sikka’s deal with his father has an identical thrust. Opposite to the general public’s notion of military life as being gregarious, crammed with camaraderie and hot-blooded masculine power, we see an ex-army man, remoted and standing aside.

“It’s ironic that my father was by no means completely happy within the military. He was a lot too expansive for such a life,” Sikka says. “However as a result of he spent a lot time within the job, it grew to become part of him.” The collaboration between father and son alerts the viewer to the dynamics between the occupation and the particular person, however in the end “he’s the protagonist and that is his story”, Sikka says. “We mentioned many concepts, had many conversations—about emotions, reminiscence and notion—that are interpreted within the pictures.”

The sense of a scripted story is palpable in The Sapper, despite the fact that Sikka doesn’t make it simple for the viewer to parse the visible montage. As an alternative of staying with the direct attraction of portraiture, he likes so as to add layers. “I work on pictures,” he says, “images is simply the software or the uncooked materials.” A lot of his work is deliberate and executed with precision, as an alternative of being left to probability and candid pictures.

“I typically take into consideration how I’m going to {photograph}, I make notes, draw sketches, make temper boards, analysis and, most of all, take into consideration what I wish to say, earlier than I enterprise into taking the precise {photograph}, after which the impulse and the unintentional occur,” Sikka provides. “That is the place the strains of the performative and documentary get merged.”

Though images is already used as a scaffolding for concepts, the pandemic, which has compelled individuals to remain house and restricted journey, might deepen its language and makes use of additional. “I exploit pictures like writing materials, and good handwriting doesn’t imply good writing,” as Sikka says. “Equally, beautiful-looking pictures don’t imply good images or artwork, it’s the sensation, what you’re saying and the way you’re saying it, that issues.”

The Sapper is on show until 5 August. Go to

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