Scenes from a Despot's Dream
Installation view at Aicon Contemporary, New York, 2022; Image courtesy Aicon Contemporary
Urban design as a theme occupied the focus of Swagata Bhattacharyya's initial practice. Yet beyond the morphology and outward appearance of urban systems, the myths and the political implications associated with the design of urban spaces had appealed to the artist as well. In the current series of works, the artist portrays scenes from a parallel world (Nation) historically and politically congruent with what India as a nation is becoming or may become in the near future. While the works are primarily drawings, some consist of scenes printed from the artist's digitally built spaces thus depicting a three-dimensional and more palpable realm. This digital medium is a significant part of his explorations into world-building.
The works portray a fictional realm where an authoritarian power boasts of homogeneity and unity forced upon its diverse people. It seeks to showcase how self-serving fantasies of the power holders turn into collective desire through images and built structures. The artist portrays these phenomena through works in form of ground plans and architectural drawings, metaphorical and absurd happenings, and pictures teeming with subversive details.
Digital print on paper, 29 x 21 cm (each)
The works depicting diagrams and ground plans of structures range from that of the Capital Vista project, carbon capturing plants, re-education centres, prison structures etc. It sheds light on how an authoritarian regime wishes to build its national identity through various vanity projects, segregation of immigrants and minority groups, and management of environmental crises. All of these structures and their forms are derived from real-world instances of projects undertaken in India or in other countries where an exaggerated image of strength embodied in built structures takes precedence over achieving any actual benefit from egalitarian designs. The works also seek to depict the phenomena of propaganda as some of the works are in the form of such advertisements that are often seen in reality, of majoritarian political parties boasting their efforts towards growth and development. Yet closer inspection into the images reveal horrific scenes of incompetence and failures these advertisements and hoardings attempt to hide. Overall the works portray the process of radicalisation of the masses whereby people adopt a false and divisive dream as their own while closing off their senses to the violence of authoritarianism impacted on the polity and its environment