Mind on canvas
When you enter Matti Sirvio's Art Gallery, at Jawharat al Shatti from May 1 onwards, the heady aromas of freshly brewed coffee at Mani's Cafe alongside seem to prepare you to encounter a theme that's darker than an Espresso and more frothy than a Cappuccino.
As you walk past the glass doors, you soon discover coffee in a more celebrated form adorning the walls of this compact gallery in a way that you wouldn't imagine. And as your imagination begins to process and imbibe the manner in which the effervescence of a brew can convey intricacies of the human brain that set it apart from the normal, you would find yourself drifting. Boy, do you need a coffee now!
Once you take a round of Dheeraj Gadicherla's first solo exhibition, titled 'Brewed', painted with coffee as a medium, you would, indeed, need a cup of strong coffee to come out of a trance that the exhibits tend to inflict upon the discerning viewer. You don't have to have to be an artist or have a flair for appreciating art, your gaze upon each canvas that sucks you into a strange realm is enough to ring a bell with regard to some aspect of your own life.
“Brewed is a collection of work inspired by the grip mental illness has had on me and mine. Digital culture often paints a simplified picture of mental illness when in reality it is complex and layered. Through this series – ‘Brewed’ I attempt to peel these complex layers and lay them bare,” says Dheeraj.
“Coffee is what starts our mornings, powers up our brain function, and acts as an elixir; inciting promises of time and energy. Aside from the multitude of technical variables afforded to me by coffee as a medium, it also comes with a set of connotative variables as well. I use these variables together with the social connotations coffee holds in our modern day society, projecting it onto a canvas, exploring the parallels of human fragility and emotions to the evolution of current times and the passing of time,” he added.
Through this series, Dheeraj has portrayed 'the rawness of the mental illnesses, sacrifices and compromises made by families, a void that can never be filled'. He explains that the edges of each canvas in this display are not tidied, to resemble these illnesses spilling over. “One of the artwork was burnt in places to denote the disintegration of a patient’s mental capabilities, memories, relationships, behaviours, and finally, the gaping hole represents the void it creates not just in the patients but also the caregivers,” he explains.
Dheeraj says he wants viewers to think about the effect of these mental illnesses, talk about them, normalise them, share these stories, and offer support of some kind to those in distress. “If my paintings can aid you in this endeavour, my creative circle will be complete,” he asserts.
Tell us something about yourself as an artist in Oman
I first stepped on this beautiful land in 2015 as a part of an audit for work. I moved here in 2017. Art community in Oman is tight knit and are a major source of support and critique for each other. Matti has been a good support to me. I paint with coffee, so most of my work is experimental in nature. As a part of the process, I sometimes dry a few layers of my paintings near Shatti beach or in Wahiba sands.
Why did you choose this subject as the theme?
Mental health/wellness is a subject that is often spoken about theoretically. This series is an attempt to visualise the ways of known neuro-divergent behaviours and mental health issues. Abstract art gives a viewer the freedom to experience it in their own unique way. The way a viewer feels about a painting is mixed with mine to create a unique visual experience that is personal to each viewer. I am not encumbered with following a set of rules and so is the viewer. Everyone has their own personal experience with mental illnesses and I want to draw on that.
Why did you choose coffee as the medium for this collection?
Coffee is the medium I have been working with and continue to work with. My art doesn’t make sense if I am not making the materials I use from scratch. I brew my coffee based on the end effect I intend to produce on the canvas. I created a recipe for my own modelling paste to use with coffee. It is as much a reflection on the process as well as my desire to take this unconventional medium to the best levels it can reach. By this, I mean I see the colour and texture generated by coffee as a vastly superior medium to work with as a painter and a contemporary artist.
How many works are on display and how many illnesses do they represent?
There are 16 works which convey diseases like Alzheimer's disease, dementia, dyslexia, paranoia, autism spectrum disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, borderline personality disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, multiple personality disorder, high functioning depression, psychosis, PTSD, besides subjects like caregivers, light, hope and caring for onself.
What is the message through this exhibition?
Mental health needs to be spoken about more. It needs to become a normal aspect of conversations. It is as important to take care of and discuss mental illnesses and neuro-divergence as it is physical ailments and disabilities.
Have you encountered any form of mental illness in your life - among family/friends? Do you think art can convey a social message related to mental illness?
Everyone has had some experience with mental health issues either personally or through their immediate circles. It is not uncommon. It is just not discussed. Art is perhaps one of the few mediums that allows people to relate to mental health. Art can normalise this more than any other mode of consumption.
What did you learn through this collection?
That working with subjects as personal and important as mental illness and neuro-divergence is necessary. I shared glimpses of some of my art on my social media and a lot of people are writing back or sharing their struggles with mental illnesses. This is an intricate subject and something I wish to work more on.
Are your works up for sale?
Yes, my works are up for sale.Mental illness itself has become a negative subject because of lack of knowledge. The main theme is to remove that negative connotation from mental illnesses. Once people see that it isn’t a rare affliction or a problem, they will appreciate these works.
Have you tried other unique themes for solo exhibitions?
I am currently working on extending my work on mental illnesses to being an audio visual and dining experience. I have plans in the pipeline for a solo show on not so popular women who have contributed to, or created a major change, in the world. I made a pitch to KhojInternational Artists' Association about creating a massive work with coffee regarding the raising environmental toxicities in India.
Where does your inspiration come from?
Inspiration is everywhere. This show is from the need to start talking about mental health.