Since January 21st of this year, the contemporary art gallery Experimenter based in Ballygunge Place, Kolkata has been hosting American-based artist Bhasha Charkarbati’s solo exhibition Skin to Skin. This exhibition will be on display till the 25th of March. Curated by Shaunak Mahbubani, this exhibition will be Charkarbati’s first debut in India.
The human body truly is an art in itself, and artists all across time and place have inculcated the subject of nudity in their art. It is a form of intimacy, trust, vulnerability, and freedom. For Charkarbati, her exhibition Skin to Skin signifies an idea that goes beyond the concept of nudity. It is an homage to the Bhakti tradition and the loving relationship between the student and the divine; especially the act of the student touching the feet of their teacher which Charkarbati sees as very passionate and altruistic.
Her entire journey of ‘Skin to Skin’ has found its inspiration from the writings of the French philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty. She tells Open, “In his theory of flesh, Merleau-Ponty advances the idea of the intertwining of the body and skin. He refers to the frictions and fissures that happen when certain parts of the body come in contact with the skin—armpit, thighs, the space between your fingers. Basically, the intermediary between the body and the world. These are the ways for the body to feel itself.”
Here, the concept of touch is emphasized; she somehow perceives it as a political action. She asserts herself by stating that when one touches another body, they are also utilizing that experience to feel themselves, and the other body gives that experience. She also notes that while creating this series, she was always thinking about touch and intimacy as political forces. She further explains by saying that while touching undoubtedly has biological and emotional components as well, she wanted to investigate its political ramifications; as caste, class, consent, and privacy are all extremely political issues, who we choose to touch and who we do not depend on these factors.
Charkarbati did the majority of the works in ‘Skin to Skin’ on clothing material like jute, linen, and parchment. An apparent reason why Chakrabarti is drawn to the textile industry as she has acknowledged is that, to her great curiosity, clothing maintains this feminine equilibrium. As a result, she has a way of intertwining the sensual body and the clothes that garner it, as the historical relationship between the two highlights how the body and clothing are connected and how they carry entangled histories and linked subjectivities.
Bhasha Chakrabarti explores the idea of creating art as a means of literal as well as figurative healing. She writes on her website:
“I engage with art-making as a process of mending. I choose this metaphor deliberately and often act on it literally.” She further goes on to say, “I am interested in exploring how my artwork, even when grounded in local materials and symbols, can speak to issues beyond the local by situating my practice within global conversations around race, gender, and power.”