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Thukral & Tagra: Windows of Opportunity

Dominus Aeris: Escape 3, Jiten Thukral & Sumir Tagra, 2012. Oil on canvas 96 x 72 inches. Image: Courtesy of Art Plural gallery.

Windows of Opportunity (2013), Jiten Thukral’s and Sumir Tagra’s (branded as Thukral & Tagra) latest show at Art Plural gallery, gives expression to the cacophonous spectacle of hybridity that defines contemporary India, a site that they deem to be a hotbed of conflicted histories and global transactions. These issues of societal flux are explored in their oeuvre through an eclectic visual language composed of cartoonish sketches, pop art and marketing media, serving also as a reminder of the days when Thukral & Tagra worked in the commercial realm of communication design at the beginning of their careers.

Weekend-bonanza-2, Jiten Thukral & Sumir Tagra, 2007. Oil and acrylic on canvas 72" x 144". Image courtesy of Nature Morte gallery.

The glyphs of their works are immediately recognisable: stock images of hot-air balloons and architectural postmodern buildings (Dominus Aerius, 2011), the consumerist’s supermarket trolley, popular culture’s action heroes (Science, Mystery & Magic, 2011). Stylistically combined, these images come together like a surreal dreamscape, blurring the line between kitsch and high art to become a product of strategic brand management created from a wide spectrum of media, weaving a narrative of dissimilar elements like a cheeky and humorous literary conceit. As deft as it is, one can’t help but think each work stumbles on its own cleverness when it is mostly reliant on a backdrop of an elaborate system of art-historical- and cultural-allusions that demands a measure of such literacy in their audience.

BoseDK, Jiten Thukral & Sumir Tagra, 2007, installation view.

Thukral & Tagra do however, demonstrate an awareness of their recursive complicity in this phenomenon[1], the result of which was the self-referential creation of ‘BoseDK’ products in an installation of a supermarket interior at Nature Morte in 2007. With a name that is a transliteration of a term of abuse in the Punjabi language, the fake label ‘BoseDK’ is an ironic statement on globalisation’s narrative of homogeneity as well as an admission of the commercial trappings of commodification and fickle tendencies of the art market.

Windows of Opportunity, Jiten Thukral & Sumir Tagra, 2013. Oil on canvas, 18 x 28 x 2.5 inches each. Image: Courtesy of Art Plural gallery.

In Windows of Opportunity (2013), a series of paintings and wall reliefs for which the exhibition is named, Thukral & Tagra shift their focus to the immigration aspirations of young Indians through the enduring images of pinball machines, sports memorabilia and the oval outline of an aeroplane window. Despite their efforts to leave the country, there is no anchoring destination for them, no identifying indicators of skylines or architectural landmarks, merely indicators of the mileage they accrue as a measure of their success. Their side-portraits are triple-framed: by the borders of the canvas, by the small, oval window of a plane, and finally by the confines of a pinball machine. It is a reinforced metaphor of the demarcating limits of their dreams as players who try their luck at a stunted game that consists of seemingly endless circular movements of transit and transience, the end of which could very well be the very beginning. Recurrent motifs of competitive athletics – medals, unreachable targets and more obviously the white-and-orange racetrack that weaves its way around the paintings – seem to reiterate the impossibility of success where the ultimate prize still lies beyond reach.

Perhaps what is most compelling about Thukral & Tagra’s oeuvre is the articulation of heterogeneity that does not point to an obvious signification. Part of the reward of engaging with their works is that these brightly coloured canvases invoke the automatic desire to unfold their idiosyncrasies into assemblages of meaning. But as in a guessing game however, we don’t always get it right.

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Jiten Thukral was born in 1976 in the city of Jalandhar in the state of the Punjab, Sumir Tagra in 1979 in the capital city of New Delhi. They live and work in the New Dehli suburb of Gurgaon. Thukral & Tagra: Windows of Opportunity will run at Art Plural gallery till 25 May 2013.


[1] Thukral and Tagra themselves affirm that “the field of graphics and design teaches one how to present an idea. It’s an essential part of [their] work; it’s a blur between a solution and an artistic expression.” 

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