Criticism

Christian Sarkar’s The Illusion of History – Part II is a hellish abstract vision of red against blue suggestive of both Dante’s underground and some submarine or even subconscious place. This wildly colorful acrylic painting is filled with spontaneous, unpredictable energy. Bright, electric, primary colors clash, shove, and scrape against each other in a lush, violent jungle of sharp, jutting shapes, both primeval and futuristic: a natural world gone mad.

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Sarkar is an emerging artist who spans three worlds: India, the land of his birth; Europe, where his mother was born, and the United States, his adopted home. He describes his work as both cross-cultural and local, influenced by history and current geo-politics—an altermodernist world.

The term “altermodern” was proposed by French art scholar and critic Nicolas Bourriaud, curator of the fourth Tate Triennial exhibition, Altermodern, at Tate, Britain in London in 2009. Bourriaud claimed that “the period defined as postmodernism has come to an end and a new culture for the 21st century is emerging.

Increased communication, travel and migration are having a huge effect on the way we live now. Altermodern describes how artists at the forefront of their generation are responding to this globalized culture with a new spirit and energy.”

Bourriaud’s manifesto is that “altermodernity arises out of planetary negotiations, discussions between agents from different cultures. Stripped of a centre, it can only be polyglot. Altermodernity is characterised by translation, unlike the modernism of the twentieth century which spoke the abstract language of the colonial west, and postmodernism, which encloses artistic phenomena in origins and identities.”

Sarkar’s art is influenced by this clash of global cultures, by questions from the diverse voices of history and by what he sarcastically calls “the myth of progress.” He intends his work to reflect the human journey: irrational, unstructured, imperfect, reflecting a crazy, illusory world.

Sarkar sees the artist in the altermodern view: as the “homo viator,” a traveller informed by the contemporary experience of mobility, travel and transpassing, whose work expresses a course, a wandering, rather than a fixed spacetime.

His work suggests a frenzied fecundity of a menacing sort, with manic swirling leaves or gnashing teeth and claws that could also be barriers or signs. What new devouring beast is born in this late hour of history?

Sarkar’s style is intuitive, unplanned, informed by the global nature of his experience on three continents, a response to our irrational world.

Susan Chadwick
Art critic for the Houston Post, 1985-1995

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