NS Harsha draws on a broad spectrum of Indian artistic and figurative painting traditions and popular arts as well as the western art canon to create luminous works that reflect on geopolitical order and its localised idiosyncrasies. In exquisitely rendered paintings, works on paper, wall and floor works, sculptures, site-specific installations and public projects, the Mysore-based artist examines structures, borders and barriers as a series of ever-shifting concepts, alluding to an interconnectedness that compels the viewer to consider their relationship to the art work as part of a wider conversation about systems of knowledge, belief and power.
Harsha's work entwines strands of personal biography with the shared narratives and broader socio-political scenarios of our at once macrocosmic and microcosmic world. The installation Nations (2007) features 192 sewing machines that appear in the process of creating or repairing flags (one for each member of the United Nations), drawing parallels between human labour and nation building. A macro economic dispute on price band of Rs 30 to 60 per day (2004) is similarly concerned with the (personal) politics of labour. The painting depicts banks of farmers and businessmen ankle-deep in a paddy field, in a clear allusion to the dynamics of emerging economies and their human cost. Yet, Harsha's treatment of his subject matter is defined by temporal shifts, ambiguities and art historical references that guard against too reductive an interpretation.
While storytelling endures at the heart of his practice, linear narrative remains absent from the loosely gridded compositions of Harsha's recent canvases, which feature successions of musicians and dancers, langur monkeys and cows (animals venerated in Hindu culture), dairy farmers and scientists. The artist has described the process of producing these works as something like a chanting with forms, recalling a musical sense of cyclical time. Similar, but not the same, his recurring figures engage in parallel variations on the theme of an activity. In Time and Again Upward Movement Beautiful Beautiful (2014), this principle results in ranks of elegantly raised limbs, which communicate the energetic desire of dancers to access a sphere of transcendence. Less synchronised are the anarchically incongruous experiments depicted in Mooing Here and Now (2014), a work filled with loose ends and unexpected turns: a deep-sea diver fastens an industrial milking device to a garlanded cow; a marauding elephant, its intentions toward another floored cow unclear, is fired at from above by a soldier-cum-scientist. Prosaic and surreal in equal measure, the scene is inspired by our increasingly curious, ever more technologically mediated relationship with the animals of our industries and religions. Harsha's tableaux may appear surreal, but as ever this does not mean that they are divorced from the complex economic and cultural realities of contemporary life.
Despite, or perhaps due to, a proliferation of forms that sometimes verges on the absurd, the mood of these densely populated works is quietly philosophical. Nonsensical and satirical in turn, they lend a gentle humour and dreamlike grace to the human struggle of making meaning (whether scientific or spiritual) from within an endless present of not-knowing. It is this non-hierarchical weaving of elements that lends Harsha's work a visual richness and generosity of spirit. This spills over into public projects such as Our Bridge (2011), which used the pillars of a bridge in Northern India as a canvas for school children to imagine their 'dream village'. Harsha's work may function in part as social commentary, but at its heart it is a playful and poetic reflection of the persistent singularities of human nature.
Born in 1969, NS Harsha lives and works in Mysore, India. He was a recipient of the prestigious DAAD Scholarship in 2012, and was awarded the Artes Mundi Prize in 2008. In 2015 the artist will create a site-specific mural at the Dallas Museum of Art, following his participation in a variety of international collaborative projects and exhibitions: recent solo presentations include those with DAAD, as part of the DAAD Artists-in-Berlin Program (2012 - 2013); INIVA, London (2009); and at Maison Hermes Tokyo (2008). His work has featured in group exhibitions including the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, India (2014); Moscow Biennial of Contemporary Art (2013); Dojima Biennial, Osaka (2013); Adelaide International Biennial (2012); Asian Art Museum, San Francisco (2012); the Yokohama Triennial (2011) and the Bienal de Sao Paulo (2010). He was also a participant in the major touring exhibition Indian Highway, which was staged at the Serpentine Gallery, London (2008); Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art, Oslo (2009); Herning Art Museum, Denmark (2010); Musée d'Art Contemporain, Lyon (2011); MAXXI, Rome (2011-12) and Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing (2012).