Sly eyes, cunning faces, conniving expressions and others that remain hidden inside the artist’s mind; for viewers, Viraj Naik’s works not only seem to draw a thread between what they see on the walls of Sunaparanta and the faces they may have crossed paths with, but also a sub-conscious connection between their own thousand faces – both ugly and not so ugly.
The Goa-based artist claims to have painted a new species, the AniMan kingdom, in his ongoing solo exhibition Ordinary Superheroes: Tales from the AniMan Kingdom at the Sunaparanta - Goa Centre for the Arts. The centre, which retains its old-world Portuguese villa charm, supports arts in Goa under the patronage of Dipti and Dattaraj V. Salgaocar. Encouraging innovative work in visual arts and other creative fields, Naik’s exhibition has been curated by Leandre D’Souza.
D’Souza talks about Naik’s exhibition, which presents a collection of over 95 ink drawings, etchings and sculptures of hybridised subjects, in the video below.
Amalgamating the human and the animal in his works, Naik believes, “There is no difference between man and animal. We are also animals.” For him the exploration of the dark or ’beastly‘ side of humans, as he puts it, is inspired by, “observations which come across every day in our daily conversations with the society or politicians.” His paintings are a reflection of the internal expressions of humans. Yet, these images, while fantastical to the viewer, are portraits nonetheless.
Naik reiterates, “I know that this particular human being exists. As I say that I had specialised in portraiture in art college, but today portraiture is only for the non-living and if you want to do real portraiture, it is only for people who can pay. But I see these as portraits, but it is difficult for the audience to accept it. What I say is - let the audience communicate with it and try to find out who this person is in your surroundings. I have done my job of putting it on paper and I know who this person is. It is hybridized or metamorphosed indirectly.”
Naik’s hybrids, however, seem to derive inspiration from mythology, folk tales and images. While as a child, he delved into reading stories, myths and fables from different cultures, comparing and contrasting them, he wanted to dive further into the visual imagery of these stories. Naik says, “I wanted to know images and for that I wanted to know what is the story. So for the story, I wanted to make an image which is not the same.” While the latter posed a challenge, his journey of documenting what he saw eventually led to the evolution of his own new language of expression. In the video below, the artist talks about one of his sculptural works which depicts a demigod.
Not only are Naik’s characters hybridised, but his whole artistic technique is a combination of collage, printmaking, photography and painting. Talking about the skill behind his work, Naik points to a work called Hybridization, which according to him represents the crescendo of his artistic journey till now. The work is a compilation of printmaking plates he has worked on for 10 years, photographs and collage. Together, he refers to this technique as ‘hybridisation’ as he explains in the video below.
Naik is a deeply sensitive artist who infuses his work with a sense of wit rarely found in portraiture. It is no surprise then that despite holding a solo exhibition after 15 years in Goa, his works continue to amaze audiences of all ages. Naik doesn’t like to be bound or work within boundaries. His work, according to him, is ’universal‘. Social boundaries, circumstances and systems withholding freedom, forcing conditioning and ways of life and upbringing have always intrigued the artist. While he observes society and its play at a distance, his drawings are more than reflective of the state we are in. Consequently, our interpretations of his work, while left open-ended by him, may not after all be so when we eye his works, or perhaps have them eyeing us. Like all best storytellers, he leaves the ending to us.