Walls – Solo Exhibition

by Arzan Khambatta

Our lives are defined by walls, both physical and metaphoric. Our earliest ancestors looked for shelter within the walls of caves, and then used those walls to tell the stories of their lives. Their atavistic need to define the boundaries of their space and see themselves reflected on it speaks to the wall’s connection with a sense of security and comfort. It also became a way to immortality through art; to bridge the yawning chasm of time.

Walls can also be seen as instruments of separation. We use them to keep ‘others’ out. They help differentiate ‘us’ from ‘them’ both physically and emotionally.

In ‘Mending Wall’, the celebrated poet Robert Frost begins by saying “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall, …. that wants it down…” and concludes with

“Good fences make good neighbours,” putting this antithetical proposition into beautiful verse. Playing with simple words and grand philosophies, he serves up the idea of barriers being unnatural, unwanted, and detrimental to a humanistic world, as well as the idea that boundaries give us a sense of order and control. Of course, he was also referring to the invisible and emotive walls that separate us in more insidious ways. However, he does leave the ball in our court and Arzan Khambatta picks up the ball very deftly in this installation – this play of ideas.

While physical walls define our spaces and allow us to express ourselves on them and within them, they also serve as a barrier to keep the rest of the world out, and in a way, make the space within them sacrosanct. To paraphrase Arzan, they enclose not only our space but also our energy, much like the sanctum sanctorum of a temple. They capture our breath, our emotions and our lives and become a receptacle for our memories. Walls have ears. Like sponges, they soak up our philosophies, conversations and memories. They know us; they keep our secrets, and yet, in the process of ‘decorating’ a wall, we subconsciously reveal our inner selves.

It is this organic, living, breathing creature that Arzan has explored in this twelve-part installation. His aim is to shine a light on an aspect of our lives that is taken very much for granted. We may think of them as blank surfaces, but they are no more blank than the walls of those ancient caves that have survived to tell the stories of those who dwelled within them. They are intrinsically a part of us and are deeply intertwined with our lives in so many ineffable ways.

Walls both define our inner world and allow us to be a part of the larger world outside at the same time.

In this series, Arzan has reimagined the wall and embedded various aspects of our thoughts and lives in its nooks and crannies and surfaces.

Through the metal and wood, he has melded all the secret workings of our imaginations and revealed to us the dreamscape of our own subconscious minds.

Some give us glimpses of how ideation works; how the kernel of an idea moves through our minds and grows and takes on a form that is both ephemeral and eternal.

The twisted masses of vertical strips of another wall embrace within their folds cubes of melded metal shapes, delicately poised and indicating a purity emerging from confusion or chaos much like the visual trope of the lotus emerging from the mud.

Others balance forms that are starkly angular and geometric with smooth curved half spheres both solid and airy, just as we balance the positives and negatives in life, the smooth and the rough patches which are reflected on the walls of our life.

Arzan also notes our instinctive need to be part of a greater organic whole when he creates leaf and branch and roots that bind us to the earth. These pieces teem and pulse with life and energy. Each distinct form flows seamlessly into the next and apparently discordant parts combine into a harmonious whole, forming the link between the microcosmic and the macrocosmic.

Taken as a whole, these walls become a metaphor for our shells- a surface to escape behind, to shelter in, but also an organic part of us. Their cubbies are filled with the memorabilia and paraphernalia of life. They frame our bonds, our links, and the twists and turns of our lives. They hide us. They reveal us. They become us.

Deepti Nair