Prabhakar Pachpute is a leading Pune-based Indian contemporary artist. His drawings, paintings, mural installations, sculptures, and animations explore issues of industry, land, and labour using surrealist motifs and landscapes.Read More
Born in the industry-dominated town of Chandrapur in central India, Prabhakar Pachpute escaped the fate of working in the mines that befell so many around him. Instead, he studied fine arts, completing a BFA in sculpture at Indira Kala Sangeet Vishwavidyalaya, Khairagarh, in 2009 and an MFA in sculpture from The Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda, Gujarat, in 2011.
Prabhakar Pachpute's art practice is heavily influenced by his family background and upbringing. For three generations, members of the artist's family have worked in Chandrapur's coal mines. This drives his engagement with issues of land and labour sparked by developing industry. His favoured material—charcoal—too, links back to his mining heritage while also connecting to the broader themes of hard labour and immigration associated with the coal industry.
While working across an array of mediums, the artist has become best known for his large, immersive, site-specific mural installations, frequently drawn in-situ and directly onto walls. Using charcoal, acrylic drawing materials, and sometimes plywood cut-outs, the artist creates dream-like landscapes filled with surreal figures.
The figures depicted are most often workers. Their faces and features are sometimes replaced by lanterns—like the swarm of flying figures in Flies never infest an egg without cracks (2017)—or by other objects like mining tools, light switches, or blank automaton heads. Others are reduced to objects and infrastructure with limbs. Depersonalised and reduced to creatures of utility, Prabhakar Pachpute's figures reflect the way individuals are subsumed into a larger, faceless labour force.
In The extension (2015), a CEO-type figure surveys a map while standing on a globe; his head is replaced with a section of land with a big hole (reminiscent of an open-pit mine). Here, the artist explores the process whereby big industry displaces nature and people each time to extract what it wants.
The interplay of land (both in terms of ecological sustainability and ownership), labour, and industry is a core aspect of Prabhakar Pachpute's paintings, drawings, and murals. Since 2013, the fight of Indian farmers for land rights and survival has become a key interest. Prabhakar Pachpute's 'Sea of Fists' (2017–ongoing) is a mural project that constantly transforms with each iteration and addresses aspects of this plight. Often depicting bodies of lone dead farmers, from which anthills arise, the artist highlights the difference in individual and collective protest.
Beyond painting and drawing, Prabhakar Pachpute's artistic capacity extends to light, sound, and animation. The artist has experimented with stop-motion animated films, such as Dark Clouds of the Future (2014), which took the infamous abandoned Serra Pelada goldmine as a launching point for deeper ecological questions.
Prabhakar Pachpute's contact, through research, with those around the world facing the same issues has allowed for a broader engagement in recent works with global ethical, labour, environmental, and economic issues. Prabhakar Pachpute's art has consequently found a global audience, featuring in gallery and institutional shows and major art events worldwide.
Beneath the Palpable, Experimenter, Kolkata (2020); Artist's Rooms: Prabhakar Pachpute, Jameel Arts Centre, Dubai (2019); Political Animal, The Glasgow School of Art (2019); Shadows on arrival, Experimenter, Kolkata (2017); 'no, it wasn't the locust cloud' ('Te tolanche dhaga navhate'), National Gallery of Modern Art, Mumbai (2016); CANARY IN A COAL MINE, Clark House initiative, Mumbai (2012).
Why Binary should have all the Pun, TIFA Working Studios, Pune, India (2019); This Rare Earth: stories from below, STUK Arts Centre, Leuven, Belgium (2018); Soil and Stones, Souls and Songs, Para Site, Hong Kong (2017); The Other Face Of the Moon, Asia Culture Center, Gwangju (2017); Rethinking the Regional, National Gallery of Modern Art, Bombay (2015); EROS, University Museum and Art Gallery, Hong Kong (2014).
Michael Irwin | Ocula | 2021