Abir Karmakar Biography

Contemporary Indian visual artist Abir Karmakar is known for his photo-realistic, voyeuristic paintings of domestic interiors. The Baroda-based artist uses these depictions of intimate settings to discuss broader ideas of identity, memory, and history.

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Born in Siliguri, West Bengal, Abir Karmakar studied painting at Rabindra Bharati University Kolkata, graduating with a BFA in 2001. He later attended The Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda in Gujarat, graduating with an MFA in 2003.

Abir Karmakar's early paintings and video largely focused on human figures. His paintings in the 2000s consisted primarily of photo-realistic androgynous—largely naked—portraits and self-portraits. Series like 'Interiors' (2006) and 'In the Old Fashioned Way' (2007) broke down formalities of gender, sexuality, and intimacy as it exists in relationship with oneself in private spaces. Set in the intimate spaces of the bedroom and bathroom, Karmakar depicted his and others' bodies with expressions that are sometimes confrontationally provocative and other times more self-absorbed.

In series such as 'Scent' (2011) however, Abir Karmakar's focus shifted. Largely removing the human figure from his work, the artist instead focused on presenting detailed realistic interiors that bear traces of human activity. Though there may be no provocative self-display, in 'Scent' a provocative element is preserved in messy bedrooms and bathrooms.

With roots in 17th-century Dutch genre painting, Abir Karmakar's domestic interior scenes use the composition of objects of everyday life—such as furniture, kitchen utensils, clothes, and trinkets—to form a psychological picture of the space's occupants. Frozen in a particular moment, these objects encode a memory of the home's occupants that we are not privy to.

In series such as 'Views' and 'Angles' (both 2014), the voyeuristic element of these scenes is emphasised with a rounded composition, recreating the effects of peeping through a keyhole. This optical effect also exemplifies the interplay between two- and three-dimensional space in Karmakar's paintings. Each interior scene is a balanced illusion utilising pictorial devices such as mirrors and doorways, and accurate mimicry of natural and fluorescent light, to create the impression of space beyond the flat canvas.

In some interiors, the artist inverts this spatial relationship. Abir Karmakar's wall-size 'Home' (2016) paintings for Kochi-Muziris Biennale in 2016/2017 were specifically designed for Kashi Art Gallery. Adjusted to suit the proportions and architecture of the gallery, when installed together the illusionistic interior paintings gave the impression of transplanting a whole house into the gallery. The artist even cut a door-shaped opening into the canvas to match the entrance door in the gallery.

Abir Karmakar's paintings are not exclusively photo-realistic interiors. In his 'Suns' (2015), for instance, the artist presents a series of images that turn the voyeuristic eye upon itself, depicting human eyes up close. Karmakar's practice is also not exclusive to painting—he has made several sculptures and video installations.

Abir Karmakar's 'History Painting' (2020) series, in contrast to earlier works, puts aside spatial illusions and intimate interior spaces. Instead, he documents in his realistic style the essence of life played out on India's streets during the global coronavirus pandemic.

Abir Karmakar Solo Exhibitions include:

Here everything is fine, GALLERYSKE, New Delhi (2020); Displacement, Galerie Mirchandani + Steinruecke, Mumbai (2017); Room, Interrupted in Passage, Galerie Mirchandani + Steinruecke, Mumbai (2012); The Morning After, Aicon Gallery, New York (2011); Within the Walls, Gallery Espace, New Delhi (2008); In the Old Fashioned Way, Aicon Gallery, London (2007); from my photo album, The Museum Gallery, Mumbai (2005).

Abir Karmakar Group Exhibitions include:

Drawn from Practice, Experimenter, Kolkata (2018); Peak Shift Effect, Vadehra Art Gallery, New Delhi (2013); Cynical Love: Life in the everyday, Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, Noida, India (2012); Adbhutam—Rasa in Indian Art, CIMA Gallery, Kolkata (2011); INDIA AWAKEN: Under the Banyan Tree, Essl Museum, Vienna (2010); A MAZ ING, Jehangir Art Gallery, Mumbai (2008); Reality Bites, CIMA Gallery, Kolkata (2007).

Michael Irwin | Ocula | 2021

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