Imprints of man on nature

One of India's most prominent artists, Rameshwar Broota experiments with photographs to talk about the impact of man-made formations on natural spaces.

Where does the Ganga flow is a piece from Rameshwar Broota's exhibition Traces of Man. Courtesy Rameshwar Broota / XVA Gallery
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Where does the Ganga Flow? asks Rameshwar Broota in the title of one of his photographs currently on show at XVA Gallery.

Shot from above, over the Indian city of Haridwar, the scene is a rammed-together jumble of low-rise houses in which the great river is nowhere to be seen. It looks as if the buildings themselves have swamped the Ganges. Yet, perhaps more poignantly, lacking in human warmth, there's something inanimate to this urban swell - as if the concrete has outgrown its inhabitants, too.

Broota is one of India's most prominent artists and is best known for his satirical paintings from the 1970s. Through a cast of sneering gorillas, and with his defining technique of creating his images by nicking away at thick paint on the canvas using a blade, Broota's works took aim at the disparity of greed and emaciated suffering that he perceived around him at that time.

The photographs that make up Traces of Man have developed from Broota's experiments with the form in the late 1990s. Akin to the nick-blade process of scratching away at his paintings, the artist taught himself Photoshop and uses it to etch away and splice together imagery that he has photographed over the past few years.

Many are intentionally disorienting. In Reaching Out, we see a huge red crane and a cascade of water collapsing onto its chassis from the lip of a rock cliff above. Others are a little more abstract and an untitled diptych of photographs draws some indistinct connection between the chaotic order of a flock of birds and the swirl of hair on the crown of a man's head.

Traces of Man is a collection that shows a privately pursued offshoot of interest in a very established artist's work. Each image plays with the self-reflection that humans seek in nature, often through their own heavy-handed intervention into a landscape. We're always left grasping at the purpose of the man-made formations that carve their way through a natural space.

Accompanying these photographs is a 1999 painting by Broota, Traces of Man - Unknown Soldier, in which we see a man's form fading away into a speckled wash of leopard-like spots. It's an image of disappearance, in which the ghostly traces of an individual fade behind in negative relief - perpetually beyond our reach.

- Until January 13 at XVA Gallery, Gate Village, Dubai International Finance Centre