Diwan Manna Portrait by Raghu Rai
About the Artist
Conceptual art which came into vogue in 1960s concerns itself with ideas and the inner thought process of the artist seeking an outlet in the form of visual representation. The ideas in contemporary conceptual art can be traced back to philosophy, psychoanalysis, feminism, political activism and semiotics. As a genre, therefore conceptual art bridges such discreet categories as mass culture and high art as well as technology and aesthetics.
Conceptual photography is to visual art what allegory is to poetry. As a visual medium it is Diwan's chosen tool of narrating his personal impressions and experiences of the world in and around him. His photographs are not frozen mirror images of objects around us but there is certain remoteness from our daily visual experience in his work. His conceptual art appears in the guise of photographs but one should be wary of calling him a photographer because he is often seen in the image , outside it , besides it , looking at it and looking from it thereby inhabiting space which is inner ( mind ) , real ( studio ) and the social at the same time . He seems to be taking us on a sojourn of his inner landscape where there are a myriad of voices and thoughts .To that extent the inwardness and ambiguity of his work finds intriguing translation into images which though identifiable cannot be easily classified, much less interpreted as having a single dominant meaning. The artist does not anchor every photograph to a caption thereby imposing a reading on us. His endeavor is to communicate his inner thought process along with what is actually being shown. There are indications of meaning rather than singular renderings of ritualized gestures. The photographs being presented are anchored in a time of undefined duration and assembled in a conceptual series as visualized and constructed by the artist in his mind.
At hand is a work which is not merely resisting the accepted modes and conventions of photography but is also a critique of vision and a critique of representation .The artist does not take (click) pictures he constructs them, he uses them .The gaze of the camera is one of mastery in which there is no ideology or activism that is being forced upon us but rather the artist engages us in his modes of thinking aloud. At the same time the narrative is not voyeuristic or transparent but is reflexive and reflective, always turning back and demanding an effort even after the first meaning is deciphered.
Diwan is well versed with the grammar of his genre and his vocabulary of images is avant-garde and he is adept at manipulating the devices of his medium .He does not use the camera as an innocent copying device to reproduce the world around him. Diwan realizes that photography as a method of visual representation is both ideologically and culturally loaded. He believes that the perception and thinking that leads to taking the photograph and displaying it is as important, if not more than the final object. Divan manages to escape the cliché© of speaking for others. He lets that other (us) have a voice. Although he himself in a way, is the subject of his work but he is not merely telling us something about himself. The photographs here are not self evident statements but are narratives which question the very act of how we look and how we think .They deal with the gaps in our perception of the past, the immediate and the transcendental of the known and the unknown - the seen and the unseen - the inner turmoil that alienates and the vision which keeps us going.
After the turmoil series, Diwan’s bare body work where he uses his own body as a recording device for catching the ephemeral contours and silhouettes of human beings, there by displaying the tenderness and intimacy of human touch and the inner turmoil that haunts every human relationship. The conceptual strategy and schema as well as the photographic techniques used transgress the traditional boundaries of photography and there in lies the novelty and appeal of Diwan Manna's oeuvre.
Article was written by Amarbir Singh for the exhibition Ages of Separation by Diwan Manna, held at Visual Arts Gallery, India Habitat Center, New Delhi 2006