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Footloose on footpaths

This exhibition captures not only the predicament, but also the dreams and aspirations of those who are often overlooked by society

Men cooking their evening meals on the sidewalk or sitting together and playing cards on the pavement. Rushing down the busy streets of the Capital, you surely must have noticed them, but perhaps never spared a thought for them.

People pushed to the fringes of the society, living in tenements, slums, or homeless. This section of the society that remains unnoticed has caught the attention of self-taught artist and writer Ranjan Kaul.

Capturing the plight of the marginalised and neglected, while walking down the streets of Delhi, Ranjan Kaul has put his observations on canvas. As many as 45 of his paintings, done on various mediums, are on display at an exhibition titled ‘Staying Alive’.

“I was always concerned about the disadvantaged and marginalised,” says Ranjan, who has also published a collection of stories titled ‘Silent Realities’, where the subjects and characters are sketched around common people.

As the title suggest, ‘Staying Alive’, is essentially about surviving. “It’s about eking a living — a day-to-day to existence — since most of them do not have regular jobs.” Yet at the same time, it goes a little beyond just existing. “Despite their situation, they somehow manage to have dreams and aspirations for a better future,” adds Kaul.

This is reflected clearly in a monochromatic painting titled ‘Lipstick’, where a woman is sitting outside her tenement with a dog sleeping beside her. What immediately stands out is the bright red colour on her lips, symbolic of her dreams and aspirations. “It depicts that even the people from the lowest classes have dreams and aspirations to be upwardly mobile,” he says.

While going about with his work, Kaul has captured his subjects in different settings, all waiting for something. From passengers waiting endlessly on a railway platform, lines of patients outside moholla clinics and government hospitals, to middle-aged sex workers waiting for customers, ‘Waiting’ is one of the most recurring themes in his work. A painting titled ‘Ladies in Waiting’ perfectly captures this mood of sex workers, who are expecting customers.

Shedding light on more contemporary issues, Kaul’s work ‘Of Holes and the Elephant in the Room’ hits home. The painting refers to  manual scavenging which has claimed so many lives in the recent past. Looking at the painting, at first glance, no one will notice the elephant, but once you take a closer look at it, it becomes quite clear. “The issue is very much in your face but nobody does anything about it. The government keeps making promises and announcements but nothing has changed on the ground,” says Kaul.

Kaul hopes to evoke some kind of empathy among the audience through his work. “Everyone is so caught up in their own lives that people tend to ignore them. Most people just drive past them,” he says in conclusion.

The exhibition is on display at Art Gallery, Lalit Kala Akademi till February 20.