Fuel for the Imagination

How Prabhakar Pachpute brought coal into Indian art galleries

01 April 2017

I GREW UP around a lot of blackness,” the artist Prabhakar Pachpute told me, as we sat inside a large room in Clark House, a 150-year-old colonial building in south Mumbai. “It’s become an intrinsic part of who I am, and so it will always show in my work.”

Only a month earlier, in May 2016, Pachpute’s work had been exhibited at the National Gallery of Modern Art, Mumbai. At the age of 30, he is among the youngest artists to have had a solo exhibition at the NGMA. Sitting at a square wooden table, Pachpute opened his laptop to show me some of his work. After showing me photos of some of his sketches, he played a stop-motion animation video he had made in 2012.

The video begins with a monochromatic sketch of a rural idyll, gradually filling out with trees, farms and hills, to the pleasant sounds of chirping birds and grasshoppers. But within seconds, a windshield wiper runs over the scene, fading it out. As the farms, birds and trees disappear, a bunch of houses march forward like soldiers. A plume of thick black smoke rises from the cluster of houses, while an ominous siren bellows in the distance. Gradually, a swirling blackness envelops the entire landscape. Sudden explosions follow, with the houses trembling in their wake. One could easily mistake this to be a war scene. The houses start marching away, but one remains, breathing heavily as if through a mask.

Alison Saldanha is an assistant editor with IndiaSpend.org. She previously worked for the Indian Express. Her writings have appeared in Scroll, The Wire, the Hindustan Times, Business Standard and the Economic Times, among other publications.

Keywords: labour contemporary art Maharashtra murals mining ecology Indian Art painting Prabhakar Pachpute coal Chandrapur Clark House National Gallery of Modern Art