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Ever since I saw Adip Dutta’s steel wool trousers, I’ve been a fan.

Which sounds much racier as a sentiment than it actually is.

Dutta showed years ago at Project 88. His part of the show was titled The Mould Confronts the Snake, which sounds ponderously philosophical. Some of the works, like the one after which his part of the exhibition was titled, certainly were a touch overwrought. But Dutta’s drawings and his trousers, which had a matching steel wool shirt, were winners. There was a tongue-in-cheek quality to them but they weren’t frivolous. His drawings were intricate and beautifully-executed. The sense of rigidity and discomfort, the oddness in everyday life and the constrictive notion of masculinity were neatly but subtly explored in Dutta’s art. It was intelligent and it was fun, and it was the first and last we saw of Dutta for ages.

Very, very occasionally, I’d see a work or two pop up in group shows or at a fair, but the proper, expansive solo exhibition that I had been hoping for is yet to happen in Mumbai. He was, however, recently the star of Experimenter‘s stall at Art Dubai. These are from his latest series, In Pain I Redeem Love.

Dutta also showed something that looked like a gigantic, open butterly clip as well as a wall hanging made of steel wool. The wall hanging, from the little I can see of it, seems fluffy except absolutely no one but a particularly unforgiving masochist would want to snuggle with steel wool. The open clip has a distinctly ferocious quality to it, particularly since it’s open as like the jaws of a particularly painful trap. I’m not sure how much I like this work and it probably looked a lot less awkward in real life than it does in a photo, but even so, it’s interesting to think of the butterfly clip as a device used to control and tame hair in a way that it conforms to a sense of order and conventions of beauty. Open hair is usually the hallmark of one who is completely normal and in their right mind — the grieving widow, the enraged goddess, Slash of Guns ‘n’ Roses.

Dutta’s work seems to be obsessed with being a misfit and with the discomfort of appearing normal. It’s as though the mundane details of everyday life cage him. For example, the shirt that should be a casual bit of clothing is an intensely uncomfortable disguise. The cage appears repeatedly. I do like most of the drawings though. First of all, I have a weakness for artists who do actually know how to draw (you’d be surprised how few of the younger ones do). Dutta’s control and ability with the brushes is obvious from the kind of detail in each of the works. The delicacy of the lines is a lovely contrast to the brutal pain suggested in them. Go up close to these works, and you’ll find you can stare at them for a long, long time.

Fingers crossed Dutta’s new works come to Mumbai soon.

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