NS Harsha is a gifted story teller who captures everyday life from India as seen through the lens of news and world events on his canvas through the medium of paints and color.
Miniature art form is not unknown in India. In fact, it has been used through the ages to depict life from courts of kings to humble settings of huts or villages. However, Harsha has picked up this technique to bring to the world his observations of Indian society which at times are whimsical and at times absurd, or even tragic or significant on the world scene.
Perhaps painting is just a medium to express the philosopher and the thinker in him. Perhaps brush is Harsha’s tool in an attempt to bring a social change, and awareness and curiosity that surrounds humanity.
Through paintings or community installations, Harsha connects and engages the viewer in his thoughts as if together they are trying to find a solution to improve human condition in India or in world at large. He creates in each of his acrylic on canvas paintings intimate spaces that bring to mind the basic format of early cinema or theater halls usually found in small towns and villages. The narratives in Harsha’s satirical canvasses may unfold against painted backdrops as his figures – the Queen of England, school children, the quintessential Indian farmer figure, Hindu mythological characters, or sages and clowns – juxtaposed against them act out complex scenes before us. Painting delicate banners into his paintings, Harsha cleverly plays with text and words. Each of his works are witty, poetical, and at the same time a social response.
One of the works, Mass Marriage, which also won him UK’s prestigious 40,000 pound Artes Mundi Prize last week,at first seems a gentle and amusing narrative on Indian marriage around the world. But, on closer inspection, it also reveals loss, sadness and the complex nature of human relationships.
Rhodri Glyn Thomas, Wales’ Minister for Heritage said “I am delighted to congratulate N S Harsha on receiving this prestigious prize, it is a great achievement. Artes Mundi is an important initiative that brings together artists from across the world to engage in cultural debate and its theme of humanity allows it to capture the public imagination. The public response to the exhibition here in our National Museum, the artistic activity in communities across Wales and its work with schools and colleges is testament to that and it has become one of the highlights in Wales’ cultural calendar.”
Harsha, 39, studied painting at the Faculty of Fine Arts in Baroda in 1995. Since then he has taken part in a variety of collaborative projects and exhibitions internationally including the Singapore Biennale 2006, the 2nd Fukuoaka Asian Art Triennial 2002 and the Asia Pacific Triennial of contemporary Arts, Australia 1999. Harsha beat off competition from eight other finalists, including a duo, to win the prize.
“I feel numb. It’s a great responsibility that’s been handed to me. Everyone believes in you and I have to take my work forward from here. It gives you strength to keep on believing. Though I have not thought how to spend the prize money, I do wish to share a part of it with the artist community,” Harsha, who lives and works in Mysore, said.
Hours after arriving in Wales last month for the opening of the exhibition of the nominees’ work, he painted a floor mural which was covered with scatter cushions to invite children to interact with his work (also seen in image on top).
The figures in Harsha’s delicate, sly and playful world are almost invariably focused on an event, animated by a mutual curiosity, pointing out something that is odd, incongruous or comically strange. For the viewer the wit resides as much in the scale of the depictions as it does in the finely summarized telling detail of the vignette.