Rohit Raj Mehndiratta explores the complex world of Kafka and Freud in his visually stimulating art show

New Delhi: Celebrated German novelist Franz Kafka wrote the novella Metamorphosis – a psycho-analytical tale about the dreary life of a salesman who transforms overnight into a giant insect – as far back as 1915, but the theme of both chaos and aspiration in the human psyche is as relevant today, or so believes Delhi-based architect and artist Rohit Raj Mehndiratta. In his latest solo show titled Navigating Mindscapes, Mehndiratta deals with the theory of the conscious and unconscious mind through a uniquely complex visual language that captures the everyday landscapes of the mind.

The exhibition, that includes photographic prints, pen & ink drawing and acrylics and oils on canvas, will be held at the Arpana Caur Art Gallery, Academy of Fine Arts & Literature, 4/6, Siri Fort Institutional Area, New Delhi from March 15 till March 28, 2018, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily.

Mindscape 1: Pen and Ink on archival paper, 27' x 40'
Mindscape 1: Pen and Ink on archival paper, 27' x 40' © Rohit Raj Mehndiratta

“This exhibition seeks to explore the ideas of alienation and instability that human mind undergoes due the pressures created by society,” says Mehndiratta, an MIT post-graduate in architecture and urbanism, “I am also interested in psycho-analysis so the subject of the sub-conscious mind appeals to me greatly.  I like to question our perception (and at times obsession with) of the real, the tangible and the structure that forms society. The IT and social media boom, I believe, is alienating humans from their real selves more and more.”

No wonder then, Mehndiratta finds the Freudian theories of id, ego, super-ego equally fascinating. His first solo show in 2016, held at Alliance Francaise titled (Un)fettered, presented similar and visually stimulating inner-scapes depicting the constant struggle with the external world.  Before that, he has held a solo photography show in 2014 in New York titled Placed Settings that explored the vagaries of life in Brooklyn & New York. A full-time practising architect, who runs Studio VanRO with wife Vandini Mehta, the 44-year-old says that he always drawn to the medium of art even though he was studying to be an architect. 

It was when he began to co-author and conceptualise a book on the life of his father and highly acclaimed engineer Mahendra Raj, that the lure of devoting serious time to art became more defined. Also, travelling to various places has given this self-taught artist enough fodder for a visually stimulating body of work.

For instance, a photographic work titled Doors – that was taken in a village in Himachal Pradesh – includes multiple images to explore the idea of “what lies behind what meets the eye”. The artist says, “It connotes the many paths/ memories locked up in ones consciousness as time passes us by. Implicit in this work is also collective amnesia towards heart wrenching events that happen on a daily basis. These memories, dark social phenomenons are locked and forgotten - manifesting the violence of repression as a acceptable societal condition.”

  • Knots is also a photographic montage that symbolises repressed desires that remain in the mind, removed from consciousness yet operative at a personal and collective level. “Hurt, repression, abuse at a personal or societal level leaves a mark, literally knots us up in the flow of time.”
  • Mirror is a pen & ink work which represents conflicting emotions of melancholy, narcissism, desires of flight and self-destruction as one looks into the mirror, while 
  • Mindscape is about the land of thoughts and imaginations. The Conscious is inspired by Freud’s psychic structure- of the ego and superego operative in the conscious areas of the mind as a moral police constantly raging a battle in the unconscious space to repress id - the narcissistic primitive child of unfathomable desires. Metamporph is the artist’s take on Kafka’s story. “We live and die everyday - wanting to become that unconscious desire only to come back to a policed, structured reality.”  
  •  The Unconscious, an acrylic and oil on canvas is a dreamscape and a prison simultaneously in which all repressed desires, longings and passions are collected and heavily guarded, while Chimeras is about Kafka’s insect that symbolises the unconscious. “So I ask -  then are chimeras mythological, fire-breathing grotesque monsters genetically mutated and a manifestation of the social unconsciousness, of the fight to repress those dark  desires or is it a repression of the unbelievable and hence fearful power of the unconscious if illuminated will transform us into species of a higher order.”