We’ve been working with artist Manish Sharma since 2017. Over the past 6 years, what has really been intriguing is his ‘fetish’ for objects that originate in history but shine unabashedly in contemporary times. Desire is embedded deep within the object itself; he creates a deep need in us to possess his handmade objects by making them satirical, enticing, gleaming, shiny & ornately painted.
The term fetishism refers to the relative quality of desire and fascination for an object that is not intrinsic, but is nonetheless part of it. The reverence shown for its capacities supplements its material form, showing what it means and how it is valued in its cultural context. A fetish and its consequent reverence which has developed for it over a long period of time shows how it is valued in given cultural paradigms, deriving its power from an ‘irreducible materiality’- its ontological substance. The process of its making is the sole source of its efficacy, rather than any representational or an encapsulated spiritual power. It is by nature, a heterogenous object, a gathering of sorts, of a variety of desires, beliefs, narrative systems, and the commemorative materialisation of ‘a unique originating event’. It continuously configures itself by calling that event to memory, repeatedly invoking a concrete sense of collectivity, through its very materiality, the material components and technologies gathered in it. It is Jean Baudrillard, a French sociologist, philosopher and poet (1929-2007), who, like many post-structuralists, treated fetishism as a sign of social value; he took the fetished object to stand for the owner's social status. Here, fetish is no longer of an unreal object, believed to have properties it does not really have, but is a means of mediating social value through material culture. As distinct from an ordinary object, an objet d’art - the valued product of human hands, acquires a certain value.
Years ago, when I visited Bikaner, Manish’s hometown, I was struck by the highly stylised rain-bearing clouds painted in niches, nay, entire rooms in homes in the city and its adjoining regions; it was as if the very act of painting was a wish-fulfilling prophecy. Manish grew up watching his community pray year round for the ever elusive rain to bless its parched, sandy lands. ‘Modern Fetish’, as a title of his solo exhibition emerged from this central idea - the Clouds of Bikaner. Based on these memories and his own fetish for objects, this series of handmade works is a blatant satire on the compulsive desire for commodities in the modern world. His bulbous, magnificent clouds are volumised intangibilities filled equally of desire and rain; they are as much a transfer of desire and as they are receptacles of desire; wish fulfillers and consumerist fetished objects that fulfil a wish by merely possessing them. Environmentally, they are potentially a take on the desperate human intervention like cloud seeding today which is causing floods.
Where can fetishism lead you? - Monica Jain