Arts Illustrated

July 3, 2020

A Feat of Engineering

Nature Morte’s latest show ‘The Sapper’, featuring the photographs of the brilliant Bharat Sikka, explores the delicate yet sinewy bond between an army father and his son.

Moksha Kumar

Tunnelling through the undergrowth to provide safe passage for troops, the sapper is undeniably underrated as a focal point of war. The depth of the trenches and the depth of the trust that are tested by time and circumstances is something that is quite precariously approached and investigated in the show The Sapper by Nature Morte.  In this latest online exhibit, acclaimed photographer Bharat Sikka reflects on the multidimensional attributes of the bond shared between him and his father, in all its rawness, through a metaphoric exploration of the relationship between the sapper and his familial ties.

Nature Morte The Sapper Bharat Sikka

Nature Morte The Sapper Bharat Sikka

As independent curator and writer Charlotte Cotton succinctly wrote, ‘The Sapper is an entitling that offers up a cue for the viewer: an explanation of the circumstances, behaviours and predilections that we can read into the portrayal of this former ‘sapper’ of the Indian Army Corps of Engineers. It suggests a double-edged understanding of this father – the push and pull of his sense of selfhood – as both held in his public, now-historical role, and despite of it.’ Bringing light to the intimate threads shared between himself and his father, the series of photographs explore the intricately woven relationship and identities of both subjects. The photographer unwittingly invites himself into the frame by providing us clues to his familial ties and eventually his own identity. The subconscious reflections and emotions shared are captured in a moment and transfixed into a present that is equally electric. The motive perhaps, is to trigger the mind into hacking the induced dream state via these photographs and understanding their nuances and the deep context attached to them.

Nature Morte The Sapper Bharat Sikka

‘Sapper gradually evolved into a way to understand and relate to my father, and into a collaboration where we enacted our relationship and he could show me—with full cognizance and agency—who he is’, said Sikka when talking about the series.  Even as we observe the images, we find that they are ingeniously tailored to draw our attentions to the raw membrane of detail that runs through the series. Each image is like a map, presenting clues that lead everywhere and nowhere; but with context, they become the light at the end of the tunnel.


Bharat Sikka, The Sapper, Photo Rag 308 paper with wooden frame, Edition of 3, 2019. All Images are Courtesy of the artist and Nature Morte.

Check out the show here.


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