Anant Joshi (b. 1969) is a Mumbai based artist who creates sculptures and paintings out of fragments of toys (both found and created). These works, particularly the sculptures and installations, discuss larger sociologial issues found not only in India but also around the world. One of the many ironies of Joshi’s work is that he never had toys growing up – he only discovered them as an adult and with that lens, he saw the messages about power, perception and reality that seemingly trivial toys were sending as cultural programming to the next generation. Toys allow children to create theatrical examples of how they think the world should be, and this can create ugly realities later.
Joshi first discovered toys as a medium when attending a residency program at the Rijksakademie in the Netherlands. On the Queen’s birthday, Dutch children sell their old toys for pocket change. Joshi purchased these toys and took them apart to remove their “fixed identities” and adapt them to a new cultural context (mirroring his own process of cultural adjustment as an Indian in Holland). While his early works used readymade toys, Joshi now creates his own “toys” – usually painted ceramic and fiberglass. Like the toys they are inspired by, Joshi’s sculptures and installations gleam with shiny colors and finishes, luring in the viewer. When the viewer looks closely, however, they find grotesque details like severed heads and trunk-less limbs that evoke a sense of violent chaos.
In his 2007 show at Chemould Prescott Road, “Navel One and the Many” (the title comes from the god Brahma coming into the world from a lotus growing out of the god Vishnu’s navel), Joshi transformed toys into violent installations, reminding the viewer that while they may feel removed from violence happening in the world around them, they actually play an active role in it by how they teach their children. Just as the god Vishnu held all the elements of creation within his body, Joshi's work suggests that we also hold the elements of creating our own societies through the way we raise our children.
Joshi is also known for his dramatic kinetic room installations that exaggerate the effects of his mutated toy sculptures using lights, shadows, and reflections. In another installation from the 2007 exhibition “Navel One and the Many”, the artist skewered fragments of brightly painted animal, human, and superhero figures on rotating steel rods, piercing the viewer’s childhood memories and sense of societal order. Joshi amplified the horror of this scene by separating the viewer from the toys through blinds made of sharp razor blades, seducing the viewer into the scene with movement and lights, but rendering them powerless to do anything besides standing and watching the destruction within.
Joshi created one of the most celebrated works in the 2012 traveling exhibition ‘Cinema City’ co-curated by Archana Hande and Madhushree Dutta. Inspired by matinee idols, often referred to as ‘patakas’ (firecrackers), as well as spindles, which are integral to the history of the textile industry, the “erstwhile nerve centre of the city” according to the curators, Joshi created a stunning and spinning installation with 100 objects rotating on an 8 x 4 foot table. The installation evoked a sense of desire and excitement that pulses at the heart of Bombay.
The ability to harness a city’s energy is one of Joshi’s strengths. For the Kochi Muziris Biennale in 2012, Joshi created an ambitious installation entitled “Three Simple Steps” where he replicated the form of a traditional Kerala temple, and adorned the wall with hundreds of electronic mosquito repellant devices in place of lamps. Instead of mosquito repellant, the artist filled the devices with a perfume called ittar, creating an overpowering experience meant to act as a mechanism to invite in likeminded good people, such as the Malayalis who left their homeland to seek fortune abroad, and to simultaneously repel malevolent people who do not have their homeland’s best interests at heart. Like many of Joshi’s works, “Three Simple Steps,” takes deep inspiration from Hindu mythology and Indian festival culture such as the Kerala festival of Onam.