Shadow Lands, a Ranjeet Singh solo exhibition

Shadow Lands, a Ranjeet Singh solo exhibition

Shadow Lands: A Visual narrative of Coal Miners

Date: 11th Aug - 17th Sept., 2022 

To a city dweller, a red sky maybe beautiful, amusing even – but to farmers and workers in the hinterlands of northern India, tinted skies portend something ominous. A famine perhaps, or dry months with no rain or sustenance – Ranjeet Singh picks up on these subtle realities when exploring the subject matter for his artworks. His art practice is not only informed by a close examination of his surroundings, both past and present, but also meanings gleaned from progressive literature and people’s mass movements to better society. He takes his role as an artist seriously, and attempts to crystalize the truths that lie in plain sight, but that one always turns away from. In order to make his work purposeful and understandable by the subjects whom he chooses to record, Singh has developed a style that is visually readable, and yet can be interpreted variedly by audiences. 

Using photography and painting as interconnected mediums with equal intensity, Singh provides an empathetic view of human suffering that is raw and universal. They serve as mnemonic devices that document his experiences in the mines. As witnessed by him, the superimposed layering of objects and humans are often punctuated by eeriness and a surreal atmosphere. The dusty and drab backgrounds echo a sense of suffocation and isolation – yet there is a notion of resilience in the figures, and an underlying poetry in the compositions. The coal fields transform into micro systems that are cut away from the rest of world and appear as landscapes of dystopian ruin. The figures may seem anonymous to the viewer, but the artist uses expressive devices that transform the space into one engendering more intimate connection with the subjects. Through Singh’s sensitive approach, one can perceive the awareness of the miners of having their vulnerabilities being captured on film. Deeply conscious of the reality of how the coal dust effects their lungs, Singh’s imagery, particularly the photographs, reveal conditions of extreme neglect to human safety and question society’s role in this marginalization of a community. 


While coal mining is a theme that has preoccupied him for the past few years, his work carries elements of the past series that reflected his involvement with NGOs working with child labour. Innocent faces -deprived by circumstances of the privileges of life – stare out from the canvases peopled by the infrastructure of a mining world. After documenting and researching the lives of miners for over xyz years, the artist has accumulated a vast photographic record. He has a personal investment into the life of the individuals that he photographs as many of them have been an integral part of his childhood and part of the environment he grew up in. His rendition of their lives escapes the clutches of the exoticization that often plagues the representation of the subjugated “other”. His brutally honest portrayal of the labourers is handled with consideration and dignity, and is directed to serve as a form of silent protest.

Reinforced by ideas of great thinkers like Sartre, Dumas, and Krishna Sobti among others, Singh’s works are a powerful depiction of the lives of coal miners as witnessed by him in Jharkhand. The ashen figures of workers in the coal fields, with strained expressions, and striking eyes, recall the work of an artist whom he has great admiration for – Vincent van Gogh.

For someone whose first love was design, Ranjeet Singh has developed a poignant and compelling visual language that addresses the challenges of our times. Treating technique and concept as means of communicating truths, he makes images that touch upon a universal sense of humanity. Whether to view these works from a formalistic view or to see them within the context placed by the artist is one’s choice. As Susan Sontang points out, it is better to see have a subjective response to artworks, than having an overabundant importance placed on them. This compilation works succeeds in evoking a recognition of the dignity of labour, and a shared understanding of the struggles of the workers from many tribal areas in the country; they leave the audience to reconsider social hierarchies and the cavernous blackhole of greed that can consume the earth, and metaphorically, so much from human lives. 


Ranjeet Singh

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