Mrugen Rathod’s “Mindful Art”


By Tehezeeb Moitra

Working within and yet purposefully at the margins of environmental and social issues, Indian artist Mrugen Rathod (b. Ahmedabad, 1982) is something of an anomaly. While his direct and often literal engagement with the environment and community issues is evident, there is also a curious subtext that highlights a different kind of preoccupation. Eluding the definitions by which his work is often categorised, Rathod describes his art as “going beyond the realms of environmental art, sustainable art or site-specific art” rather understanding it more in terms of what he calls “mindful art”. To Rathod this is a term that encourages the audience to engage with his work by paying “attention to the present, non-judgmentally and non-reactively, … [and] then respond[ing] appropriately”. 


Mrugen Rathod, Let US face the fututre - A fake prototype of Manhattan, NYC, 2012
Courtesy of the artist


Mrugen Rathod, Let US face the fututre - A fake prototype of Manhattan, NYC, 2012
Courtesy of the artist

Rathod develops this idea of “mindfulness” through the creation of works, ranging from sculpture to performance and installation, which engage with a certain kind of site specificity that is rooted in a spontaneous, intuitive connection with the local environment. The installation Let US face the future – A fake prototype of Manhattan, NYC (2012) was developed during Rathod’s time at Art Omi International Artists Residency programme in upstate New York. The piece itself is an expression of Rathod’s response to New York City as a first-time visitor to the US and embodies what he calls a “prototype of Manhattan”. The juxtaposition of missiles and skyscrapers represent Rathod’s understanding of what he sees as the inherent contradiction in the US where power, evidenced by skyscrapers and destruction, the missiles, are intertwined. Using cardboard, scrap wood, cotton, jelly and even found objects such as a bird’s nest to create a work that successfully captures the confusion of the artist’s initial encounter, Rathod describes the piece as having been “really spontaneous, and material was chosen locally and purposefully discarded”.


Mrugen Rathod, Mistaken Case of Turtles, 2011
Courtesy of the artist

Mrugen Rathod, Mistaken Case of Turtles, 2011
Courtesy of the artist

Mrugen Rathod, Mistaken Case of Turtles, 2011
Courtesy of the artist

Mrugen Rathod, Mistaken Case of Turtles, 2011
Courtesy of the artist

The majority of Rathod’s work is a lot more locally relevant both in terms of the issues he engages with and the materials he consequently uses. His work is localised to the extent that the site he works on becomes the inspiration and the impetus from which his work is produced. The 2011 installation, Mistaken Case of Turtles uses bamboo strips, banana leaves, jute thread, food colouring and tissue paper collected from Fort Kochi beach in Kerala, India to create a life-sized representation of turtles that have perished on the contaminated shores of Kochi. However, engaging as the work might be, the utter localisation of the piece creates the possibility of a kind of disconnect that prevents a coherent engagement and indeed appreciation of a piece that is clearly reaching toward an undeniably important message. 


Mrugen Rathod, Pimp my Green, 2012
Courtesy of the artist


Mrugen Rathod, Pimp my Green, 2012
Courtesy of the artist


Rathod extends this localised engagement in the 2012 performance piece Pimp my Green that suggests a kind of commentary on the relationship between architecture and the environment. Dressed in a florescent green lycra suit, sometimes photographed perched in the window of an abandoned construction site or riding a bicycle that carries a “house” covered in real estate advertising, Rathod inserts himself into the physical landscape of his environment as a way to highlight the socio-political message that forms the undercurrent of the performance. This idea of infiltration into the environment is fundamental to Rathod’s practice - it allows him not just to “alter or permeate the existing environment” but also to create something altogether new. Rathod contextualises the piece by saying “By using green colour, name or any form related to green – e.g. leaf or tree, in my city or around, builders are trying to imitate the ‘green’ concept, but they are doing green wash and by walking to the same kind of architectural site, I am commenting on the policy of selling green”.

The heterotopic spaces that Rathod creates are enthusiastic and earnest in that they are based on the intent of drawing attention to those elements in society that are often ignored or perhaps not given the attention they warrant. Through a particular attention to site specificity, Rathod’s works are interesting and oftentimes thought provoking.