Publisher: Akkadia Press
Canvas rating: *****
Mukesh Shah’s publication C?N U FEEL IT is titled after the Dubai- based multidisciplinary artist’s third solo show at XVA Gallery, which took place from 6 November-18 December 2021. The book explores Shah’s slogan-based artworks, which comment on what the book calls our current “zeitgeist of an era’, spanning everything from 9/11 to COVID-19 and exploring the ways in which we relate to each other in times of sociopolitical turbulence. With an introduction by art writer Patrick Langley and a Q&A between the artist and Warren Singh-Bartlett, the book balances its image-heavy structure — displaying Shah’s artworks in conversation with relevant photographs of recent or ongoing political events — with conceptual discussions of his process and inspirations.
The catalyst for Shah’s work was mainly the 9/11 tragedy and how the impact of the event proliferated throughout global media and psyches. Shah’s visceral response to the attack prompted him to develop a practice that looks at the language surrounding major sociopolitical issues, such as our collective experiences of the Coronavirus pandemic and the #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter movements and allows him to deal with these responses in his work. “One aim of breaking language is to wake it up” he explains. Shah’s artworks incorporate phrases such as “I WAS A FACT” (on alternative facts), “I AM COVID-19” (on the pandemic) and “I WOKE UP BLACK” (on racism in the USA); their sparing nature may come across as blasé or reductive, but Shah argues that “perhaps a reductive approach to representing major issues is better and more effective — it might magnify and focus.”
By the end of the book, one is unlikely to entirely agree with this view. While the introductory texts at the start of the books provide a lot of contexts, albeit convoluted, the stream of text-based artworks that follow seem almost to mock the actual nuances and complexity of collective struggles and movements.