Kanishka Raja’s posthumous solo exhibition “Ground Control” draws its title from a David Bowie song. In this instance, “Ground” refers to the textile surfaces on which the artist layered his linear compositions; the meaning of “Control,” also the title of the series of cotton tapestries and oil on panel paintings on display, is not so easily fixed. It could apply to rules and regulations, notations, or the timing, precision, and discipline that govern the fields of music, sports technology, and architecture—recurring influences on Raja’s work. For an artist raised in West Bengal, a part of the region divided between India and Bangladesh after Partition, “Control” can also signify something else: borders.
Over the years, Raja’s painted studies were translated into tapestries by his collaborator Dipak Haldar. The latter would dye the threads to mimic Raja’s palette, then weave them on double-weft handlooms. Both a sense of familiarity and the element of chance frame the reading of these compositions. Control 10, also known as From Bauhaus to My House, 2015, is a hand-woven diptych. To the right is a floor plan of the house in which the artist grew up, drawn from memory in the hues of architectural blueprints. During a visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the artist discovered the layout of Piet Mondrian’s apartment. Struck by how similar it was to his own, Raja painted reproduced the Dutch painter’s floor plan as a mirror image to his childhood home, spiking the blue with Mondrian’s signature purple.
The undated Control 11 centers on a soccer-pitch kickoff circle, offset by the distinct American-football goalpost occupying the bottom right corner. A row of upturned houses line the top of the image, as if they shared the boundary wall of the stadium. Raja perfected the technique of abstracting, inverting, or skewing such familiar forms so that they play out like clues to something we could, in truth, never guess.