Back to all artists
Next Previous

Sahej Rahal

Indian Contemporary Artist
Born 1988, Mumbai
Lives and works in Mumbai

Rahal’s ceaselessly growing body of work is an expanding narrative that includes mythical beings from various worlds and engages them in banter with the present. Within the frame of this narrative, his characters perform absurd acts in seemingly normal parts of the city, tapping into their potential to transform them into sites of ritual.



BFA, Rachana Sansad Academy of Fine Arts & Crafts, Mumbai INDIA

VIEW     Selected exhibitions     Text      Videos      Awards      Selected images      View all



The hunter, the explorer and the mystic have preoccupied the artist

The hunter, the explorer, and the mystic: these three extreme forms of being have preoccupied the artist through his short career. He found the three intertwined in the history and legend of Pir Ghaib, and has used the site as a take-off point for a penetrating reflection on history, the universe and everything.

Having chosen painting as his major in college, Sahej abandoned it to work in three dimensions, before expanding his practice to performance, into which he incorporated sculpture, and then to video, into which he incorporated both sculpture and performance. He has demonstrated an uncommon aptitude for all aspects of video, usually operating the camera himself even when he appears within the frame, and producing precisely paced edits. His most ambitious effort, Forerunner, which has lent its title to his debut solo show at Chatterjee&Lal gallery, introduces his talent for writing, through a seamless narrative that dovetails passages from Jorge Luis Borges with an imagined account of a Tughlaq-era hunting lodge in Delhi (that, according to some historians, doubled as an observatory), and the story of a sage who mysteriously disappeared from here, giving the site its current name, Pir Ghaib.

Sahej Rahal, FORERUNNER, 2013, film still

Even at such a young age, he has exhibited at major international art fairs and biennales

Sahej Rahal was currently showing in Kochi Muziris Biennale 2014. Keeping in mind the history of the space, Rahal tried to createMuziris - the absent city by displacing it in time and space. Sahej created these tall structures that seem futuristic, straight out of a sci-fi movie. But he had built them all in clay and in fact used quite a traditional and an “old fashioned” method of constructing these structures. His choice was driven due to the fact that earthenware is the first that tends to be foundduring archaeological surveys.

He created those Soviet-era war memorial-like structures, using straw or hay and the armature being packed with clay. The most challenging for Rahal, was the scale, about 2500 feet. He went to Kochi in July and started working, and in September had three people join to help with the work. Since the structures are so large, he couldn’t fire them, so they began to crack and crumble in places, which according to him helped add a certain depth to the work. Walking through it now feels like one is walking through a crumbling city. The entire feel is that of a futuristic playground - constantly tried to weave in elements of absurdity and wonder into the work.

Sahej Rahal, Harbinger, 2014, clay, polyurethane, hay, found objects

Rahal's practice employs found objects

Rahal's practice is known to employ found objects, a list which thus far has included plastic dolls, PVC pipes, brass knuckles, Doctor Who masks, tube lights and strainers. The video followed a similar pattern. The idea of the sculptures is also sort of mirroring how I made the video it involved putting different clips together and then seeing if I can weave a narrative around it, he says.

For Rahal, the fun lies in coaxing a meaning out of these objects. "I think of how I could, maybe vaguely, make them resemble things that they might remind you of, in history or pop culture", he adds.

The artist himself creates costumes and props for his performances, such as the didgeridoo whose ominous drone echoed through a public subway in the course of Bhramana II. A didgeridoo is as male a musical instrument as imaginable, not only for its deep fundamental note, but because certain aboriginal communities forbid women from so much as touching one. The clothes Sahej wore for Bhramana II were as disconcerting as the music he played. He donned an enormous turban, so large that it dwarfed his head and appeared to constrain his ability to see. It seemed the parallel of exaggerated markers of masculinity found in nature, such as the Irish Elk’s antlers: imposing, but also absurd, and potentially counter-productive. In further explorations, Sahej crafted ornate headgear and weapons from pieces of discarded furniture and household objects, transforming them to resemble precious relics.

Sahej Rahal, WALKER I & II, 2013, Polyester fur, branches, mixed media

Inspired by mythical beings from different cultures

His body of work as a growing narrative that draws upon mythical beings from different cultures, and brings them into a dialogue with the present.Within the narrative, these beings perform absurd acts in derelict corners of the city, transforming them into liminal sites of ritual. The temporal act and its residue become primary motifs in my practice.

In this manner, the body of work becomes both, a documentation of entropy within those sites and a personal mythology of beasts and kings.

Sahej's artistic idol is Joseph Beuys. He has had an actual experience of war, and converted it into a personal mythology. For all his indebtedness to Beuys, Sahej does not share the German artist's obsession with natural materials fundamental to life and survival. The fur his shamans wear is fake, and the encrusted sculptures he makes are shaped from polyurethane foam.

Saheh Rahal, KATABIS, 2011, film still