'Soil Oil'

Kerosene is an essential commodity in rural India. But the supply at government-run ration shops is limited, so people are forced to buy it illegally from the black market, which is controlled by unscrupulous and powerful fuel mafias. I have seen how people have to struggle to get enough kerosene for their needs, and how they become easy prey for criminals who sell adulterated oil at high prices. The news coverage of oil wells being blown up by fighter aircraft during the Gulf War in the 1990s made me realize that the same thing was happening on a global scale.
— Sachin Bonde
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Indian artist Sachin Bonde uncovers the shrouded truth of one of the world's most valuable commodities, oil. Though referred to as ‘black gold’ in many places, ‘soil oil’ is the term used by Indians, which is a literal translation for kerosene in both the Hindi and Marathi languages. It is also the term from which the exhibition borrows its title, and is far more definitive of the natural resource that has caused so much distress. The artwork he has produced over the last four years has been about uncovering the misconstrued reality of an industry with so much blood on its hands.

Oil's utmost importance in daily life has historically been abused with prices that increase out of reach from the masses. From WWII to present day, the need for fuel to sustain the war continues to drive the war-for-fuel. Without fuel, no tankers can be mobilized nor can fighter planes fly. It is the scarcity of fuel that brings crime and corruption, leading to illegal sales and putting kerosene on the black market to fight the limitations put forth by those in control. To many, the pumped black liquid from under the surface of the earth is viewed as a resource curse, spiraling countries into war. It is the desperation of the people who helplessly end up on the illegal side of the industry that Bonde often describes in his artwork.

The fight for territory and oil has somehow dominated the theatre of the world’s animosity and war for more than a century.
— Sumesh Sharma, official ‘Soil Oil’ show curator
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One of Sachin Bonde’s metaphorical creations stands in the center of the exhibit; an oil-soaked rooster grasps a globe with its dripping claw. This piece speaks specifically of the fuel mafia, and tells a story of the death of a government official in India, Yashwant Sonawane, who was beaten and burned alive in 2011 for trying to expose an oil-adulteration mafia. Bonde questions such events and business dealings that follow and how it translates to both supplier and consumer and how politics play a role.

The artwork itself has a strong visual presence and is supported by its strong prevailing theme. There are two pieces that particularly stand out and can be seen to summarize the show. One being ‘The World’  – a world map of oil producers etched in gold leaf onto a rusted metal sheet that bears graphs indicating their consumption. The second is a battered world globe that has been fitted with a kerosene lamp-head on top while a long wick emerges from its base. The kerosene beaker is something that Bond has recycled throughout his artwork, as it is symbolic of the worldwide dependence on fuel.

Special objects and symbols appear throughout the exhibited artwork. The meanings of these unfold into real stories beyond their material limitations. These things that make up each piece of artwork in Bonde’s exhibit have the potential to be read collectively as well as individually. In his artistic practice, Bonde reveals the potential affiliation triggered by objects and humans or cultural environments. The most apparent is the kerosene beaker previously mentioned. Others include outlines of countries, flags, fighter planes and specific animals including the elephant, rhino, tiger, monkey and camel. Which is nothing short of a parallel being drawn of humanity’s historic commodification of desires.

In his practice, Bonde maps the world’s movement of petrol and kerosene revealing its impact on political conflict, corruption and environmental devastation. The exhibition presents an educated perspective we cannot find from commercial sources. It is his knowledge and empathy that are so captivating.

ArtThe Nile| culture