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The Curator #15

In the last two posts we discussed retrospective exhibitions and how they are curated. Today we will discuss about biennales. Have you heard of Biennale before? Biennale is an Italian word for Biennial which means an art exhibition which is held once in two years. Venice Biennale is of the earliest biennales In the world. There are two three important factors which play an important role in a biennale. The location is the most important part of a Biennale. Why have a biennale in Venice and not in Florence or Rome? Venice was one of the important cities of Italy during the medieval period especially due its commercial and cultural activities. It was also an important hub of Renaisaance art. Even in the contemporary times Venice is a sought after destination because of ts beautiful waterbodies, buildings and history. Nevertheless it also faces its own challenges due to financial and environment crisis. Because of this unique blend of history, cultural activities, architectural marvels, and a cosmopolitanism Venice is seen as a perfect destination to hold an art exhibition of such a larger scale. Biennales are mainly known by the city names where it is held. Some important biennales are Gwangju Biennale, Hawana Biennial, Liverpool Biennial, Moscow Biennial, etc. In India too we have Kochi-Muziris Biennale which was started in 2012 and since have become a center of attraction of the world. It is held in the city of Cochin and sees the participation of a large number of public. After the establishment of Kochi-Muziris Biennale, there has emerged many biennials across India. The important ones are Pune Biennale, Bodhgaya Biennale, etc. Similar to biennials we also a format called triennials which happens once in three years. India also has a triennial conducted by Lalit Kala Akademi which is a format happening once in three years. It was started at 1968.

Every biennial and triennial appoints a curator. The curators decides the theme for the exhibition and invites artists from different parts of the world to join the exhibition. Unlike usual art exhibitions biennials have larger time gaps in between them, the format is bigger, the participation too is global. Once the artists are selcted based on their practice they are invited to visit the city and the spaces allotted for the exhibition. Mostly, artists make new art works based on their experience but these days some artists also show existing works. Kochi-Muziris Biennale is unique because it only invites artists to be curators. The first edition was curated by the founders of the KMB Bose Krishnamachari and Riyas Komu. The second edition was curated by Jitish Kallat. In this issue of Art1st’s “The Curator” series we will discuss Jitish Kallat’s “Whorled Explorations” curated for KMB in 2014.

The Curator #14

Curator : Jitish Kallat

Exhibition: Whorled Explorations, Kochi Muziris Biennale (Second Edition)

Year: 2014

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Jitish Kallat

 Jitish is one of the most important contemporary artists from India whose artistic presence has reached a global level. His exhibitions and artworks have featured in the most important museums and galleries of the world. Jitish was appointed as the curator of KMB. One important thing we have to know about Kochi-Muziris Biennale is that it is not inspired by one location. It draws its influences from two sites – Cochin and Muziris. Muziris is a historic site near to Cochin which was a port and a gateway to the world. It was an important trade destination and also had many foreign settlements. Biennale wanted to highlight this historic cosmopolitanism of Cochin and Muziris and how Kerala’s public sphere was shaped by these cultural exchanges.

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Anish Kapoor, Descension, 2014. Courtesy: Erika Balsom

The exhibition was titled as Whorled Exploration. Citing two historic currents from the 14th to 17th century—the maritime explorations of the Age of Discovery and the astronomical propositions made by the Kerala School of Astronomy and Mathematics—the exhibition draws upon a wide glossary of signs from this legendary maritime gateway. The project metaphorically exaggerates the gestures we make when we try to see or understand something: We either go close or move away from it in space; we also reflect back or forth in time to understand the present. Whorled Explorations draws upon these gestures of deliberation across the axes of space and time to present artworks that interlace the bygone with the imminent and the terrestrial with the celestial.

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Marie Velardi, Future Perfect, 21st Century, 2006/14. Courtesy: Erika Balsom

The participating artists were Adrian Paci / Aji V N / Akbar Padamsee / Andrew Ananda Voogel / Anish Kapoor / Annie Lai Kuen Wan / Aram Saroyan / Arun K S / Benitha Perciyal / Bharti Kher / Bijoy Jain / Biju Joze / Charles and Ray Eames / Chen Chieh-jen / Christian Waldvogel / Daniel Boyd / David Horvitz / Dayanita Singh / D​inh Q Lê / Fiona Hall / Francesco Clemente / Gigi Scaria / Guido van der Werve / Gulammohammed Sheikh / Hamra Abbas / Hans Op de Beeck / Hema Upadhyay / Hew Locke / Ho Rui An / Ho Tzu Nyen / Iqra Tanveer / Janine Antoni / Julian Charrière / K G Subramanyan / K M Vasudevan Namboodiri / Kader Attia / Katie Paterson / Khalil Rabah / Kwan Sheung Chi / Laurent Grasso / Lavanya Mani / Lindy Lee / Madhusudhanan / Manish Nai / Marie Velardi / Mark Formanek / Mark Wallinger / Martin Creed / Menika van der Poorten / Michael Najjar / Michael Stevens / Mithu Sen / Mona Hatoum / Muhanned Cader / N S Harsha / Naeem Mohaiemen / Nataraj Sharma / Navin Thomas / Navjot Altaf / Neha​ ​Choksi / Nikhil Chopra / Parvathi Nayar / Peter Rösel / Pors & Rao / Prajakta Potnis / Prashant Pandey / Pushpamala N / Rafael Lozano-Hemmer / Rajan Punalur / Raqs Media Collective / Rivane Neuenschwander / Ryota Kuwakubo / Sachin George Sebastian / Sahej Rahal / Sarnath Banerjee / Shahpour Pouyan / Shantamani Muddaiah / Shumon Ahmed / Sissel Tolaas / Sudhir Patwardhan / Sumakshi Singh / Sunoj D / Surendran Nair / Susanta Mandal / Tara Kelton / Theo Eshetu / Unnikrishnan C / Valsan Koorma Kolleri / Wendelien van Oldenborgh / William Kentridge / Wim Delvoye / Xu Bing / Yang Zhenzhong / Yoko Ono

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Charles and Ray Eames, Powers of Ten, 1977. Courtesy: Erika Balsom

Please see the interview with Jitish Kallat here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=clBJ92mmiWM

Also see the opening day video of KMB here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n8j8XFAO4ac

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Bharti Kher, Three Decimal Points \ Of a Minute \ Of a Second \ Of a Degree, 2014. Courtesy: Erika Balsom

Artist Anita Dube is the new curator for the next edition of Kochi Muziris Biennale. Have a wonderful weekend.

  • Premjish, Director-Outreach, Art1st

The Visionaries – 7

In the last few posts we have discussed the contributions of some important pedagogues towards Indian art education. As we know many of them did not limit their engagement only to the sphere of arts and culture, they were significant political figures of modern India. For example Gandhi, Nehru, Tagore, etc., have written a great deal on Indian education. They have also laid the foundations of many initiatives which has been the backbone of modern Indian society. Most of these endeavours centred around on reviving the Indian education system and its modernisation. These approaches to reform Indian education system were not uniform. These stalwarts offered unique models and solutions for these. For example Tagore’s cosmopolitanism was different from Gandhi’s emphasis on rootedness in tradition and Indian ethos. Nehru was a modern secular leader and his outlook towards India education and culture reflected that attitude too. There were many followers of these systems of thoughts. They were influenced by these ideas and used them in their practice and established institutions across India to spread these innovative visions to teach and influence young minds. Devi Prasad was one such figure who was influenced by Gandhian ideals and devoted his life to spread Mahatma’s thoughts in Indian education through pedagogic interventions. Despite being trained in Santiniketan, he wanted to identify himself as a potter and not as an artist to blur the binaries of arts and craft. In this issue of Art1st’s “The Visionaries” we look at the life and contributions of Devi Prasad who is known to many as Devibhai.

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Devi Prasad

Devi Prasad was born in 1921 at Dehra Dun, and joined Kala Bhavana as a student in 1938. Santiniketan at that was the perfect place to be in as it had the best art teachers of the country. Teachers like Nandalal Bose, Benode Behari Mukherjee, Ramkinkar Baij, etc., had already influenced the students there through their own ways of teaching and individual art practice. This institution was at the forefront of the cultural resistance against the western hegemony and also collaborated closely with the Swadesi movement. Art historian and Curator, Naman P. Ahuja who had written a biographical sketch on the life and art of Devi Prasad titled The Making of a Modern Indian Artist-Craftsman: Devi Prasad writes, “Almost at once he [Devi Prasad] encountered the compassion and wisdom of the great artist and teacher and this instant demolition of conventional hierarchical assumptions is one of a number of formative encounters that Devi had with some towering figures of twentieth century Indian art and politics whose influence he consistently acknowledges. Tagore and Gandhi above all, but also Nandalal Bose, Benodebehari Mukherjee, Ramkinkar Baij”.

During his student years Devi Prasad was involved in the nationalist movement and joined the Quit India movement in 1942. He went to Sevagram and gained first hand experience in the vision for a self-sufficient, experimental educational community. He joined Sevagram as an art teacher in 1944. But he also exapnded the horizon of his activities by developing new models for child education and art education. He also became the editor of Nai Talim, a journal discussing Gandhi’s ideas of basic education.

Gandhi believed that “The principal idea is to impart the whole education of the body, mind and soul through the handicraft that is taught to the children.” Nai Talim which means a new way of education which distanced itself from the European model of teaching. He found it as alienating the child from his or her ground realities. He also identified many negative outcomes of this system: that the young students will despise manual labour, and become elitist in their outlook. The three pillars of Gandhi’s pedagogy were its focus on the lifelong character of education, its social character and its form as a holistic process. At the centre of Gandhi’s education system was the practice of handicrafts. As you know handicrafts is different from arts as the former produces works which has a functional nature. His aim was to bring about a “radical restructuring of the sociology of school knowledge in India” in which the ‘literacies’ of the lower castes–“such as spinning, weaving, leatherwork, pottery, metal-work, basket-making and book-binding”—would be foregrounded. In the journal published by him titled Harijan, Gandhi laid out the objectives of this new pedagogy, “By education I mean an all-round drawing out of the best in child and man-body, mind and spirit. Literacy is not the end of education nor even the beginning. It is only one of the means by which man and woman can be educated. Literacy in itself is no education. I would therefore begin the child’s education by teaching it a useful handicraft and enabling it to produce from the moment it begins its training. Thus every school can be made self-supporting.”

By 1962 he decided to move out of Sevagram and started touring across India giving lectures on Indian art and architecture. Later he went to London to become the Secretary General of War Resisters’ International. In the early 1980s he returned to India and started writing extensively on art education and on studio pottery. Through these writings he challenged the hierarchy created between arts and crafts. In an essay titled Gandhi on Education for Truthful Living he writes in detail about Gandhi’s vision for a new education. He notes that, “The point that Gandhi makes is that real education should draw out the best from the child. It cannot be done “by packing ill-assorted and unwanted information into the heads of the pupils. It becomes a dead weight crushing all originality in them and turning them into mere automata.” And significantly, Gandhi states that if Indians had not been the victims of the British Indian education system, “we would long ago have realized the mischief wrought by the modern method of giving mass education, especially in the case like India’s.”

This is an important article which gives a chronological overview of the ways in which Gandhi approached Nai Talim. It can be accessed here http://www.satyagrahafoundation.org/gandhi-on-education-for-truthful-living/

He was strongly against the intellectualisation of art making which would disrupt the joy achieved by an artist while engaging in the creative pursuits. His experience was shaped by Santiniketan and Sevagram and through his life he remained a pacifist and humanitarian. He was also a prolific potter and a photographer who has documented the Congress sessions, monuments such as Ellora, and artworks of artists such as Ramkinkar Baij. Naman P. Ahuja had curated an exhibition based on his documentation of Baij’s works titled Ramkinkar Through the Eyes of Devi Prasad in School of Arts and Aesthetics, JNU in 2007. The catalog of the exhibition can be read and downloaded from here https://www.academia.edu/7369380/Ram_Kinkar_Exhibition_Catalogue

Professor Ahuja had also curated an exhibition on Devi Prasad’s collection of pots and ceramic works at Lalit Kala Akademi. His essay on the exhibition can be accessed here https://www.academia.edu/11919556/On_Curating_the_Devi_Prasad_Exhibition

Your comments and views are our support. Please comment and share. Have a good day.

  • Premjish, Director-Outreach, Art1st.

 

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‘Colour Zoo’ by Lois Ehlert

Did you know that all it takes is a circle, a square and a triangle to make a tiger?

Lois Ehlert, is (without surprise) one of our favourite authors, here at Art1st. She has a unique ability to take a simple concept, sprinkle it with creativity and convert it into a magical book. In the ‘Colour Zoo’, Ehlert effortlessly combines three basic shapes together, as page by page the animals transform.

This board book is bright and colourful. Each page has a shape cut out, and as you peer through it, you’ll find an unexpected animal. This is a great book to learn about shapes and what you can do with them. But if you’re an older reader (spoiler alert) you’re going to be pretty impressed by the simplistic ingenuity of each segment.

Entertain this whimsy if you will. The combinations when reduced to mathematical formulas can be quite fun. Tiger – Circle = Mouse or Deer + Oval + Rectangle = Ox. Now try and make up some of your own.

Likla
Writer at Art1st

The Visionaries – 6

This series began as a tribute to the seminal figures who have done exceptional works in the development of the discipline of art history and aesthetics. Previously, we have seen how Indian art went through a nationalist revival as a response to British colonialism. This was not merely an aesthetic response. Art works from the past were mobilised too to prove the continuity of Indian art and its rich heritage. Newer discoveries of monuments, manuscripts, art treatises, etc. were gathered to build a repository of national visual culture. Ananda Coomaraswamy was its foremost theoretician, historian and connoiseur. One of the important contibutions he has made is to discover the stylistic difference between Rajput and Mughal paintings. He single-handedly collected many of the Rajput and Mughal paintings which were going to be in oblivion and gave them an academic foundation. Because of his pathbreaking research on Indian art the history of the Indian art can be divided into a period before and after Coomaraswamy.  His intellectual proximity to the Tagores made him an important cultural figure of Indian national movement. In today’s “The Visionaries” series by Art1st we will look at the pioneering work done by the seminal figure, Ananda Coomaraswamy.

 

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Ananda Coomaraswamy, Courtesy: Wikipedia

Ananda Kentish Coomaraswamy was born in Colombo in the erstwhile Ceylon, now Sri Lanka. His father was a Ceylonese Tamil legislator and his mother was an English. After his father’s death he moved to London where he did his higher studies. He completed his graduation from University College of London. In 1902 he married the English photographer Ethel Mary Partridge and their marital and professional collaboration was quite resourceful for Indian and Ceylonese art world. Coomaraswamy completed his doctorate in Geology and established the Geological Survey of Ceylon. He was his first director. In Ceylon Coomaraswamy and Ethel collaborated on Mediaeval Sinhalese Art, to which he wrote the text and she provided the photographs.

He is considered as “the groundbreaking theorist who was largely responsible for introducing ancient Indian art to the West” because of his significant studies on South Asian art which are based on the philosophical foundations of the region. Renowned art historian and symbologist Heinrich Zimmer has called him as “That noble scholar upon whose shoulders we are still standing.” He took it as a mission to educate the West about Indian art and remove the misconceptions from their aesthetic views. He said, “The main difficulty so far seems to have been that Indian art has been studied so far only by archaeologists. It is not archaeologists, but artists … who are the best qualified to judge of the significance of works of art considered as art.” He knew this could be only done through both empirical and philosophical approach. He blended both at ease. He learnt Pali and Sanskrit languages which enabled him to read the ancient texts and made it possible to provide a textual reading of Indian art. The material remains were corroborated by the sacred texts. His studies and writins were sharp rebuttals to the condescending response of the West.

He was the Curator at the Boston Museum from 1917 onwards. Coomaraswamy performed an ardent task in classifying, cataloguing, and explaining thousands of items of oriental art. Through his extensive work, his writings, lectures, and personal relations Coomaraswamy left an indelible imprint on the work of many American galleries and museums. He also influenced a wide range of curators, art historians, orientalists, and critics—Stella Kramrisch, Walter Andrae, and Heinrich Zimmer to name a few of the more well-known.

His important books such as Medieval Sinhalese Art (1908), The Arts and Crafts of India and Ceylon (1913), and his earliest collection of essays, The Dance of Shiva (1918), confronted the misconceptions of the Orientalists. He revolutionized several specific fields of art history, and radically altered others. His research on Sinhalese arts and crafts, on Rajput painting, on Indian crafts, Hindu and Buddhist art, the origin of the Buddha image, etc, were remarkable entries into these worlds.

Ananda Coomaraswamy’s influence on South Asian art is still very dominant. Though later scholars have disagreeed with many of his findings, they all are of the same opinion about his seminal contribution in collecting, cataloguing and writing about a larger body of work.

Most of his writings can be accessed at https://tinyurl.com/yb4ldyvm

Please share your thoughts about Coomarasway. Criticisms and suggestions are welcome.

  • Premjish, Director-Outreach, Art1st

The Curator #14

In the last issue we discussed the retrospective on Indian artist Ramkinkar Baij curated by K.S. Radhakrishnan to understand what is a retrospective and how it is a curated. We understood that retrospectives help to bring a large body of artworks of an artist to the public. It also helps us to understand the contributions of the artists in a historical perspective. Continuing that discussion today in Art1st’s “The Curator” series we will learn about the exhibition “Raja Deen Dayal: The Studio Archives from the IGNCA Collection” curated by Jyotindra Jain (along with Pramod Kumar K.G.) at Indira Gandhi National Center for Arts in 2010.

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The Curator #14

Curator: Dr. Jyotindra Jain

Exhibition: “Raja Deen Dayal: The Studio Archives from the IGNCA Collection”, 2010

Venue: IGNCA

 

Dr. Jyotindra Jain is an eminent art-cultual historian and curator. He was the Director of the National Crafts Museum, New Delhi, Member Secretary and Professor (Cultural Archives), at Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA), New Delhi, and also Professor at the School of Arts and Aesthetics at Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi.

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Dr. Jyotindra Jain

Also let us look at Raja Deen Dayal. Who was he and why was he so important? He was born in 1844 to a middle-class Jain family from Sardhana, near Meerut in today’s Uttar Pradesh. Later he studied at the Thompson Civil Engineering College in Roorkee. In 1854, photography was introduced as a subject in the college, where Deen Dayal perhaps first developed an interest in it.

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Raja Deen Dayal

After leaving the College he started working for the Public Works Department as a draftsman. It was around 1882-84 that he met Sir Lepel Griffin of the Bengal Civil Service, who was posted in Central India. He was commissioned by Sir Lepel to assist on his mission to document monuments of the architectural heritage of Central India. During this tour Deen Dayal documented the temples, forts and palaces at Gwalior, Orchha, Khajuraho, Sanchijhansi, Deegh, Indore, Omkareswar, etc. This was a remarkable trip for Deen Dayal, 86 of his photographs were published in the monograph of Lepel’s titled Famous Monuments of Central India in 1886. Deen Dayal’s talent was recognized and he was in demand to document monuments. He was commissioned by Archaeological Survey of India.

Bashir Bagh Palace, Hyderabad

Bashir Bagh Palace, Hyderabad

In the coming years he worked as an official photographer to several Viceroys, including Lord Dufferin and Earl Elgin. In 1887 he received the Royal Warrant of Appointment as Photographer to Her Majesty, the Queen (Victoria).

 

According to IGNCA, “The legacy of Raja Deen Dayal is an exhibition mounted from the collection of glass-plate negatives of India’s most accomplished photographer of the 19th century, and an introduction to the life and works of Raja Deen Dayal. The photographer beyond the portrayal of his subjects draws a picture of his time. He translates his perceptions through his medium and thus a collection of photographs is the milieu as experienced and described by him. Raja Deen Dayal’s photographs offer us not only vivid insights into India’s rich art and cultural heritage but also provide valuable testimonials for historians.”

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Facsimile albums laid out for viewing with the original album on display in the glass topped table seen at far left

This exhibition was divided into three sections.

The Place: The photographer’s record of the physical setting in which he lived and worked, and through which he travelled, the natural and man made physical substructure.

The People: The individuals who peopled the setting, the various and varied inhabitants.

The Event: The happenings and activities of the people which enlivened the setting, marked the passage of time and indicated the modes of life then, as perceived by the photographer.

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Rashtrapati Nilayam, Hyderabad

Dr. Jain says, “We decided to host this exhibition as he was undoubtedly the most prolific Indian photographer of his time, a man who made his mark on the work of European counterparts then. He is a towering figure in Indian photography,” For this exhibition, IGNCA had displayed the largest ever number of works of Deen Dayal.

Drawing Room of Chowmahalla Palace, Hyderabad

Drawing Room of Chowmahalla Palace, Hyderabad

The exhibition drew immense response and praise. Seminal photographers also showered praises on it and also on Deen Dayal’s legacy.

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Gallery View, Courtesy: Eka Resources

Noted photographer Ram Rahman remarked, “My favourite part of this exhibition was seeing a few of Deen Dayal’s architectural images, which I had not seen before. But there should have been at least one original picture by Deen Dayal on display. The original albumen prints are the size of the negatives. Here, those images have been simulated. A glass print would have given an average viewer an idea of how prints used to be in those days,” he says.

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The interior of Bashir Bagh Palace

 

Take a look at Raja Deen Dayals’ photographs at IGNCA when you visit. Have a wonderful weekend.

  • Premjish, Director-Outreach, Art1st

‘Harold and the Purple Crayon’ by Crockett Johnson

Okay. We’ll admit it. We love books about crayons.
(mostly because they’re so colourful and fun)

Well, this is a story about a little bundle boy called Harold.
Our hero Harold has a purple crayon. And with that crayon, he draws the world!

This Papa’s palm-sized purple paperback is rich in imagination and its applications. Johnson’s illustrations explore the flexibility of a simple line as Harold makes his purple journey. Purposefully minimal, the pages of Crockett Johnson’s ‘Harold and the Purple Crayon’ allow the imaginative reader to fill in the colours.

The next time you’re in bed, but can’t quite sleep, grab hold of a purple crayon and see where it will take you.

Likla
Writer at Art1st