In the last few issues we have discussed about various curators and understood how they have used artworks to create new narratives about our past, present and future. This was done through various thematic interventions. They have used art from pre-modern, modern and contemporary times to build their stories. Curators have used diverse forms and mediums to foreground their concerns.
Today we will look at how two curators engaged with the artworks of artists from a community and by doing so reiterated their contribution to this country. Through these works they showed the rich history and cultural legacy of the Parsi community. In this issue of Art1st’s “The Curator” series we will discuss Nancy Adajania and Ranjit Hoskote’s exhibition “No Parsi is an Island”. Through this exhibition their attempt was not only to showcase the artistic legacy of Parsi community, but also try to bring to light the lost histories of Indian modernism.
The Curator #21
Curators: Nancy Adajania and Ranjit Hoskote
Exhibition: No Parsi is an Island: A Curatorial Re-reading across 150 Years
Venue: NGMA Delhi, 2016
I am not going to talk about the Parsi community. I presume that most of you are familiar with the community’s history. Bollywood too has played its idiotic role in caricaturing and stereotyping the community as obese, gullible people. But the list of names the community has contributed to Indian politics, defence sector, economy, art and culture is long. Their contributions expand to diverse fields. Apart from business and they have played an important role in the cultural industry of India. The community members were active in theater, movies, music, literature, art, etc. For example many of us are familiar with Raja Ravi Varma’s name and his images, but we do not give enough importance to another contemporary of his Pestonji Bomanji who was a fine painter. He is usually highlighted as a salon painter, and simply dismissed as a Parsi artist whose patrons were mainly Parsis. But according to Nancy and Ranjit, “Bomanji should be recognised as the equal of Ravi Varma. In the course of our ongoing work on Bomanji, we have come to the provisional conclusion that, while both artists drew on the same stratum of patronage — native aristocracy, the mercantile elite, colonial officials, and the colonial state system — Ravi Varma was able to develop a mass market through his oleographs, with their mythological subjects, while Bomanji remained committed to a more formal studio practice; with the result that his fame, considerable within the world of connoisseurship, did not extend to the larger multitudes.”
In this exhibition Nancy and Ranjit explores a timespan of 150 years and looks at the works of 14 artists. The curators explore the contexts they inhabited and negotiated. They also focus on the kind of vibrant expanded practices these artists possessed. They say, “It is vital to us to reflect on and represent the way in which they ranged across visual domains and political urgencies, the work that they accomplished beyond the studio and the gallery, engaging with diverse economies of cultural production such as music, dance, theatre, cinema, the crafts, literature and publishing as producers, interlocutors and collaborators.”
If we look at theatre and cinema the contribution of Parsis to these two fields is immense. There is a genre of theatre itself which is called “Parsi Theatre”. It was one of the most important theatre traditions of late 19th century and early 20th century. It was staged by Parsis and these theatre groups were owned by them. Later on many of them became film producers and moved to cinema field.
Importantly, this curation is also an art historical inquiry which is critical of the art historical writings of the post ‘90s. Because when we attempt to study the history of the first two generations of Indian art before the ‘90s we usually try to relate them with Progressives, Group 1890 or the Baroda Group. Therefore the artists who are not part of these movements get side-lined and their contributions are not studied. They give the example of Jahangir Sabawala who has made his own independent artistic path maintaining a distance from the other movements and groups of the time. It is because consistent curatorial and critical attention that he has been able to rise to the stature he is getting now.
Regarding the title “No Parsi is an Island” they talk about their inspiration from Keki N Daruwalla’s poem “Migrations”. They say, “In tandem with Donne’s meditation, folded into our title, we propose Keki N Daruwalla’s poem, Migrations, as a prelude to the exhibition. In this poem, the Lahore-born Daruwalla retrospects on the consequences of the Partition, postcolonial India’s birth trauma. He brings the inherited memory of an ancestral diaspora from Iran to this meditation on a historical experience that is all too often seen as a Hindu/ Muslim binary, despite the strong share in it of the Sikh community as well as other religious and ethnic groups. Migrations is a complex poem with many potential addressees: it reminds Parsis that they do not have a monopoly on the condition of displacement; it reminds others that the Parsis were also affected by the Partition, and that they have had, and continue to have, a stake in the larger subcontinental narrative.”
Ranjit and Nancy say, “In this spirit, we may observe that the work of Parsi artists connects them to larger questions, concerns and urgencies, and to the activities of colleagues, in every generation under review here. They have not simply articulated a Parsi “identity”, as though this were static and pre-programmed; nor have they cherished a splendid isolation from ambient historical circumstances. Rather, they have participated vigorously in debates concerning, at various times, colonial modernity, nationalism, an Indian modernism, and the globalised contemporary cultural space.
In the process, we show how they have developed enduring and productive relationships outside the community: through a particular form of pedagogy; through deeply personal decisions such as those of marriage, friendship or ideology; through collegiality, collaboration and intervention, or the establishment of an affinity with a cultural idiom outside the Parsi ethos.”
Share your views and what you think about this project. How can curation bring alive the history of a community which is dwindling in numbers? How can curation foreground its cultural contributions?
- Premjish, Director-Outreach, Art1st
Ahh! First love.
Ingrid Chabbert tells a sweet story of a boy who falls in love with a girl called Sylvia, a girl who loves birds. ‘The Day I Became A Bird’ captures the simple purity of unabashed puppy love. The story is so charming and innocent, that it is almost uncomfortable to sully it with an adult’s point of view.
“When I look at her, I forget everything else.” Raúl Nieto Guridi’s minimalist sketches evocatively focus on the two young ‘uns, while the out-lying blankness allows for endless stories and fantasies to be imagined in. The detailed sketches of Sylvia’s birds, as well as the science of building a bird costume add layers to fuel a young reader’s imagination.
The arrangement of the text and the illustrations isn’t parallel. Almost like a film, on a single page, two different segments of the narrative are offered, until the inherent suspense of a love-story is dismantled piece by puzzle piece.
Love, friendship and acceptance is often a difficult prospect in school (okay, okay, and otherwise too). This book considers the hurdles but moves sweetly beyond to the things that are important.
Do you have a fun story of childhood love? Share in the comments below.
Writer at Art1st
In the last few issues, especially through the work of Dr. Jyotindra Jain and Dr. Annapurna Garimella, we realized how folk and traditional art practices are configured as crafts. While an artist maybe using newer mediums and themes in his work, just because of his association with that particular traditional form it is bracketed as folk or craft. We have to seriously engage with this issue and understand why are certain artists called folk artists and others as fine artists. If you have seen Gond paintings, you must be knowing about the Gond Ramayani paintings. The narrative is very different from the classical Ramayana. It actually begins when the conventional Ramayana ends. The story starts after Sita is rescued from the captivity of Ravan. The central protagonist in this story is Lakshman, not Ram and the narrative is about finding a bride for him. Unlike the classical story here you will also see characters from Mahabharata such as Bhim making their entry. They are part of this story. This story was part of an oral tradition and it is very humorous. There are many artists who have painted this. Each of their style is different. They also use different versions of this narrative and sometimes also depart from the Gond paintings. They use newer synthetic materials to make these works. So, there is an artistic autonomy in terms of the execution of the narrative, they also use modern materials to create this work. Then why do we not see them as contemporary artists. Again, I am opening up this question to you all for discussion. There are many interesting curators who have showcased works which depict these newer developments in what we understand as the domain of “folk”, “traditional”, or “crafts”.
In today’s “The Curator” series we will discuss the exhibition “Pichvai Tradition & Beyond” curated by Pramod Kumar KG. As many of you know Pichvais were historically detailed hand painted textile, which were hung behind the idol of Shrinathji, an incarnation of Lord Krishna. Pichvai paintings, has originated in Rajasthan’s Nathdwara region, have traditionally been magnificent and detailed hand-painted textile works of art that narrate tales from the life of Krishna where he is portrayed in different moods, body postures and attires. In recent times, it has become something more than a religious object. It has been used as wall art and many collectors and interior designers are using it to decorate homes. In this journey of transition from religious to secular, Pichvai also has undergone many changes. The size, the iconography, colours, etc. have changed a lot in time to suit the new demands of the clientele.
The Curator #20
Curator: Pramod Kumar KG
Exhibition: Pichvai Tradition & Beyond
Venue: Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2016 (Collateral)
Pramod Kumar KG is the Managing Director of Eka was the founder director of the Anokhi Museum of Hand Printing at Amber, Jaipur, directed the Jaipur Virasat Foundation and instituted the Jaipur Literature Festival. He is currently co-director of Mountain Echoes, the Bhutan Literature Festival. He has lectured extensively across the world and is a published author with contributions in several books, journals and magazines. Until recently he was the editor from India of the Textiles Asia journal.
According to the organisers “Over the last century, intricately painted Pichvai paintings that left the shrine have taken on a new role as wall art and are much sought after by the cognoscenti for their effervescent aesthetics, inciting a fresh demand among collectors. Recognising the need to create a platform to support and sustain the few remaining supremely skilled painters who learnt the rapidly declining tradition from a long line of past masters.”
Pichvai art is undergoing a drastic change and the curator’s attempt was to highlight these changes in this show. To also showcase to the public that Pichvai doesn’t remain as the same traditional form. According to Pramod Kumar G, “For traditional arts to have a resonance and relevance to contemporary audiences, they constantly need to be re-interpreted and contextualised for the here and now. Pooja Singhal’s ‘Pichvai Tradition & Beyond’ has for the first time brought to the public eye, artworks that have been reworked with layered historical inferences in newer scales, formats and themes. These artworks thus have moved away from their purely religious connotations to representations of aesthetic modes, seasons, forms, colours and secular iconographies that every layperson can see and appreciate. While these artworks have found newer patrons, the true success of the project has been the inculcation of a fresh group of artists in this time-honored genre who have given new life into an old art form by merging older traditional techniques with contemporary application and ingenuity.”
The works displayed in this show were created at Pooja Singhal’s Pichvai Tradition & Beyond atelier.
Do you see any changes in the traditional art forms in your region? What are the new technologies and materials which artists are using now? What are the themes which they are dealing with? Discuss and share your views in the comment section.
- Premjish, Director-Outreach, Art1st.
Around the end of the first week of every month, a large pile of new books appears in the office, ready for me to catalogue into the library. Today’s pile had a book full of memories; a story half-remembered.
Consider Sylvester, a young donkey, with a penchant for collecting pebbles. One rainy day he finds a pebble as beautiful as the flaming sun, but that’s hardly the most extraordinary thing about it. This pebble grants wishes, much to Sylvester’s joy.
Things take a turn for the worse, when he makes a spur-of-the-moment bad wish, and turns into a rock to escape from a lion.
As Sylvester spends many a solitary month as a donkey-sized rock, the wishing pebble lies nearby, close enough to stare at, but too far for a stone to touch. Steig approaches this lonely passage of time with themes like love and loss, the efficiency of a society during an incident, the transforming beauty of nature through seasons and eventually, gratitude.
William Steig is perhaps best known for a story you might just have heard of- Shrek. A cartoonist for most of his career, his style is evocative and unmistakable. Going back to my childhood memory of this book, the red pebble has unforgettably gleamed through.
What are some of your childhood favourites that you’ve passed along to the next generation? [These questions bear an expectation of answers in the comments section]
Writer at Art1st
PS. Is it odd that I don’t find a family of donkeys wearing clothes at a picnic strange at all? (Thanks a bunch, George Orwell…)
The Curator #19
We are living in the time of greater environment crisis. Our land, air, and water are heavily polluted. It has become so common and dangerous that we have even turned a blind eye towards the issue. As if it is not happening. Many rivers in our country are extremely polluted. They churn out chemical foams. The thick smog in many parts of the country have risked thousands of lives. Have we ever thought what can we do about these issues? As artists, curators, teachers, pedagogues, art lovers how can we use art to raise our voice against this situation. Most importantly, how can we use curation to address this issue? How can we shake up people who are ignoring this ecological disaster? Can curators and artists across the world come together and imagine a possibility to create an awareness, and throw some light on the magnitude of the situation? Art and curation are not only to create beautiful exhibitions, but they are also tools for social change.
In this issue of Art1st’s “The Curator” series we discuss about the ‘Yamuna-Elbe. Public.Art.Ecology’ curated by Ravi Agarwal (Delhi) and Till Krause with Nina Kalenbach (Hamburg). We will see how by bringing two rivers from different countries Yamuna and Elbe, curators have tried to connect the ecological issues. We will also see how artists from these two countries created art projects by their involvement with these two rivers.
The Curator #19
Curators: Ravi Agarwal (Delhi) and Till Krause with Nina Kalenbach (Hamburg)
Exhibition: Yamuna-Elbe. Public.Art.Ecology, 2011
Venue: Yamuna and Elbe
Ravi Agarwal is an artist, environmental activist, writer and curator. He has pursued an art practice integrally with his other pursuits. His earlier work, in the documentary oeuvre, encompasses ‘nature’, ‘work,’ ‘labour,’ and the ‘street.’ His current interest span questions around ecology and society, urban space and capital in interrelated ways. He works with photographs, video, and public art.
This was a public art and outreach project initiated by the Ministry of Culture, Hamburg, and carried out in the framework of “Germany and India 2011-2012: Infinite Opportunities”.
The participating artists in the two cities were:
Delhi: Asim Waqif, Atul Bhalla, Gigi Scaria, and Sheba Chhachhi from India and Nana Petzet and Jochen Lempert from Germany, with contributions by Vivan Sundaram and Till Krause.
Hamburg: Atul Bhalla, Navjot Altaf, Ravi Agarwal, Sheba Chhachhi, and Vivan Sundaram from India and from Germany, Daniel Seiple, Anna Möller, Jochen Lempert, and Ines Lechleitner with in collaboration with Prof. Vikram Soni from Delhi.
As part of this project various school outreach activities were conceptualized which included
Art installation making from collected trash, Interschool poster-making competition, Interschool debate on urban development and sustainability, and Eco-walks.
This also featured
River Walks: Historians such as Sohail Hasmi and environmentalists such as Vimlendu Jha will conduct walks around the Yamuna as well as Delhi’s water systems to sensitize the general public as well as school children to their natural heritage and the impact of urban development on it.
Public Discussions on subjects related to the river and the environment will also take place.
Films and Musical Concerts: Films on the water and the Yamuna will be screened. A classical musical event will be organized by the river Yamuna.
According to Ravi, “With the city appropriating the river back into its gaze, there is fresh demand to ‘clean’ the river, especially from the city elite. This is the new ‘view.’ Though there have been major plans and a huge amount of money already spent to clean the river in the past, all have failed. The current proposals however are the most ambitions in terms of resources needed. There are demands to channelize the river to a small narrow flow, instead of the wide riverbed. This, it is said, will allow land to be freed up for fresh commercialization and urbanization. Linked to the idea of a clean river is the new requirement of land for those who can afford such housing and it is invested in by international capital. It is no surprise that the Commonwealth Games village has been built by a large international developer and its flats are being allotted to the rich and powerful.”
The exhibition connected two different rivers, and two cities but with an interconnected future. It emphasized that river ecologies have been cradles of civilization and some of the most vibrant cities in the world lie along them. Today as local interconnectivities become more global, contesting views of the river, predicated on technology and capital have emerged. Rivers are increasingly seen as mere water channels, or even real estate. New threats of climate change have complicated the challenge. This exhibition tried to foreground these issues.
Project partners for the outreach and educational activities included:
Toxics Link, World Wildlife Fund, Swechha, Foundation for Indian Contemporary Art, KHOJ International Artists’ Association,A Wall is a Screen, and several important historians and environmentalists in their individual capacity.
Let us discuss how can we use art and curation to address issues of environmental crisis. How can we do an exhibition on the ecological crisis. Feel free to share your thoughts, comments, and suggestions.
- Premjish, Director-Outreach, Art1st
Sometimes you come across a perfect combination. Sometimes these combinations become metaphors, like fries and ketchup. Tara Books has a winning combination in Anushka Ravishankar and Christiane Pieper!
So let’s talk about their book ‘Alphabets Are Amazing Animals’. Here are some obvious points. It’s a book about Alphabets and Animals, so if you like either, you’ll probably like this book too.
Ravishankar’s witty use of alliteration conjures imaginative scenarios with every Letter. Pieper’s illustrations interpret these quirky lines hilariously and accurately. The pictures match the simplicity of the words in their primary colours against black and white.
‘Alphabets Are Amazing Animals’ is best read between the lines.
Reading ‘Eight Eels Eight Eleven Eggs’ I can’t help but animate the scenario in my head. As these elegant eels swoosh across the algae-coated water, they find three extra eggs! Do they argue about who gets to eat them or do they sweetly share?
As you get to the end of the question, you’ll be left with a singular question- what’s a Xeme, anyway?
Writer at Art1st
PS. Have you noticed how all books about alphabets mention ‘X-rays’? Maybe we need only 25 alphabets after all…