We all know that national galleries across the world represents the nationalist spirit of the country. It assembles works created from different regions and puts it together to imagine a shared past between these regions and art practices. This purpose of national galleries and museums becomes more instrumental in the context of newly liberated colonial countries. These institutions help newly formed nations to position themselves along with the already existing nation-states. While the history of the nation acts as a legitimate claim towards the past, these modern institutions herald the arrival of a new age, as a continuous process in the progress of the nation.
NGMA is the best repository of modern Indian art in this country. It has acquired works of Indian artists from the 19th century onwards, a bureaucratic exercise which continues towards the 20th century, representing important Indian artists from different states. The size of this collection representing different artists, movements, styles, and mediums is vast. It is a curator’s Disneyland and hell at the same time. The task of presenting this giant collection in a legible way to the public is not an easy task. But there are certain brilliant curators who have not stepped away from this arduous mission. In today’s issue of Art1st’s “The Curator,” we introduce you to a seminal exhibition in Indian art history curated by renowned art historian and curator Geeta Kapur.
The Curator 7
Title: Hundred Years: From the NGMA Collection
Curator: Geeta Kapur
NGMA, Delhi. 1994.
It is definitely an unnecessary task to introduce Geeta Kapur to my readers. You must have come across her important book “When Was Modernism?” at some point of your life. Geeta’s pathbreaking works on Indian art has received national and international acclaim and attention. She still remains the critical voice on Indian art on various international platforms.
In the year 19994 she was invited to curate a show marking the hundred year journey of Indian art. In her own words, “The third project at the National Gallery of Modern Art came about in 1994 when I was invited as an honorary member of the NGMA advisory committee of to mount an exhibition from their holdings. I sifted through the Collection by physically looking at hundreds of works. My selection criteria was based on the idea of laying out an itinerary across 100 years — a walking/looking itinerary through modern Indian art. No works were borrowed from other collections, which means there was a constraint on choice; an expressly NGMA exhibition, it was what is called in standard museum language, a re-hang of the Collection.
The passage was mapped, predictably perhaps, from Ravi Varma until the most contemporary work available at the time. But the itinerary had its twists and turns; it was not laid out chronologically nor strictly by schools and styles. The spectator walked through a broadly delineated period and encountered unconventional and hitherto untested juxtapositions. To give one example, I placed Ravi Varma and Amrita Sher-Gil face to face in one room to suggest the ‘studio’ academicism in each, and then in another room, I installed Sher-Gil paintings beside Jamini Roy’s for an opposite ‘thesis’ — because they were contemporaries experimenting with a diverse range of Indian art-historical antecedents and arriving at certain abbreviations that placed them in a keen, tangential relationship to modernist language. I was, in other words, testing and revising our familiar art history — on the walls, in the act of traversal, through the act of looking. There is the art history of the text book, based on carefully sourced influences and the evidence of styles; there is another that reads signs and meanings in conjunctural ways. The latter is experienced phenomenologically, on museum walls and related spaces.”
In the curator’s working notes for the exhibition written in July 1994, Geeta Kapur writes:
‘Nothing serves the cause of investigation better than a point of view for seeing, refocusing, finding alternate perspectives. That is why even if it were possible, it would not be useful to present a conclusive exhibition. A great part of the history of modern art in India not having been written — yet— what we can do best of all is to re-place and sometimes also dis-place the images and their attendant signs and meanings. Thus one begins to make out from the unmade meanings a historical argument. Which is the form of history I, at any rate, would privilege.’
Participating artists included Raja Ravi Varma, Pestonji Bowmanji, Pithawala, Hemen Mazumdar, Xavier Trinidad, Sarada Ukil, Amrita Sher-Gil, Abanindranath Tagore, Masoji Vinayak, K.N. Mazumdar, Sunyani Devi, Karitick Pyne, Dhanraj Bhagat, Ramkinkar Baij, Bhabhesh Sanyal, Sailoz Mukherjee, K.H. Ara, Nandalal Bose, K.K. Hebbar, S.B. Palsikar, Mohan Samant, Laxman Pai, Gaganendranath Tagore, Leela Mukherjee, Jamini Roy, Binode Behari Mukherjee, Akbar Padamsee, F.N. Souza, Harkrishan Lall, Paramjit Singh, Prem Singh, Vajubhai Bhagat, P.T. Reddy, Bhupen Khakhar, Gulammohammed Sheikh, Laxma Goud, Bikash Bhattacharjee, Ravinder REddy, Prithipal Singh Ladi, Jayashree Chakravarty, Jagdish Chandra, K.C.S. Paniker, A. Ramachandran, Vivan Sundaram, N.N. Rimzon, Dilip Sur, S. Savarkar, Jaya Ganguly, V. Ramesh, Rabindranath Tagore, Zainul Abedin, Satish Gujram, K.G. Subramanyan, Meera Mukherjee, P.V. Janakiraman, Sarbari Roy Chowdhary, Himmat Shah, Latika Katt, Mrinalini Mukherjee, Raghav Kaneria, Himmat Shah, M.F. Husain, K.S. Kulkarni, Paritosh Sen, Pradosh Das Gupta, Bijon Choudhury, Ram Kumar, Krishen Khanna, Anupam Sud, Gieve Patel, Sudhir Patwardhan, Shamshad Husain, Vajubhai Bhagat, N.S. Bendre, Ganesh Pyne, Jogen Chowdhury, Manjit Bawa, Amitava Das, Nagji Patel, Arpana Cour, Gogi Saroj Pal, Ravinder Reddy, Vid Nayar, Zai Zharotia, Kanchan Chandra, Sanjiv Sinha, Madhvi Parekh, Prabhakar Barwe, K. Muralidharan, Manu Parekh, Satish Gujral, Jatin Das, Nareen Nath, P. Gopinath, S.R. Bhushan, Jehangir Sabavala, Vijay Mohan, Arpita Singh, Krishna Reddy, J. Swaminathan, S.G. Vasudev, K. Achuthan, P.T. Reddy, Haridasan, Om Prakash Sharma, G.R. Santosh, Jeram Patel, Rameshwar Broota, Biren De, S.H. Raza, Shobha Broota, Ambadas, K.C.S. Paniker, Vishvanadhan, Nasreen Mohamedi, Rm. Palaniappan, Bal Chhabda, Krishen Khanna, Rekha Rodwittiya, C.S. Douglas, Robin Mandal, Alex Mathew, N. Pushpamala, Tyeb Mehta, Jeram Patel, R.K. Dhawan, V.S. Gaitonde, Ram Kumar, Sankho Chowdhary, Prabhakar Kolte, Ramesh Pateria, and Akhilesh.
Nevertheless, Geeta’s redefining of the collection was not easily digested. Her ideas were way ahead for the time. Her curatorial strategies. non-chronological way of assembling works, especially juxtaposing them to create other interesting parallels was heavily criticised.
Despite these the exhibition remains as one of the important early attempts to re-define an existing institutional collection.
More images of the exhibition view are accessible at the Asia Art Archives website. http://www.aaa.org.hk/en/collection/search/archive/another-life-the-digitised-personal-archive-of-geeta-kapur-and-vivan-sundaram-hundred-years-from-the-ngma-collection/object/hundred-years-from-the-ngma-collection-exhibition-view-18823
Please take a look at them and see if you are able to identify the artists. Have a good weekend.
- Premjish, Director-Outreach, Art1st
The Peacock who wanted to Fly like an Eagle written and illustrated by Mama Suranya is a marvelous story of a little Peacock called Piku who wishes to fly like his friend the “Little Eagle”. Unaware of his own talent and worth Piku feels neglected and depressed as he watches the little eagle soar higher and higher every day until he becomes a dot in the sky.
But one fine Rainy day as the clouds roared “ Dharram Dharram Dharam!” Piku’s life takes a 360-degree turn when Mama Peacock and Papa Peacock give him the surprise of his life!……. and he realizes his real worth………
Inspired by Indian paintings the illustrations take you on a splendid tour of the life in “Madhuvan Gardens”. Whereas similes such as “ Muchhas of Ravana” add to the beauty of the narration.
Drenched in the petrichor of India this book is a must have for every child.
How do we tackle our times through art and curation? I would like to talk about a show which I had curated in January 2017 as part of the Curator’s Ensemble of Krishnakriti Festival. Four curators (Dhritabrata Bhattacharjya Tato, Georgina Maddox, Faizal Khan and Premjish Achari) were invited to address the relation of technology and art in our lives. We called the exhibition H20~ArT using a mathematical equation related to null hypothesis. The curators divided the exhibition into four vectors Experiential, Existential, Exploratory and Evolutionary. Through these vectors we explored the different facets of technology using art. This issue of Art1st’s “The Curator” talks about the Experiential vector and its curatorial concerns.
The Curator #5
Curator : Premjish Achari
Exhibition: H20~ArT, Experiential: Things are Vanishing Before Us
We are living in a curious time where for the first time in history we inhabit both the digital and physical spaces together. This unprecedented convergence of the digital and the physical has made our lives disorienting. Our constant addiction to screens (ATMs, computer, mobile phones, television, etc.) has flattened our perception of space; it has irrevocably altered our visual experience. In our society, screens have become magical tools used by ‘augurers and haruspices’ or those who read omens in the stars, flights of birds and the entrails of animals, uncovering guilt and foreseeing the future. Through screens, we navigate the netherworld of imaginations. They have become our magic mirrors; it appears that we have formed a Faustian pact with the digital world. Instead of our souls, we have surrendered our unrequited attention and devotion to the virtual.
Our fixation to screens has split our consciousness between the physical and the virtual realm. Software and digitised data are replacing the traditional physical dimensions of objects. We increasingly prefer Bitcoins and digitised banking rather than paper currency, digital images to printed photographs, e-books to paper books; we even seem to spend more money on our online personas. As minimal lifestyles and spaces become fashionable, it appears that our consumption and conversely our clutter have shifted online. Digitisation of objects, information, and emotions has irrevocably altered existing ways of knowing, doing and being.
Will digital versions of objects such as artworks, photos, clothes, etc., render them obsolete? Will objects eventually shed corporeal form and become flat and virtual in the digital world? Will we define ourselves increasingly through what we consume and create in the digital space? Will our digital avatars overtake our physical selves? To address these questions, first, we have to examine the significance of objects in our lives and the role they play in shaping our identity. I am particularly interested in this because humans have defined themselves through the objects they possess or yearn to accumulate. We are at a critical moment in our history; the physical and digital realms appear to be converging. It is imperative that instead of lamenting for the objects that are disappearing around us, we need to urgently take stock of their role in shaping our memories and identity. Therefore, the exhibition attempted to analyse and perhaps even salvage the role of objects in our life, by paying particular attention to their ability to evoke the past through nostalgia and memory.
William James in his seminal work ‘The Principles of Psychology’, published in 1890, outlined how we constitute our identity through the objects we accumulate. According to James, “A man’s self is the sum total of all that he can call his, not only his body and his psychic powers, but his clothes and his house, his wife and children, his ancestors and friends, his reputation and works, his lands and horses and yacht and bank account.” James’s text and the subsequent research undertaken by Russel Belk highlight that objects are not merely commodities; we also have to take into account their indexical qualities particularly their ability to evoke nostalgia. It is evident from their work that objects also serve as mementos that mediate our perception of the past. Objects remind us of who we are, we often use them to demonstrate our identity. There is little difference between us and what we define as ours. William James has observed on this conflation of person and possession as: “It is clear that between what a man calls me and what he simply calls mine the line is difficult to draw.”
These aspects continue to differentiate the physical from the virtual objects. Several contemporary scholars such as James Baudrillard have similarly observed that we accumulate objects equally as a necessity and as an emotional investment. According to Baudrillard, objects have a functional value as well as emotional value. He equates objects with mirrors because they send us back not real images, but desired ones. Hence, it is interesting to note that in this relationship between possession and our sense of who we are, the objects create an extended self for us, whose functions are related to having, doing, and being. In his novel ‘White Noise’, De Lillo dryly observes, “The dead have faces, automobiles. If you don’t know a name, you know a street name, a dog’s name. ‘He drove an orange Mazda.’ You know a couple of useless things about a person that become major facts of identification and cosmic placement when he dies suddenly, after a short illness, in his own bed, with a comforter and matching pillows, on a rainy Wednesday afternoon, feverish, a little congested in the sinuses and chest, thinking about his dry cleaning.” Human lives tend to be identified by their possessions. Even Sartre in ‘Being and Nothingness’ notes that the sole reason to possess something is to enlarge our sense of self; the only way we can know who we are is by observing what we have.
Apart from these scholars, objects studies have also focused on old attics and wardrobes, particularly the way in which they function as spaces to store secret memories. It appears then that objects produce two types of knowledge – documentary knowledge and associative knowledge. Documentary knowledge is proof; it is a trace of a person or event at a particular time and specific place. Associative knowledge, on the other hand is experiential; the object evokes a memory of a time, place, person or even taste. This exhibition, therefore, highlighted these two important functions of objects.
According to Sartre we constitute the object as a part of ourselves in three ways. The first is by appropriating or controlling an object for our own personal use. He writes that we appropriate intangible objects and those we do not own by overcoming, conquering or mastering them. For example, climbing a mountain or living in a city demonstrates how we master these spaces. Similarly, by learning to ride a bicycle or car or using new computer, we make them a part of our lives. The second way is by creating an object. The object created could be material or an abstract thought and bears the marks of the creator. This identification is then legitimised through copyright, patent and authorship. The third way is by knowing the object in a biblical way where the object is a known place, person or thing. The relationship with them is inspired by the carnal or sexual desire to possess. It is through our intimate knowledge that we make it ours and a part of our self. Hence this exhibition delved onto these three aspects through how we come to regard an object as part of our self. It invites artists to respond to these three propositions.
The proliferation of software and digitised data are replacing the traditional physical dimensions of objects. With more time spend actively gazing at electronic screens, from smartphones to computers and televisions, a chronically split consciousness, the human attention is increasingly divided between the physical and virtual spaces that they simultaneously inhabit. Therefore in this passage of rites towards the virtual objects when things are vanishing before us I invited artists to contemplate on the function of objects, do they see this as a revolutionary paradigm shift, or do they prefer the old ways of possessing physical objects and its production more relevant in the preservation of memory and evocation of nostalgia. It is hoped that this will help us understand the role of personal collection and in shaping our identity and why we continue to seek and comprehend the past through objects?
Aman Khanna | Arti Vijay Kadam | Atul Bhalla | Chandan Gomes | Chinmoyi Patel | Dayanita Singh | Mansoor Ali| Muktinath Mondal| Nikita Maheshwary| Prajeesh A.D.| Riya Chatterjee| Roshan Chhabria| Sharmila Samant| Sumedh Rajendran| Umesh P K| Varunika Saraf| Waswo X Waswo
Please read, share, discuss. We would love to hear from you.
The details about this exhibition can be seen at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9KmN9G5km1g
- Premjish, Director-Outreach, Art1st
Mr. Lincoln’s Way by Patricia Polacco is a sensitive book that talks about the importance of the role a teacher plays in a child’s life. How being a good teacher does not only entail having the knowledge of once subject but the ability to guide and unfold the abilities of a child rather than trying to mould her/him.
This is an excellent book about an elementary school principal who takes the time to help a troubled child. It addresses racism, bullying and teasing, and it’s also great for bird lovers.Though the story touches upon the issues of bullying and the harm that it does, but it highlights another very important factor, the conditions that cause a child to become a bully in the first place. Mr. Lincoln’s Way draws the connection between what a child learns at home and what he does at school. The story encourages us to ask whether it is really the child’s fault that he is a bully.
Polacco’s illustrations add to the story as she has meticulously detailed her story with people of all ethnicities, which makes the story relatable to all. She has marvelously captured different emotions, moods and gestures through her watercolour and pencil illustrations.
Read the book to find out how Mr. Lincoln helps “Mean Gene” become his true self “Eugene Esterhause”.
Today let us begin with an important question, “Is the curator only the caretaker of museums and galleries, or is he/she also the caretaker of communities?” Before delving deep into this question and ponder over answers let us look at why I have raised this question. As we know the word curator in its foundational moments is connected with a person who is the caretaker of a collection of museums or galleries. The few examples we saw barring the Future Collaborations exhibition had dealt with a collection or a body of work belonging to an institution and is displayed in an institution. In the changing circumstances when the role of curator is redefined and it has become more democratic the attempt is also to come out of institutional structures and reach out to the public. Dissemination becomes an important issue. We are aware of the lesser footfall in galleries and museums in India. Also how people are intimidated to go to these places thinking they need to be initiated to understand art. In this complicated situation, how can we take out art to the public? Curator has an important role in taking out art to the communities or builds art and institutions around the communities. A city is rife with such possibilities. Due to the migration, existence of different ethnic and linguistic communities, the presence of economic disparities, environment pollution, etc. post challenges to engage with communities but it is also a risk worth taking.
In this issue of “The Curator” we introduce you to Pooja Sood’s 48C.Public.Art.Ecology, the first public art project in India of a mammoth scale which addressed the nature of ecology in a city through contemporary art. More than an exhibition this project was envisaged as a festival or public interventions at various parts of the city.
The Curator #5
Curator: Pooja Sood
The title 48C refers to the soaring temperature as a result of global warming which keeps on increasing year by year. This is compounded with large scale constructions which only aggravate the environment pollution. Delhi was the perfect setting for this because of its dynamic and complex urban setting. The influx of migrants from other states is rapid, the economic disparity is evident, it has gone through a large scale makeover with the arrival of new flyovers, metro train, shopping malls, lofty apartments, etc. Also, the co-existence of a historic past and the new Delhi is very unique. This layering of history, languages, ethnicities, is what makes Delhi an interesting site for exploring. According to Pooja Sood, ” Like most other Indian and south Asian urban centres, the city is characterised by an intimately layered historicity and multiple, demanding, expanding urbanisms that clash unremittingly as they stake different claims to validity, autonomy and expression within Delhi’s material and cultural fabric. With over 16 million people, the city faces new challenges of growth and change both from self-generated internal demands and the externally imposed pressures of globalisation. Though it retains its historical place as the political and administrative capital of India, and as the modern „centre of power‟, it is today, in both logistical and aspirational terms, a node in a global political-economic scenario increasingly subject to the forces of capital, seen and unseen.”
In this project, she identified eight sites in Delhi which were used for temporary art projects. These were divided into three categories: of interfaces, encounters and memories; of ceremony and the every day; of community aspirations vs. metropolitan mega-dreams.
The common themes connecting all these three categories were the concern for environment. Through this the curator was able to raise an awareness on the topography of Delhi, civil society’s role in conserving the environment,meteorological conditions, the environmental hazards, the presence of water table, water pollution, air pollution, industrial pollution, etc.
The artists who participated in this project were from India and other parts of the world. The festival included performances, conversations, art projects, urban ecotours, urban ecotalks, film screenings, concerts, etc. in public spaces.
You will find more details about this project in the website http://www.48c.org/index.html. The curatorial note and many other important readings are available on the website related to this project.
So what do you think now? Is curator a caretaker of institutions or the communities? Please share your thoughts.
- Premjish, Director, Outreach – Art1st
“A day is a perfect piece of time to live a life”
All in a Day written by Cynthia Rylant & Illustrated by Nikki McClure is a story of a boy who spends a day on his family farm, sharing joys and disappointments with his parents, a friendly chicken and a watchful squirrel.
The use of gentle verse to describe the gifts of a new day and Nikki McClure’s stunning, meticulously crafted cut-paper art, makes this picture book not only timeless but appealing to all ages.
The book illuminates all the things a day offers – the opportunities and the chances that won’t ever come again as well as a gentle message of good stewardship of our planet.
When we look at the historiography of Indian art and architecture the contributions of European administrators, collectors, and the self-styled archaeologists are valuable. But many of us are also unaware of the fact that the early European reaction to Indian art was fraught with a distasteful response to Indian art. In his seminal book “Much Maligned Monsters” art historian Partha Mitter talks about how the European travellers who encountered the sculptures of Indian gods and goddesses for the first time mistook them as the depiction of monsters and demons. They were also poorly judged for its lack of naturalism. Indian art was regarded as inferior to its western counterpart. He marks 1910 as “the great watershed” when Indian art became the object of respectful inquiries and studies “with its rehabilitation complete with the powerful affirmation of its aesthetic and not merely archaeological significance”. According to Mitter: “If one were to search for a name to give the credit for this extraordinary transformation, it would no doubt be that of Havell. It was his dedicated work which was in a large measure responsible for generating wide interest in learned circles.” E. B. Havell’s contribution in creating a counterpoint to the hegemony of western art and pedagogy is incredible though it came to much criticism later from the Indian circles itself. Nevertheless, Havell built strong foundations for Indian art education which foregrounded Indian art practices and enabled it to stand at par with the European art. His contributions in setting up institutions, revising curriculums and most importantly reviving the traditional Indian art forms was crucial in creating a nationalist response to the prejudiced sensibilities of the Europe. In this issue of Art1st’s “The Visionaries,” we introduce you to E.B Havell and his contributions to Indian art and education.
Ernest Binfield Havell was an artist-educationist-reformist who played a significant role in repositioning Indian art in the history of world art. Havell came to India in 1884 to work as superintendent of School of Art, Madras. It was in Madras Havell began his career as an educationist and also turned into an ideologue and art historian. He reworked the curriculum of the school and introduced the study of Indian designs and decorative patterns into the course of study. In 1896, he was appointed as the Principal of Calcutta Art School, where he inspired his Indian students to get back to painting in their own style and tradition. Havell was making such assertions at a time when newer discoveries and studies on Indian paintings were made. New bodies of artworks, collections, and manuscripts were found through extensive field works by many pioneers. The nationalist movement was also slowly picking up the pace and was invested in an indigenous turn. Havell too came close to the Swadeshi ideas of art and culture.
After joining the Calcutta Art School he removed the European academic way of teaching. He remarked that ‘in India, painting must be Indian in attitude and spirit.’ Havell included Oriental art in the curriculum, which, according to him, should be the basis of all art instructions. He also introduced several new craft techniques such as fresco, stained glass windows, lacquer work, and stencils, so as to open a wide range of opportunities for which would allow students to earn a living. His aesthetic sense was strongly shaped by Indian philosophy and ideals of art. In his opinion, Indian sculptures, which are highly original and creative, could be ranked with the noblest creations of the West. It was these ideals and attitudes that had worked behind his reformative methods, which he introduced in the curriculum of art teaching.
His interactions and close connection with Abanindranath Tagore led to another significant chapter in the history of Indian art. The together pioneered a new visual style which was later on termed as the “Bengal Revivalism” steeped in Indian tradition. Ajanta paintings and Mughal miniatures were its inspiration, gouache was its predominant technique, Abanindranath its practitioner and Havell the foremost defender and ideologue. Havell wrote numerous books on Indian art and architecture emphasising the spiritual nature of Indian traditional art. In a report he submitted to the government, he stated that art appreciation has to be seen as a duty of every individual and not as mere pleasure. His recommendations were faced with strong opposition from the British regime. Despite this, he continued his crusade for pushing the ideals of Indian art. Eventually, Havell succeeded in convincing them of the importance of reviving the Indian craft tradition. Some of his important books are ‘Indian Sculpture and Paintings'(1908), ‘Ideals of Indian Art (1911), The Basis for Artistic and Industrial Revival in India (1912), The Ancient and Medieval Architecture of India: a study of Indo-Aryan civilization (1915), etc.
Havell left India in 1905, on sick leave, and was later declared ‘unfit for service in India’ by the British regime. Havell’s removal from policy decisions did not deter him from voicing his vision for Indian art. He continued his campaign against the ignorance, philistinism and the arrogant cultural superiority of British administration in India.
Please read, share and discuss. Your opinion means a lot to us, so let us know what you think of this issue.
- Premjish, Director-Outreach, Art1st