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
Do not wait for the perfect time to create…
A picture book biography of the remarkable folk artist Clementine Hunter, who defied all odds for her passion of painting.
An awe inspiring journey of her paintings hanging on her clothesline to hanging in museums, yet because of the color of her skin, a friend had to sneak her in when the gallery was closed. Can you imagine being an artist who isn’t allowed into your own show? That’s what happened to folk artist Clementine Hunter.
With lyrical writing and striking water colour illustrations, that capture the essence of her life and work, this picture book biography introduces kids to a self-taught artist whose paintings captured scenes of backbreaking work and joyous celebrations of a farm life.
Art from her Heart written by Kathy Whitehead & illustrated by Shane W. Evans is a book that gives younger readers the opportunity to learn about Clementine Hunter’s important contributions to folk art and the obstacles she faced as an African American woman artist. A picture book about, dreams fantasies and the real life challenges related to farm work, human resources, and discrimination.
In the last few posts we saw how curators weave a narrative around the existing collection to make it viewable and legible, and how some redefine collections. But how would you curate something which is not there? Something which is absent and whose presence is anticipated. Something which will appear much later in the curatorial process. These are complicated questions, but these were some of the important questions which Raqs Media Collective had encountered while curating the seminal exhibition Sarai 09. Earlier we had discussed about looking at curation itself as a process and how to not see the final exhibition as the most important aspect of that journey. Curation is a map of that journey, and the final exhibition is one of the halting points. But where does the journey end. That is another important question which was raised by Raqs, “When does curatorial work end?” It is an important question which draws our attention to the practice of curation itself. With the conventional form of exhibition making we assume that once the exhibition is open for public viewing it starts its life cycle and once the works are taken away on the closing day, the exhibition is over.
In Raqs Media collective’s own beautiful description, “To curate is to offer, metaphorically speaking, not just old wine in new bottles, or even new wine in no bottles, but also all that is entailed in so far as the cultivation of a vineyard, running of a distillery, maintenance of a cellar and the animation of a tavern are concerned, and all at the same time. It is to create the conditions necessary for the intoxication of what is called ‘rasa’ (aesthetic jouissance) in the Indic traditions to occur, and for sobriety to be called into question, as an aide and afterthought to the revelry, all the time. The curator is the distiller, bootlegger, tavern-keeper and barmaid of rasa, or aesthetic experiences.” Here we see the varied roles of the curator. As the world and the object domain of the contemporary art expands the functions of the curator too broadens.
In the fourth issue of “The Curator” series we present artist collective and curators Raqs Media collective.
The Curator #4
Raqs Media Collective: Jeebesh Bagchi, Monica Narula and Shuddhabrata Sengupta
Exhibition: Sarai 09
“The Raqs Media Collective enjoys playing a plurality of roles, often appearing as artists, occasionally as curators, sometimes as philosophical agent provocateurs. They make contemporary art, have made films, curated exhibitions, edited books, staged events, collaborated with architects, computer programmers, writers and theatre directors and have founded processes that have left deep impacts on contemporary culture in India. Raqs (pron. rux) follows its self declared imperative of ‘kinetic contemplation’ to produce a trajectory that is restless in terms of the forms and methods that it deploys even as it achieves a consistency of speculative procedures.”
Sarai 09 was stretched across nine months as a series of propositions, in an empty space, ‘like a blank space” which would eventually unfold into objects, situations, utterances, gatherings and questions. I had a chance to visit the final exhibition in Devi Art Foundation. The energy there was tremendous. Viewers moving from work to work, interacting with the artists, works, and performances. Even few of my friends who were part of the exhibition found the experience very useful. It helped them to see art making and participating in an exhibition as a process and a collaborative experience. The exhibition too featured different kinds of “works” which we do not see as art works in a conventional manner but which had a deeper sense of belonging to the contemporary world in terms of its content. According to Raqs, “the term “artist” got thoroughly dismantled and explored by each protagonist; it became elastic. Our role as curators in this situation was also to observe overflow.”
This democratisation of participation, the expanded notion of what is art, and the emphasis on the process and seeing curation as an ongoing journey has made Sarai 09 a memorable experience in Indian art. As far as the important question of when does curatorial work end. I would say curation is an incomplete work, it is an ongoing journey. Once started it keeps on traversing the landscape of art and history. It accumulates new meanings, interpretations, responsibilities, and attracts new “consumers”. The work of curation never ends.
The details of this exhibition could be found in the Sarai catalogue Sarai 09 with the proposals of the artists and the curatorial note of Raqs (http://sarai.net/sarai-reader-09-projections/). Here is another important interview with them on the exhibition which appeared in On-Curating magazine ( http://www.on-curating.org/issue-19-reader/interview-with-raqs-media-collective-on-the-exhibition-sarai-reader-09.html#.WZbaWfig_Mx ). The magazine is free to download and also look for other topics which interest you.
We wish you a happy weekend. Please share, comment and discuss.
-Premjish, Director, Outreach