Colours, only

 

A new exhibition in Delhi introduces the rare genre of ‘colour field’ painting to art lovers

Ankush Arora

How does an artist’s canvas reflect natural landscapes, without using any kind of recognisable shapes, images, forms or human figures? A good example of this style of art-making is the work of Pandit Bhila Khairnar, who is known as a ‘colour field’ artist. Delhi-based Gallery Threshold recently inaugurated a solo show of the artist, who hails from Nashik city in Maharashtra.

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Nashik. Courtesy: Flickr

 

As a young man, Khairnar found himself drawn towards abstract painting, and began his training in art at Yashwant Kala Mahavidyalaya, Aurangabad, and L. S. Raheja School of Art, Mumbai. His early interest in abstract painting deeply influenced his artistic vocabulary that we see today, so much so that he is now considered one of the lesser known, but foremost, colour field painters of India.

 

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Pandit Bhila Khairnar. Courtesy: Gallery Threshold

 

How Colour Field Painting Started

Before we discuss his paintings and other sources of creative inspiration that shaped his art, let us look at the genre of colour field painting, which is a very uncommon form of art seen in Indian galleries or museums. Colour field painting is understood to be an offshoot of Abstract Art, which was one of the most defining characteristics of the Modern Art movement that emerged during the 20th century in the West.

The term ‘colour field’ began to be associated with artists during the 1950s and 1960s in the US. These artists were in pursuit of an abstraction far beyond familiar realities. Their canvases largely depicted (deceptively) simple compositions using one or more flat colours, without adding a specific shape, form or any obvious focus of attention. Often, their art acquired mysterious, spiritual, and sometimes other-worldly proportions. One of the earliest pioneers of colour field art is 20th century American painter Mark Rothko, who is known for “significant open space and expressive use of colour” in his paintings. The result is a ‘meditative’ effect on the viewer, who is exposed to a large expanse of colour on the canvas.

The Non-Physical Art of Pandit Khairnar

When I walked into Delhi’s Gallery Threshold, Pandit Khairnar’s oil paintings had the same contemplative effect on me. His paintings are colourful explorations of his inner thoughts, without figurations, decorations or complicated patterns that we often see in art. Mounted on bare walls, these large canvases not only imbued a sense of stillness in the gallery, but the whole experience of looking at his works was no less than taking a solitary walk in the countryside. And this is exactly what the artist is seeking to convey through his paintings.

 

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Gallery view of the exhibition. Courtesy: Ankush Arora

 

Khairnar’s upbringing in the historically rich and verdant terrain around Nashik, which is known for antiquated monuments and (now) sprawling vineyards, shaped his artistic sensibilities. As a school boy, he showed a lot of interest in drawing and painting, which caught everyone’s attention. Soon, he befriended the potter community in his village, and began painting their statues for local festivals.

As a young man, he moved to Mumbai, where he stayed for 25 years. He then returned to the serene beauty of Nashik, which inspired him to paint. His Nashik memories are full of regular jaunts to agriculture fields, often helping his father cultivate fruits and vegetables on the farm. Being in regular touch with the soil made him dabble in statuette-making too. He was also taken in by the mysterious colours of twilight and dusk, which he explored in his art.

From Colour Drawings to Abstractions

Through shades of greens, oranges, blacks, reds and yellows, the artist splashes his memories on the canvas, creating an ‘infinite’ or ‘limitless’ field. In other words, he is trying to portray his experience of observing a vast natural landscape, instead of actually painting a tree, sky or river. His canvas could be showing the pigment of a leaf or the mixing of colours in the sky when night begins to fall. To such representations, he gives an ‘intangible’ or a non-physical form.

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Courtesy: Gallery Threshold

 

Explaining his trajectory as an artist, Khairnar said he initially started with colour drawings on paper. Several of them were abstract in nature that made way for what he is doing now. “In these drawings, I was in a sense opening and discovering the substance out of the frame, to find what I am left with, which is pure and sublime,” the artist said. Interestingly, he rejects the label of being referred to as a colour field artist, calling it a “comfortable categorization” that may lead to “superficial” understanding of his art.

“How would you explain your work to the young learners of art?” I asked him in an email interview.

“Colour is something that gives character. We can’t imagine a monochromatic world. What we see on the canvas essentially arrives from the subtle observations of inner and outer world,” he wrote back, somewhat summing up his style of painting.

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Courtesy: Gallery Threshold

 

It is because of the nature of colour field paintings, which are devoid of a form, the genre is not only not popular in India; there is also little awareness about it. They could be difficult to interpret too. And that is true of many other forms of abstract art. Little wonder, in India, Khairnar belongs to a small group of colour field painters, which include V. S. Gaitonde,Natvar Bhavsar, Sohan Qadri and Rajendra Dhawan. Gaitonde, Rothko and Dhawan—who are known for their powerful abstractions—inspired Khairnar to explore and question different interpretations of the ‘real’ and the ‘illusory’.

As I spent some time in the gallery, quietly sipping some tulsi chai, I noticed a few subtle forms in Khairnar’s paintings. The sudden discovery seemed very odd as I didn’t remember noticing anything like that when I walked in. Some looked like dots, seen together they could be somebody’s eyes. In other paintings, for example, the forms were far less obvious, resembling vague silhouettes of a human face. Perhaps these lingering forms pointed towards the galaxy, a theme aptly conveyed in the show’s title – ‘Cosmic Balance’.

The exhibition will be on view at Delhi’s Gallery Threshold until September 15, 2018. You can share your thoughts on Pandit Khairnar’s works below.


 

276520d7-6209-4f19-a17e-7e4d98264b55Ankush began his career as a journalist in 2008, and has since covered multiple stints in print, television and digital media in India. In 2016, he took up a communications and outreach assignment for an American social innovation organisation, which works with the Tata Trusts in India. He is currently working, in Delhi, as a media publicist for art practitioners. He tweets @artandculturediary, and shares his photography on Instagram.

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Interwoven narratives of Indian and Thai textiles   

 

The revival of Thai’s ‘mudmee’ silk industry is the subject of a new exhibition at New Delhi’s National Museum

Ankush Arora

Between the 14th and 18thcentury, the Kingdom of Ayutthaya (present-day Thailand) began importing various kinds of Indian textiles for the local market and royal court. These included block-printed or painted cotton from Masulipatnam (Andhra Pradesh), silk brocades from Banaras, and Gujarat’s patolaor double ikat silk—the latter was believed to have been commissioned for the Ayutthaya king during the 1660s.

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Painting of Ayutthaya c.1665, painted by Johannes Vingboons, ordered by the Dutch East India Company, Amsterdam. Courtesy: Wikipedia

 

While the origin of silkworm breeding and silk weaving in Thailand remains unknown, the early hybridization of Indian-made textiles with Siamese (dated term for Thai people) royal court patterns began to take place sometime during the Ayutthaya kingdom, according to a new art exhibition at New Delhi’s National Museum. Adorned with flame motifs, which is a quintessential form of Thai visual art seen in local paintings and architecture, the textiles began to be commissioned exclusively for the royal court.

For the general Siamese public, textiles with simplified patterns (perhaps keeping in mind the cost), including Indian influences, were also produced. These Indian-Thai patterns and motifs can still be seen in mudmee silk of contemporary Thailand, which is the subject of the exhibition, titled ‘Mudmee: A Shared Silk Heritage’.

“The diamond lattice structure filled with lotus-bud-shaped motif…[was] favoured by the Siamese (Thai) court in the past. The structure…is often referred to as Mughal Indian inspiration upon the Siamese court taste,” reads a note in the exhibition catalogue, on an early 21st century natural silk dye from Surin Province. The exhibition, unfortunately, does not highlight the artistic and historic influence of other neighbouring countries, such as China, on Thailand’s textiles.

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Exhibition View by Ankush Arora

Presented in collaboration with the Royal Thai Embassy and the Thai Khadi Research Institute, the exhibits document the history and monarchy-led revitalization of the Southeast country’s mudmee silk, that involves tying off silk yarns, to create patterns, before setting off the process of weaving.

Intricately woven, with complex patterns and vivid textures, around 50 mudmee silk items have been mounted at the gallery, offering a glimpse into the local and royal culture of Thailand, which has been shaped by constitutional monarchy, military rule and Buddhist religion.

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Exhibition View by Ankush Arora

The artefacts on display, roughly covering a period of three most recent centuries, are traditional costumes for both Thai men and women; the collection comprises of tube skirts, hip-wrappers, regular skirts, and shoulder sashes. The artistic precision and detail of these textiles are accentuated by the portrayal of local themes that are related to—mythology, religion, spirituality, architecture, nature and fertility.

Since the early 20th century, however, the western style of dressmaking led to the decline of locally handwoven textiles in Thailand. With the expansion and rapid urbanization of Bangkok, Thailand’s capital city, and other big cities, mudmee silk was relegated for use by the rural and poor people only. The onslaught of cheaper and machine-made silk sidelined indigenous silk as well. One of the other reasons that may have also contributed to mudmee silk’s decline is the difficulty of wearing Thai garments on a daily basis.

With the support of royal patronage since the 1950s, led by Thailand’s Queen Sirikit, mudmee silk not only made it to annual silk festivals and international fashion runways, the quality of weaving and sericulture significantly improved. Focusing on the rural and backward parts of Thailand, she launched a livelihood campaign by initiating market reforms, introduced training in textile weaving, encouraged people to increase mudmee production, and eventually made large-scale purchases from the local market.

A fashion icon herself, the queen—who turned 86 this year—has made innumerable public appearances, both at home and abroad, wearing exquisite gowns made from Thai mudmee silk. She even hired French couturiers and Thai designers to design fashionable dresses out of mudmee, opening new doors for traditional silk.

Some of the artefacts at the exhibition, such as a collection of chic mudmee silk dresses, have been loaned by Bangkok-based Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles, that houses the queen’s personal collection of dresses tailored from Thai textiles.

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Exhibition View by Ankush Arora

However, the National Museum show does not acknowledge the contribution of Jim Thompson, the American intelligence official-turned-businessman who is credited for “singlehandedly saving Thailand’s vital silk industry from extinction (Time Magazine, 2016).”

Thompson, famously called ‘Thai Silk King’, was sent to Thailand on an intelligence assignment, just as the World War II was coming to an end. Duties over, he decided to stay back in Bangkok and build a life there. Charmed by its local silk weaving industry, but equally disturbed by its near-extinct status, Thompson began investing in the market, engaged hundreds of silk weavers, and created a market for Thai silk at home and abroad.

As his silk business achieved fame and the industry witnessed a revival, he built a sprawling property of villas in Bangkok, “along the pulse of Thompson’s new world: on the banks of the khlong (canal) across which Bangkok’s silk weavers lived and worked (Time, 2016).” But it was an accusation—of having stolen five Buddha heads—that probably put his reputation at stake. Ultimately, his story ended with a mysterious disappearance, during a walk in a jungle at the Malaysian highlands. His legacy survives still survives in Bangkok, as The Jim Thompson Museum, originally his canal-side residence that is also a repository of his personal collection of local art and antiques.

The exhibition, ‘Mudmee: A Shared Silk Heritage’, was inaugurated on Aug. 10, 2018, and will be on view until Sept. 25, 2018, at National Museum, Delhi.

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Ankush began his career as a journalist in 2008, and has since covered multiple stints in print, television and digital media in India. In 2016, he took up a communications and outreach assignment for an American social innovation organisation, which works with the Tata Trusts in India. He is currently working, in Delhi, as a media publicist for art practitioners. He tweets @artandculturediary, and shares his photography on Instagram.

Native American Art and Totem Poles: An Interview with Tracy J. Prince

Many of you are now introduced to the idea of totem poles through the Grade 3 book of Art1st. You have learnt about its symbolic functions, its aesthetics and also asked students to make their own totem poles. Most of these works were also displayed in the annual exhibitions in the schools curated with the help of Art1st mentors.

Today we will feature an interview with Dr. Tracy J. Prince who is a Scholar in Residence (Research Professor) at Portland State University in the United States. Tracy is also an accomplished writer and has done extensive research on the history of Blacks and Native americans. She was part of the Chateau de La Napoule art residency along with me and I had a chance to interact with her about her writings and research. She also did a wonderful art workshop with the kids who were visiting the museum at the Chateau on Native American art and patterns. In this interview she will talk about the Native American art, the relevance of totem poles and contemporary artists who are using totem poles and the aesthetics of Native American art in their works.

 

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Dr. Tracy J. Prince

Premjish: How was your experience with the students in La Napoule teaching Native American Art? What were your objectives?

Tracy:  I wanted to show the children images of Native American art from over 100 years ago to today, so that students could see that Native Americans have been an important part of American history and that thousands of Native artists are active today. I enjoyed teaching them via an interpreter. They were intrigued that I am a descendant of Pocahontas. They seemed very excited to learn about Native Americans.

 

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Children’s workshop with Tracy J. Prince at Chateau de La Napoule

 

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Children’s workshop with Tracy J. Prince at Chateau de La Napoule

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Tracy J. Prince with the kids at the workshop on Native American art

 

Premjish: What is your experience with the Native American Art? (In terms of academics and research and outreach)

Tracy: I’ve taught Native American Art for over a decade. I’ve published about Native art in several of my books on Portland, Oregon’s history. I’m working on a book on Native American Art of Oregon, based upon my research and teaching. In outreach, I’ve advocated with the Portland Art Museum to promote the work of contemporary Native artists (though they still tend to focus on historical Native art), and I’ve given hundreds of talks to civic groups in the US on Native American art.

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A collection of hand-woven Navajo blankets. Courtesy: Tracy J. Prince

 

Premjish: In the Art1st grade books we have a chapter dealing with Totem poles. You have researched a lot on totem poles. Could you give our teachers a brief overview about its functions, visual appearance and relevance.

Tracy: The most important thing to remember is that totem poles are traditional only for tribes in part of the Pacific Northwest. In the US, totem poles were made only in parts of Alaska and a small part of Washington state, and in Canada, totem poles were made only in the province of British Columbia. The Pacific Northwest areas where carving was/is most intense is a rain forest where enormous evergreen trees grow that are excellent for making totem poles—most are made from western red cedar. There are over 500 Native tribes in the US. Less than a dozen of those tribes have totem poles as a tradition. Throughout the world, totem poles have captured the imagination and have come to stand for all Native people of the US and Canada. But in reality, totem poles represent only a small part of a few western tribes in Canada and the US. They capture the imagination for good reason. Totem poles are carved of wood. They are beautiful, grand, and visually striking. They are usually enormous poles carved from a single tree. Totem poles can be found in many museums around the world. Their function was/is to celebrate a person’s achievements, to honor someone still living, to praise a great miracle, to serve as a funeral marker, to tell a tribal legend, and for many other functions. The icons carved onto the pole differ from tribe to tribe. Common imagery includes: a raven (a trickster figure—tricky, greedy, mischievous), eagle, bear, salmon, whale, wolf, frog, and mythical creatures such as the thunderbird and Dzunukwa. Dzunukwa is often depicted with pursed lips. The legend is that when children hear “who, who” calling in the forest, they should run so that Dzunukwa doesn’t capture them. This legend helped keep children from wandering into the vast wilderness of thick forests that these tribes were surrounded by.

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Mask of Dzunukwa face (Museum of Anthropology at UBC), Courtesy: Wikipedia and the Museum

 

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Dzunukwa holding tináa (copper shields) outside the Burke Museum of the University of Washington, Seattle, WA. Courtesy: Wikipedia.

Premjish: Do communities still make totem poles and believe in its symbolic quality?

Tracy: All tribal communities that made totem poles historically are still making totem poles today. Many Native people (in Canada the preferred terms are: aboriginal, indigenous, or First Nations) were Christianized and many of their traditional beliefs and practices were forbidden until even as recently as the 1950s. However, even with attempts to decimate cultures, many Native people still place great value on the symbolism of the imagery on totem poles. All tribes place great value on the cultural importance of the tree, taken from Native land, representing stories that have been handed down in that tribe.

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Image of a village with totem poles in Alaska. Courtesy: Tracy J. Prince

Premjish: Could you tell us more about the contemporary artists who are working in this visual idiom? Especially abstract, geometric patterns, etc.

Tracy: Wendy Red Star (Crow tribe) satirizes and critiques stereotypical ideas about Native Americans. Sometimes using pop art style, with an underlying critique, she grapples with American history and the present story of Native Americans. She wants viewers to see that Native people are not just people of the past.

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Peelatchiwaaxpaásh/ Medicine Crow (Raven) with notations from Wendy Red Star’s research.  Reproduction of image of historically significant, famous, iconic 19th century Crow leader, altered by the artist with red pen notations explaining the symbolic significance of each element of his garb and the artifacts he holds. Courtesy: Wikipedia and Wendy Red Star

And she plays with traditional Native American geometric shapes to explore contemporary art.

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Wendy Red Star, Family Portraits, Courtesy: Wendy Red Star

I like the work of Marcus Cadman (Navajo and Kickapoo tribes). He has strong regional recognition and growing national recognition. I’m especially intrigued by his paintings that use discarded bingo cards from the Navajo reservation as the background. Bingo games are pervasive throughout Native American tribes. So, he is anchoring the viewer to contemporary life on the Navajo reservation by using bingo cards.

Marcus Cadman

Website of Marcus Cadman

(To see Cadman’s works, see his website http://www.marcuscadman.com/carousel.php?galleryID=109931)

I wrote about Pat Courtney Gold (Wasco Chinook) who does basketry. Her designs are quite traditional and are meant to honor the past rather than critique it.

(See the book online https://books.google.co.in/books?id=dCYnDwAAQBAJ&pg=PA95&dq=%22lillian+pitt%22+notable+women&hl=en&sa=X&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q=%22lillian%20pitt%22%20&f=false)

 

 

                                                                      Pat Courtney Gold

 

Premjish: Is it always necessary that Native American artists always work in their own native visual style?

Tracy: In the 1960s and 1970s, Fritz Scholder and T. C. Cannon famously exploded the idea that Native American art must reverentially harken back to the past artistic language.

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“Self Portrait in the Studio” by the artist T. C. Cannon. Courtesy: Wikipedia

They used abstraction (Scholder) and pop art (Cannon) to play with, deconstruct, and analyze Native American art. Many contemporary artists, such as James Lavadour (Umatilla), don’t feel obliged to paint typical Native American subjects. He paints abstractions of the landscapes near his home on the Umatilla Reservation.

(Read the article on these by clicking here)

Premjish: Could you tell us what are the new interventions happening in the art of totem pole creation?

 Tracy: Being able to carve in the totem pole style and with particular figures is considered the privilege of certain tribes. These privileges are passed down through generations. It is considered cultural appropriation when a Native American person carves a totem pole but is not a member of a tribe where totem poles were carved. Rick Bartow (Wiyot and Yurok) has a fantastic piece at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington DC that shows a modern interpretation of the totem pole but is not trying to replicate traditional styles. He lives in Oregon with ancestry from  California tribes. So he is not from a tribe where totem pole carving is traditional. Bartow’s spectacular sculpture, “We Were Always Here,” was erected in 2012 at the Smithsonian’s American Indian Museum.

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Photograph of a work by Rick Bartow, part of an exhibit at the gardens of the White House; url properties list title as “Cedar Mill Pole, 1997”

Bartow says that they aren’t totem poles, but “pole sculptures.” “We didn’t want a totem pole. There is a predetermined idea of what that is going to look like, a built-in iconography. There are traditions. It reflects family stories, lineages. I have no lineage right to that … and it would be stupid of me, who is not Haida or Tlingit … to pretend like I was all of the sudden just for this job. It would look like hell, frankly.”

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Rick Bartow, We Were Always Here, 2012, carved old growth western red cedar, 324″ x 31″ x 15″

Bartow’s work explores a new sculptural form and iconography to delve into contemporary interpretations of Native American art.

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Rick Bartow with his paintings at Froelick Gallery, Portland, Oregon. Photo credit: Wilder Schmaltz

 

 

 

Tracy J. Prince, Ph.D. is a Scholar in Residence (research professor) at Portland State University in the United States. She is the author of four books: Culture Wars in British Literature: Multiculturalism and National IdentityNotable Women of Portland, two other histories of Oregon, and is currently working on a book on Native American Art of Oregon. She has taught for two decades, published about, and given hundreds of public lectures on Native American art and literature. Read more about her: https://works.bepress.com/tracy-prince/

 

The Curator #21

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.

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Courtesy: Ranjit Hoskote and Nancy Adajania

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

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Nancy Adajania

 

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Ranjit Hoskote

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.”

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Portrait by Pestonji Bomanji

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.”

Ranjit Hoskote on Twitter- In NO PARSI IS AN ISLAND, Nancy Adajania & I map Indian modernism's lost histories. Shown here- Adi Davierwalla.

Work of Adi Daiverwalla Courtesy: Ranjit Hoskote and Nancy Adajania

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.

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NGMA exhibition view. Courtesy: Ranjit Hoskote and Nancy Adajania

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.”

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NGMA exhibition view. Courtesy: Ranjit Hoskote and Nancy Adajania

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

 

 

The Curator #20

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)

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Pramod Kumar KG, Courtesy: Eka Cultural Resources

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.

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Courtesy: Eka Cultural Resources

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.”

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Courtesy: Eka Cultural Resources

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.”

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Courtesy: Eka Cultural Resources

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.

 

 

The Curator #19

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.

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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

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Ravi Agarwal

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.

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Atul Bhalla

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.

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Gigi Scaria

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.

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Asim Waqif

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.

Writing workshops

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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.”

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Elbe Walk

 

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.

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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.

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Sheba Chhachi

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

 

 

The Curator #18

Most of the exhibitions we have discussed in this series includes different forms of art works. For example, all of the group shows curated by the curators we have discussed features two-dimensional works such as paintings, drawings, photographs, prints, etc., and three-dimensional works such as sculptures, installations, etc. But what about an exhibition which deals with only one of these forms? What if a curator wants to curate an exhibition on the contemporary painting? Or he/she wants to showcase the art historical evolution of painting? That means the show will feature only one form of work. The curator will have to rethink the space in a different way for this show. Also, they will require a historical grasp on the particular form they are dealing with. They should be thoroughly aware about the contemporary developments, the new artists and their techniques.  Mostly such exhibitions also arise out of a passion to survey what is happening in a particular field of practice, for example in sculpting, painting, video-making, etc.

In this issue of Art1st’s “The Curator” series we will discuss Nancy Adajania’s exhibition Avatars of the Object: Sculptural Projections to see how she addressed the recent developments in the practice of sculpture.

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Nancy Adajania

 

The Curator #18

Curator: Nancy Adajania

Exhibition: Avatars of the Object: Sculptural Projections, 2006

Venue: Guild Gallery and Jehangir Nicholson Art Gallery

 

Nancy Adajania is a cultural theorist and curator. She has curated various important shows in India and abroad. She has also edited various publications on art and culture. Her recent editorial venture was to compile a lexicon of affective terms which was published in the journal Aroop. The terms for the compendium were contributed by various artists across India.

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Aroop Journal edited by Nancy Adajania titled Some Things That Only Art Can Do

Her focus of the exhibition was that the ‘classical sculptural object is no longer tenable, and that the most interesting sculpture being produced today emerges from a science of dematerialized objects.’ What are dematerialized art objects? It is the result of a new development in art practice where art object was dematerialized, which means that art production was possible without conventional physical materials. It aimed towards a high-conceptual art. This was done so that art could escape from commodification and commercialization. It was impossible to sell a non-physical idea or work which exists as a concept or which is ephemeral in nature. The term dematerialization was coined by art critics Lucy lippard and John Chandler.

Therefore, the exhibition curated by Adajania featured objects that formed her display comprised ‘video footage of self- destruct sculpture; sculpture as the performance of moving parts; sculpture in a condition of meltdown and remaking; or sculpture that takes the viewer for a walk along a conceptual map studded with text.’

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Jahangir Jena

She notes that sculptors in ever period has revisted their choice of materials. We too know from our previous posts and Art1st books and training programs that apart from bronze, marble and stone, modernist sculptors started using newer materials such as concrete, fiberglass, industrial waste, plastic, etc. Sculptures also acquired movement instead of remaining static like it used to be. Therefore, it became necessary for a curator to understand this change and how to showcase this new change in sculpture-making for the viewers.

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Navjot Altaf

The artists of this show were Jehangir Jani, Shilpa Gupta, Anita Dube, Kaushik Mukhopadhyay, Mithu Sen, M M S Umesh, Navjot Altaf, and Pooja Iranna. Most of these artists, apart from incorporating the latest developments in technology and materials, also used their practice to address significant social issues.

For example, Navjot Altaf’s works has been dealing with social injustice and political violence happening around us. She also deals with the discrimination and inequalities faced by minorities and women. Like Nancy has noted, “She brings to her work a sense of social commitment and a need to expose the social injustice.”

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Navjot Altaf

Shilpa Gupta uses her work to ‘engage the viewer through the provocative and interrogative dimensions of conceptual art.’ She uses video projections, shadows, etc., to create a participatory work with the viewer. She creates artwork using interactive websites, video, gallery environments and public performances to probe and examine subversively such themes as consumer culture. Among the artists on view, Jehangir Jani works with different medium like sculptures, ceramics, fiberglass and sheet metal.

 

Mithu Sen works with found objects, apart from her visceral paintings and sculptures, she has a fascinating collection of dolls. Her works are very playful in nature and they employ a dark humour. Anita Dube as we know ‘often employs a variety of found objects drawn from the realms of the industrial (foam, plastic, wire), craft (thread, beads, velvet), the body (dentures, bone), etc.’

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Anita Dube

According to Adajania, the show concentrated ‘on the performative aspects of sculpture, as objects of art emplace and simultaneously displace contexts of spectatorship and vice versa. The displacement of object and meaning in the extended-sculpture realm challenges, even mocks received ideas about sculpture. This opens the door for two alternatives. On the one hand, we can re-objectify the object along different norms. On the other hand, we can move to a post-object sculpture: we can address the after-life of the object, looking for the lost sculptural qualities and finding them transformed/morphed, made anew.’

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Subodh Gupta

What are your views on conceptual art? What kind of new materials have been used recently to make sculptures? What is the difference between a sculpture and an installation? What is a live-sculpture? Let us discuss more about these aspects.

Also, I wish you all a Happy New Year on behalf of Art1st. We are looking forward for an exciting year ahead with lot of new interesting projects. We will keep you posted about them soon.

Premjish, Director-Outreach, Art1st.

The Curator #17

Throughout this series we have explored how curators have used pre-modern, modern and contemporary art. The category of “art” mainly included sculptures, paintings, videos, photographs, installations, performance art, etc. Even if the sculptures, and paintings belonged to the past they were included in the category of arts or fine arts. But what about forms like patachitras, ivory carving, wood carving, jewelery, pottery, phad paintings, kavads, etc. Why are not they arts? Have you ever thought about this that why are they called folk art/craft and not given the status of art? In the last post we saw how Jyotindra Jain and Dadi Pudumjee curated a show on the picture showmen traditions, masks, puppets, etc. from India which usually do no fall into the ambit of high art? Why is that an artist who is painting in Bengal on a long scroll and carrying it house to house to tell a story not called as an artist and his work not seen as art? Why do we use categories like folk artists and tribal artists to denote their works? We see the high art in museums and galleries, but we collect the craft objects like objects of curiosities at our homes. There are well curated museums for high art, but folk/tribal arts/crafts are always housed in ethnographic museums.

This is a contentious issue in Indian art and art elsewhere. This issue has been addressed by few seminal curators previously, especially by Dr. Jyotindra Jain. In his exhibition Other Masters: Five Contemporary Folk and Tribal Artists of India, curated in the 90s, Dr. Jain takes a different look at this. Usually we are taught to see folk, tribal artists and craftspeople as artists who are stuck in tradition and who are not able to innovate themselves right. Dr. Jain made us see that there are artists who do not want to be part of a tradition and who do not belong to the recognition of the modern art world. They have an identity of their own. We have to respect that and not create the binaries of high art and folk art. Similarly, artist-curator J. Swaminathan has said that we should not treat their artistic expressions as just curious objects, because of their primitive character, instead we should treat them as contemporary expressions. If a patua painter is painting and narrating the story of Indira Gandhi’s death and the destruction of World Trade Towers in his work how is he a primitive artist? His or her expressions, concerns and thoughts are inclined towards the contemporary.

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Courtesy: Devi Art Foundation

In today’s Art1st’s “The Curator” series we will discuss Annapurna Garimella’s exhibition Vernacular in the Contemporary which opened up this question on the differences between high and folk art, and how can we understand this larger cultural production happening in India, which are situated outside the metropolises.

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Dr. Annapurna Garimella

The Curator #17

Curator: Dr. Annapurna Garimella (Jackfruit Research and Design)

Exhibition: Vernacular in the Contemporary: Working and Working Reflectively, 2010-2011

Venue: Devi Art Foundation

This exhibition used the collection of Anupam and Lekha Poddar of the Devi Art Foundation and also created newly commissioned works by artists who are often categorized as makers of folk, tribal and traditional art. It used a new term called the vernacular to denote this sphere where this cultural production is happening. ‘The exhibition focused on the vernacular and shifts the art historical and institutional terms for understanding and theorizing this cluster of visual art. Moreover, the show foregrounded the diversity and contemporary relevance of vernacular artists’ personas, ideas and concerns through ambitious projects’. This exhibition was the result of extensive field works, correspondences and it also carried out an extensive documentation of these artistic practices.

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Courtesy: Devi Art Foundation

 

But why can’t we use terms like folk art, tribal art, and native art anymore. Dr. Garimella has the answer. “Many of the artists are not tribals, so that’s inaccurate.” She says, “If a Madhubani painter uses tubes of paint manufactured in Japan, can you call that process of creating art native? I chose the term vernacular with care. It signifies a traditional art language without the limitations that the terms ‘folk’, ‘tribal’ or ‘native’ have.”

In order to to select the best folk and tribal artists from across the country, Devi Art Foundation and Garimella’s company, Jackfruit Research and Design didn’t go merely by reputation or recommendation. They place public notice was put out in newspapers, announcing a programme in art, much like the way universities seek applications for courses. In addition, suggestions were sought from DAF and colleagues working in art, NGOs in the field were consulted, newspapers were scanned, and the internet was scoured. Letters were sent out in a variety of regional languages, and 175 artists responded with portfolios. Finally, after conversations in a variety of languages, 30 artists were commissioned to create works for the show. So, there is Pata Chitra painting from Bengal and Orissa, Phad scrolls from Rajasthan, Chittara art from Sangam district in the Western Ghats, leather puppets from Dharmavaram in Andhra Pradesh, Bhuta sculptures from Karnataka, among a host of others. The show has been divided into two parts. The first part, titled ‘Working’, has 180 works by 32 artists. Part II of the exhibition, titled ‘Working Consciously, Working Reflectively’, opened in March 2011.

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Courtesy: Devi Art Foundation

Photographer Fawzan Husain who had documented this exhibition and the artists observed that this was the first time he was offered an assignment like this, and he grabbed it. “I remember meeting this leather puppet maker, S Anjaneyulu, in Dharmavaram village in Andhra. Leather puppet shows used to be the main form of entertainment here. Movies changed all that, of course. This man, perhaps, is the last such artist remaining. These puppets are usually 6-7 feet high, figures from the epics. It takes more than a week to create one. His sons cannot afford to carry on his legacy. Yet, this man continues to create, showing up cheerfully for work every day, let down perhaps, but not betrayed enough to abandon his art. I won’t forget that man’s face,” recounts Husain.

Sculptor L Rathakrishna has rendered the 108 karanas of the Natyashastra in bronze. This, possibly, is the first time this has been attempted by an artist other than in a temple: karanas are usually carved on the outside of a temple. So Shiva becomes less of a god, and more of a performer.

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Courtesy: Devi Art Foundation

You can read more of Dr. Garimella’s writings on the vernacular art here https://www.academia.edu/1777530/Do_what_you_will_-_Identity_exhibitions_and_contemporary_vernacular_art

https://www.academia.edu/1778077/Making_the_Exhibition

Also listen to her lecture https://vimeo.com/47226311

So friends, have a good weekend and happy Christmas in advance. Feel free to share, discuss your opinions about this series with us.

  • Premjish, Director-Outreach, Art1st.

 

 

 

 

The Curator #16

We have discussed through various examples, how curator weaves a narrative through objects and artworks in an exhibition. These narratives offered a larger picture about our history and heritage instead of only limiting the exhibition to the artworks and artists. We have seen examples of curators such as Naman P. Ahuja, Ranjit Hoskote, and through the exhibition ‘Where in the World’ how interesting narratives about our present and past can be told through artworks. The Sanskrit word for narrative is Aakhyan. It also means story-telling. India has myriads of story-telling traditions. These traditions are part of a living tradition which means it is continuing for centuries and one can trace it back to history. These practitioners use interesting objects such as scrolls, puppets, masks, etc., to tell these stories. For example, the patuas of Bengal carry illustrated scrolls to tell stories, scrolls from Gujarat portray Jaina myths and the Rajasthan depicts the story of Pabuji and Dev Narayan. Besides these long scrolls from Tamil Nadu and Andhra called yama patas are used to talk about the journey to hell and heaven.  Besides scrolls, masks and puppets are also used in this purpose. Performance traditions across India uses masks. Many of us know about performances like Krishnanattam, Kathakali, Chau, Ramlila, Aji Lhamu, Chham, etc., which uses mask as an important element. These masks are made of different materials. Also important is the use of puppets in performance. Shadow puppetry is a popular performance item in many parts of India including Odisha, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Let us see how can one weave a narrative about narratives and curate a show based on this tradition and the various objects used. In today’s Art1st’s “The Curator” series we introduce you to the exhibition Aakhyan: A Celebration of Masks, Puppets and Picture Showmen Traditions of India curated by Jyotindra Jain and Dadi Pudumjee for IGNCA.

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The Curator #16

Exhibition: Aakhyan: A Celebration of Masks, Puppets and Picture Showmen Traditions of India, 2010

Curators: Jyotindra Jain and Dadi Pudumjee

Venue : IGNCA

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 I have introduced you to seminal art historian Dr. Jyotindra Jain, today I will also introduce you to Dadi Pudumjee who is a leading puppeteer from India and also the founder of The Ishara Puppet Theatre Trust.

Pudumjee also holds a significant collection of masks from different parts of India. Even if you are not familiar with Pudumjee you must be familiar with his masks. You don’t believe me right? I am sure most of you have seen this song from the movie Haider.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LVDeDObxbM8

The masks and puppets used in this song are from Dadi Pudumjee’s collection. Dudumjee’s performances and shows have travelled nationally and internationally.

 

Aakhyan, the exhibition was the celebration of masks, puppets and picture showmen tradition of India. According to IGNCA “Aakhyan brings together three distinct traditions of masks, puppets and picture scrolls of India, focusing on the artistic expressions in the visual and kinetic narratives. At the core of the ever- fascinating multiplicity of Indian storytelling lie the epic worlds of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata and the Puranas.” Furthermore, “The art forms chosen for this event, in their diverse manifestations, represent the larger picture of the cultural landscape of India denoting rituals, epics, legends and ballads, and contemporary narratives. Masks, Puppets and Picture Showmen are living traditions in many parts of the country with a formidable variety of vibrant expressions. By bringing these together, IGNCA is making an effort not only to showcase the rich diversity of masks, puppets and picture scrolls in the larger matrix of storytelling traditions in India but also to project the artistic significance of each form.”

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According to Dadi Pudumjee, “Akhyan attempts to present some of these living traditions of storytelling not just as museum pieces, but as a portrayal of the rich cultural performing arts and crafts of India — the exquisitely carved wood, costumes, jewellery, painting and the techniques of manipulation & presentation which have survived many centuries — highlighting the Indian tradition, where the object is given life and projects its creator’s ideas and essence, through narration of stories of gods and demons, heroes and common people, of love and affection, and beyond.”

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In the wonderfully illustrated catalogue produced by IGNCA, Dr. Jain gives a historical account of the story-telling tradition and picture-showmen tradition in India. By picture-showmen we mean performers who carry images to narrate stories. Using references from classical textual sources, he gives a detailed account of this tradition from different parts of India. It is a must-read essay on the picture-showmen tradition of India. He observes that, “Indian traditions of storytelling, often accompanied by painted panels or scrolls, can be traced back through literary evidence to at least the second century BC and are known to have existed almost all over the subcontinent. Buddhist, Brahmanical, and Jaina literature contains abundant references to the art of painted scrolls (pata chitras) which were exhibited in ancient times to educate and entertain the people. Classical Sanskrit literature has several references to yama patas.”

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This show also used pictures and masks which were related to the contemporary adaptations of these. For example, the picture scroll from Medinipur on Indira Gandhi murder. ‘The mid-20 century scroll titled “After Independence” depicts, with a tinge of sarcasm, the family tensions, social conflicts and agony that arose from the breakdown of existing moral values and economic structures, the effect of modernization around the time of India’s independence.’

This exhibition had also accompanied by various performances.

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You could download the catalogue from here and see the images and read the essays. http://ignca.nic.in/PDF_data/aakhyan_brochure.pdf

Have a wonderful weekend. Feel free to share your thoughts, comments, and discuss.

  • 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

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  • Premjish, Director-Outreach, Art1st.

 

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