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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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 #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

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

  • Premjish, Director-Outreach, Art1st.

 

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The Curator #12

Through the various previous blog posts we got an idea about how does curating India abroad, how curating abroad in India functions. But what about exhibitions which feature artists from different nationalities to address certain universal political and social crisis. How would the curator address this diversity of the artist and strategically situate the artworks in the purview of his curatorial objectives. Would a foreign artist be able to understand the concerns of a different country? This is one of the most contested questions in contemporary art. Also, how do artists from different nationalities collaborate on a common concern is a perplexing question. All we can do is to attempt and see. The route map of this journey, the interactions between the curators and the artists are the important milestones which remain even after the exhibition is over.

Another important issue I would like to address today is how do we see our times. How can a curatorial exercise reflect our times. I do not disagree that we all see the world through our own vantage points. But there are certain truths which one cannot surpass are merely subjective. The political and economic crisis of our times is a reality. Not a fiction scripted to distract us form our valuable existence. Art or artists are not away form these issues and questions. Therefore one has to address them. Since art, curation, writing, etc., are the medium in which we work, we will address the crisis through this medium. In today’s issue of Art1st’s “The Curator” we will look at “A Preview to Desolation” curated by me at the Italian Cultural Center. The exhibition, a group show featuring eight Indian and Italian artists, imagined the contemporary as a desolate landscape, a terrain stripped of hope and peace. Quests for justice, equality and asylum have become more important than ever, but these struggles are always met with dismissal and brutal crackdown. Eight artists have responded to this topic, which is of utmost importance, through their works.

Exhibition: A Preview to Desolation

Curator : Premjish Achari

Venue: Italian Embassy Cultural Center

Artists: Atul Bhalla | Beatrice Pediconi | Gigi Scaria | Giuseppe Stampone Maura Biava | Sharmila Samant | Tushar Joag | Varunika Saraf

One of the major concerns of this exhibition was to address the apathy and indifference which has engulfed people in our times. We see incidents of violence, inequality, injustice but fail to respond to them. When there should be a collective demand for justice, equality, asylum, and human rights, instead all we see around us is a brutal crackdown on the marginalized and the oppressed. Because of this, the lives of the dispossessed has become even more precarious. The refugee crisis, the rise of  right wing ideologies is destroying co-existence and plurality in our society. The state aided violence by the fringe elements in many countries has become a serious concern. The main objective of this exhibition is to address this crisis through art. Therefore I had included artworks which confront and respond to this situation. The aesthetic concerns of these artworks address the fundamental instability caused by the ‘bad new days’, a phrase used by Brecht to denote these times of crisis.

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Atul Bhalla_Fictitious Landscape I_Courtesy_Vadehra Art Gallery & Atul Bhalla

This exhibition is premised on a concern about the violence, apathy, and brutality of the “bad new days”. These oppressions are real but on the other hand we ignore them and celebrate a different vision of life which exclusionary in nature. So I imagined our times or the contemporary as a landscape, a terrain of desolation stripped of any hope and beauty which could keep us going. The urge to control people, especially minorities, by branding them as “aliens” is increasing day by day. Furthermore, the larger global economic crisis and the economy of war and invasion have left thousands dead and much more homeless.  Through the artworks and the exhibition, in general, I attempted to draw the attention of the viewer to this crisis.

It was definitely a challenge to get artists who also think similarly and are sensitive to these issues. It needs political sensitivity to ally with these concerns. Artists included in this show were constantly working to make the artwork more active and participatory, in terms of their involvement in the material processes behind the creation of an artwork and an exhibition. I was fortunate to have found such a wonderful group of artists from Italy and India who responded to this exhibition through their brilliant works.

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Beatrice Pediconi Alien D_Courtesy sepiaEYE, New York

This exhibition uses ‘precarious’ as a conceptual category to understand the cataclysmic contemporary climate; through this it attempts to survey the vastness of this desolation and disarray. It enables us to plot the coordinates of crisis and the political conditions generated by conflicts for power.

Through this exhibition I attempt to show works which confront and respond to this situation. Its aesthetic concerns remain to address the fundamental instability caused by these ‘bad new days’. How a precarious regime of aesthetics is developing, based on speed, intermittence, blurring and fragility. It reasserts the necessity to locate the ideological foundations of Fascism and its aesthetic sensibilities, which are rooted in passive consumption. It allows this by activating and politicising art to protect the present and future from becoming a part of its political project.

 

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Sharmila Samant_The Wasteland_Courtesy_Govett Brewster Art Gallery, Plymouth_Aoteoroa NZ

 

“Bad new days” is an apt way to describe the times we inhabit. In the last few decades, unprecedented economic, political and social turbulence have resulted in a climate rife with insecurity and precarity. An undeclared state of emergency has displaced millions of citizens across the world, creating unjust socio-economic disparities. This has given rise to an atmosphere of intolerance, which thwarts any form of debate, engagement and dissent, virtues associated with a democratic society. Historic amnesia is favoured over historic memory. The human condition has become fragile; it is more insecure, fragmented, and susceptible to injustice and oppression. Our very existence has become precarious.

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Gigi Scaria_City unclaimed_Digital print on canvas_2017

A video feature of this exhibition was done by NDTV-Mojarto which can be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wrv4VTILJog

Here are some of this exhibition views.

  • Premjish, Director-Outreach, Art1st
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Varunika Saraf, Citizen Z

 

 

The Curator #7

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.

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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.

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Geeta Kapur, Courtesy: Utharakalam

 

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.

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Hundred Years: From the NGMA Collection (Exhibition View), Courtesy: Asia Art Archive

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.”

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Hundred Years: From the NGMA Collection (Exhibition View), Courtesy: Asia Art Archive

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.’

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Hundred Years: From the NGMA Collection (Exhibition View), Courtesy: Asia Art Archive

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.

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A newspaper cutting of an article criticising Geeta Kapur’s exhibition. Courtesy: Asia Art Archive.

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