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.

The Curator 7

Title: Hundred Years: From the NGMA Collection

Curator: Geeta Kapur

NGMA, Delhi. 1994.

It is definitely an unnecessary task to introduce Geeta Kapur to my readers. You must have come across her important book “When Was Modernism?” at some point of your life. Geeta’s pathbreaking works on Indian art has received national and international acclaim and attention. She still remains the critical voice on Indian art on various international platforms.

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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

 

 

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The Visionaries – 2

When we look at the historiography of Indian art and architecture the contributions of European administrators, collectors, and the self-styled archaeologists are valuable. But many of us are also unaware of the fact that the early European reaction to Indian art was fraught with a distasteful response to Indian art. In his seminal book “Much Maligned Monsters” art historian Partha Mitter talks about how the European travellers who encountered the sculptures of Indian gods and goddesses for the first time mistook them as the depiction of monsters and demons. They were also poorly judged for its lack of naturalism. Indian art was regarded as inferior to its western counterpart. He marks 1910 as “the great watershed” when Indian art became the object of respectful inquiries and studies “with its rehabilitation complete with the powerful affirmation of its aesthetic and not merely archaeological significance”. According to Mitter: “If one were to search for a name to give the credit for this extraordinary transformation, it would no doubt be that of Havell. It was his dedicated work which was in a large measure responsible for generating wide interest in learned circles.” E. B. Havell’s contribution in creating a counterpoint to the hegemony of western art and pedagogy is incredible though it came to much criticism later from the Indian circles itself. Nevertheless, Havell built strong foundations for Indian art education which foregrounded Indian art practices and enabled it to stand at par with the European art. His contributions in setting up institutions, revising curriculums and most importantly reviving the traditional Indian art forms was crucial in creating a nationalist response to the prejudiced sensibilities of the Europe. In this issue of Art1st’s “The Visionaries,” we introduce you to E.B Havell and his contributions to Indian art and education.

 

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E. B. Havell

Ernest Binfield Havell was an artist-educationist-reformist who played a significant role in repositioning Indian art in the history of world art. Havell came to India in 1884 to work as superintendent of School of Art, Madras. It was in Madras Havell began his career as an educationist and also turned into an ideologue and art historian. He reworked the curriculum of the school and introduced the study of Indian designs and decorative patterns into the course of study. In 1896, he was appointed as the Principal of Calcutta Art School, where he inspired his Indian students to get back to painting in their own style and tradition. Havell was making such assertions at a time when newer discoveries and studies on Indian paintings were made. New bodies of artworks, collections, and manuscripts were found through extensive field works by many pioneers. The nationalist movement was also slowly picking up the pace and was invested in an indigenous turn. Havell too came close to the Swadeshi ideas of art and culture.

 

After joining the Calcutta Art School he removed the European academic way of teaching. He remarked that ‘in India, painting must be Indian in attitude and spirit.’ Havell included Oriental art in the curriculum, which, according to him, should be the basis of all art instructions. He also introduced several new craft techniques such as fresco, stained glass windows, lacquer work, and stencils, so as to open a wide range of opportunities for which would allow students to earn a living. His aesthetic sense was strongly shaped by Indian philosophy and ideals of art. In his opinion, Indian sculptures, which are highly original and creative, could be ranked with the noblest creations of the West. It was these ideals and attitudes that had worked behind his reformative methods, which he introduced in the curriculum of art teaching.

His interactions and close connection with Abanindranath Tagore led to another significant chapter in the history of Indian art. The together pioneered a new visual style which was later on termed as the “Bengal Revivalism” steeped in Indian tradition. Ajanta paintings and Mughal miniatures were its inspiration, gouache was its predominant technique, Abanindranath its practitioner and Havell the foremost defender and ideologue. Havell wrote numerous books on Indian art and architecture emphasising the spiritual nature of Indian traditional art. In a report he submitted to the government, he stated that art appreciation has to be seen as a duty of every individual and not as mere pleasure. His recommendations were faced with strong opposition from the British regime. Despite this, he continued his crusade for pushing the ideals of Indian art. Eventually, Havell succeeded in convincing them of the importance of reviving the Indian craft tradition. Some of his important books are ‘Indian Sculpture and Paintings'(1908), ‘Ideals of Indian Art (1911), The Basis for Artistic and Industrial Revival in India (1912), The Ancient and Medieval Architecture of India: a study of Indo-Aryan civilization (1915), etc.

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Havell left India in 1905, on sick leave, and was later declared ‘unfit for service in India’ by the British regime. Havell’s removal from policy decisions did not deter him from voicing his vision for Indian art. He continued his campaign against the ignorance, philistinism and the arrogant cultural superiority of British administration in India.

Please read, share and discuss. Your opinion means a lot to us, so let us know what you think of this issue.

  • Premjish, Director-Outreach, Art1st

 

 

The Curator #1

Do you know that the word Curator means “a person who takes care of” or “the one who heals”? The primary task of a curator was to take care of a collection or a museum. But as times changed the practice of curating involved presenting a collection of works with an interesting theme or narrative. The practice also extended to works outside museums and institutions. Over the years curators have used collections to weave stories, re-define the idea of collections, present new art historical and visual possibilities to understand and see artworks. In this weekly series titled “The Curator”, updating every Saturday, we will introduce you to curators from India who are doing path-breaking works by using art collections and artworks to generate meaningful and participatory exhibitions.
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The Curator #1
Naman P Ahuja
Exhibition: Rupa-Pratirupa
The Body in Indian Art
Naman P Ahuja is the Professor of Ancient Indian Art and Architecture at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. ‘The Body in Indian Art’ was a seminal show curated by him at Europalia in Brussels which later travelled to National Museum, Delhi. The show was important for the wide range of materials it brought together from different museums, galleries and collections across India (largest ever mounted at National Museum with over 350 objects) to address the complex idea about body referring to diverse Indian philosophies and spanning across many periods of history.
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It also foregrounded the plurality of our country by showcasing diverse views, beliefs and expressions in art on the idea of body. The exhibition was divided into eight thematic categories ranging from birth to death and also dealing with heroic bodies to ascetic bodies. Those who have missed the show could take a look at the catalog produced by National Museum which is also very affordable. It also comes with a CD featuring the exhibition music and soundtrack.
– Premjish, Outreach Director, Art1st