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.”

Ranjit Hoskote on Twitter- "Gieve Patel's friend Sudhir Patwardhan's iconic 'Man in Irani Restaurant' (left) is part of 'No Parsi is an Island'.jpg

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

 

 

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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.