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.

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 #15

In the last two posts we discussed retrospective exhibitions and how they are curated. Today we will discuss about biennales. Have you heard of Biennale before? Biennale is an Italian word for Biennial which means an art exhibition which is held once in two years. Venice Biennale is of the earliest biennales In the world. There are two three important factors which play an important role in a biennale. The location is the most important part of a Biennale. Why have a biennale in Venice and not in Florence or Rome? Venice was one of the important cities of Italy during the medieval period especially due its commercial and cultural activities. It was also an important hub of Renaisaance art. Even in the contemporary times Venice is a sought after destination because of ts beautiful waterbodies, buildings and history. Nevertheless it also faces its own challenges due to financial and environment crisis. Because of this unique blend of history, cultural activities, architectural marvels, and a cosmopolitanism Venice is seen as a perfect destination to hold an art exhibition of such a larger scale. Biennales are mainly known by the city names where it is held. Some important biennales are Gwangju Biennale, Hawana Biennial, Liverpool Biennial, Moscow Biennial, etc. In India too we have Kochi-Muziris Biennale which was started in 2012 and since have become a center of attraction of the world. It is held in the city of Cochin and sees the participation of a large number of public. After the establishment of Kochi-Muziris Biennale, there has emerged many biennials across India. The important ones are Pune Biennale, Bodhgaya Biennale, etc. Similar to biennials we also a format called triennials which happens once in three years. India also has a triennial conducted by Lalit Kala Akademi which is a format happening once in three years. It was started at 1968.

Every biennial and triennial appoints a curator. The curators decides the theme for the exhibition and invites artists from different parts of the world to join the exhibition. Unlike usual art exhibitions biennials have larger time gaps in between them, the format is bigger, the participation too is global. Once the artists are selcted based on their practice they are invited to visit the city and the spaces allotted for the exhibition. Mostly, artists make new art works based on their experience but these days some artists also show existing works. Kochi-Muziris Biennale is unique because it only invites artists to be curators. The first edition was curated by the founders of the KMB Bose Krishnamachari and Riyas Komu. The second edition was curated by Jitish Kallat. In this issue of Art1st’s “The Curator” series we will discuss Jitish Kallat’s “Whorled Explorations” curated for KMB in 2014.

The Curator #14

Curator : Jitish Kallat

Exhibition: Whorled Explorations, Kochi Muziris Biennale (Second Edition)

Year: 2014

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Jitish Kallat

 Jitish is one of the most important contemporary artists from India whose artistic presence has reached a global level. His exhibitions and artworks have featured in the most important museums and galleries of the world. Jitish was appointed as the curator of KMB. One important thing we have to know about Kochi-Muziris Biennale is that it is not inspired by one location. It draws its influences from two sites – Cochin and Muziris. Muziris is a historic site near to Cochin which was a port and a gateway to the world. It was an important trade destination and also had many foreign settlements. Biennale wanted to highlight this historic cosmopolitanism of Cochin and Muziris and how Kerala’s public sphere was shaped by these cultural exchanges.

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Anish Kapoor, Descension, 2014. Courtesy: Erika Balsom

The exhibition was titled as Whorled Exploration. Citing two historic currents from the 14th to 17th century—the maritime explorations of the Age of Discovery and the astronomical propositions made by the Kerala School of Astronomy and Mathematics—the exhibition draws upon a wide glossary of signs from this legendary maritime gateway. The project metaphorically exaggerates the gestures we make when we try to see or understand something: We either go close or move away from it in space; we also reflect back or forth in time to understand the present. Whorled Explorations draws upon these gestures of deliberation across the axes of space and time to present artworks that interlace the bygone with the imminent and the terrestrial with the celestial.

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Marie Velardi, Future Perfect, 21st Century, 2006/14. Courtesy: Erika Balsom

The participating artists were Adrian Paci / Aji V N / Akbar Padamsee / Andrew Ananda Voogel / Anish Kapoor / Annie Lai Kuen Wan / Aram Saroyan / Arun K S / Benitha Perciyal / Bharti Kher / Bijoy Jain / Biju Joze / Charles and Ray Eames / Chen Chieh-jen / Christian Waldvogel / Daniel Boyd / David Horvitz / Dayanita Singh / D​inh Q Lê / Fiona Hall / Francesco Clemente / Gigi Scaria / Guido van der Werve / Gulammohammed Sheikh / Hamra Abbas / Hans Op de Beeck / Hema Upadhyay / Hew Locke / Ho Rui An / Ho Tzu Nyen / Iqra Tanveer / Janine Antoni / Julian Charrière / K G Subramanyan / K M Vasudevan Namboodiri / Kader Attia / Katie Paterson / Khalil Rabah / Kwan Sheung Chi / Laurent Grasso / Lavanya Mani / Lindy Lee / Madhusudhanan / Manish Nai / Marie Velardi / Mark Formanek / Mark Wallinger / Martin Creed / Menika van der Poorten / Michael Najjar / Michael Stevens / Mithu Sen / Mona Hatoum / Muhanned Cader / N S Harsha / Naeem Mohaiemen / Nataraj Sharma / Navin Thomas / Navjot Altaf / Neha​ ​Choksi / Nikhil Chopra / Parvathi Nayar / Peter Rösel / Pors & Rao / Prajakta Potnis / Prashant Pandey / Pushpamala N / Rafael Lozano-Hemmer / Rajan Punalur / Raqs Media Collective / Rivane Neuenschwander / Ryota Kuwakubo / Sachin George Sebastian / Sahej Rahal / Sarnath Banerjee / Shahpour Pouyan / Shantamani Muddaiah / Shumon Ahmed / Sissel Tolaas / Sudhir Patwardhan / Sumakshi Singh / Sunoj D / Surendran Nair / Susanta Mandal / Tara Kelton / Theo Eshetu / Unnikrishnan C / Valsan Koorma Kolleri / Wendelien van Oldenborgh / William Kentridge / Wim Delvoye / Xu Bing / Yang Zhenzhong / Yoko Ono

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Charles and Ray Eames, Powers of Ten, 1977. Courtesy: Erika Balsom

Please see the interview with Jitish Kallat here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=clBJ92mmiWM

Also see the opening day video of KMB here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n8j8XFAO4ac

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Bharti Kher, Three Decimal Points \ Of a Minute \ Of a Second \ Of a Degree, 2014. Courtesy: Erika Balsom

Artist Anita Dube is the new curator for the next edition of Kochi Muziris Biennale. Have a wonderful weekend.

  • Premjish, Director-Outreach, Art1st

The Curator #14

In the last issue we discussed the retrospective on Indian artist Ramkinkar Baij curated by K.S. Radhakrishnan to understand what is a retrospective and how it is a curated. We understood that retrospectives help to bring a large body of artworks of an artist to the public. It also helps us to understand the contributions of the artists in a historical perspective. Continuing that discussion today in Art1st’s “The Curator” series we will learn about the exhibition “Raja Deen Dayal: The Studio Archives from the IGNCA Collection” curated by Jyotindra Jain (along with Pramod Kumar K.G.) at Indira Gandhi National Center for Arts in 2010.

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The Curator #14

Curator: Dr. Jyotindra Jain

Exhibition: “Raja Deen Dayal: The Studio Archives from the IGNCA Collection”, 2010

Venue: IGNCA

 

Dr. Jyotindra Jain is an eminent art-cultual historian and curator. He was the Director of the National Crafts Museum, New Delhi, Member Secretary and Professor (Cultural Archives), at Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA), New Delhi, and also Professor at the School of Arts and Aesthetics at Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi.

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Dr. Jyotindra Jain

Also let us look at Raja Deen Dayal. Who was he and why was he so important? He was born in 1844 to a middle-class Jain family from Sardhana, near Meerut in today’s Uttar Pradesh. Later he studied at the Thompson Civil Engineering College in Roorkee. In 1854, photography was introduced as a subject in the college, where Deen Dayal perhaps first developed an interest in it.

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Raja Deen Dayal

After leaving the College he started working for the Public Works Department as a draftsman. It was around 1882-84 that he met Sir Lepel Griffin of the Bengal Civil Service, who was posted in Central India. He was commissioned by Sir Lepel to assist on his mission to document monuments of the architectural heritage of Central India. During this tour Deen Dayal documented the temples, forts and palaces at Gwalior, Orchha, Khajuraho, Sanchijhansi, Deegh, Indore, Omkareswar, etc. This was a remarkable trip for Deen Dayal, 86 of his photographs were published in the monograph of Lepel’s titled Famous Monuments of Central India in 1886. Deen Dayal’s talent was recognized and he was in demand to document monuments. He was commissioned by Archaeological Survey of India.

Bashir Bagh Palace, Hyderabad

Bashir Bagh Palace, Hyderabad

In the coming years he worked as an official photographer to several Viceroys, including Lord Dufferin and Earl Elgin. In 1887 he received the Royal Warrant of Appointment as Photographer to Her Majesty, the Queen (Victoria).

 

According to IGNCA, “The legacy of Raja Deen Dayal is an exhibition mounted from the collection of glass-plate negatives of India’s most accomplished photographer of the 19th century, and an introduction to the life and works of Raja Deen Dayal. The photographer beyond the portrayal of his subjects draws a picture of his time. He translates his perceptions through his medium and thus a collection of photographs is the milieu as experienced and described by him. Raja Deen Dayal’s photographs offer us not only vivid insights into India’s rich art and cultural heritage but also provide valuable testimonials for historians.”

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Facsimile albums laid out for viewing with the original album on display in the glass topped table seen at far left

This exhibition was divided into three sections.

The Place: The photographer’s record of the physical setting in which he lived and worked, and through which he travelled, the natural and man made physical substructure.

The People: The individuals who peopled the setting, the various and varied inhabitants.

The Event: The happenings and activities of the people which enlivened the setting, marked the passage of time and indicated the modes of life then, as perceived by the photographer.

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Rashtrapati Nilayam, Hyderabad

Dr. Jain says, “We decided to host this exhibition as he was undoubtedly the most prolific Indian photographer of his time, a man who made his mark on the work of European counterparts then. He is a towering figure in Indian photography,” For this exhibition, IGNCA had displayed the largest ever number of works of Deen Dayal.

Drawing Room of Chowmahalla Palace, Hyderabad

Drawing Room of Chowmahalla Palace, Hyderabad

The exhibition drew immense response and praise. Seminal photographers also showered praises on it and also on Deen Dayal’s legacy.

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Gallery View, Courtesy: Eka Resources

Noted photographer Ram Rahman remarked, “My favourite part of this exhibition was seeing a few of Deen Dayal’s architectural images, which I had not seen before. But there should have been at least one original picture by Deen Dayal on display. The original albumen prints are the size of the negatives. Here, those images have been simulated. A glass print would have given an average viewer an idea of how prints used to be in those days,” he says.

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The interior of Bashir Bagh Palace

 

Take a look at Raja Deen Dayals’ photographs at IGNCA when you visit. Have a wonderful weekend.

  • Premjish, Director-Outreach, Art1st

The Curator #10

The Curator #10

Most of the curators whom we have discussed in this series, except Naman P. Ahuja, had in a way represented Indian art in India. It would be too simple to call them as Indian art because their approaches were thematically diverse, concerns were different, the choice of artworks, artists and spaces were also individually motivated. In the exhibition “Body in Indian Art” we saw the two possibilities of an exhibition representing Indian art abroad and Indian art in India. The act of representing India is a nationalistic act. It means that you put together artworks of artists from different linguistic, ethnic, geographical groups under the category of nation. How does it function in the age of globalization especially during the beginning of this decade when the idea of nation-state has not strongly returned as it has returned now?  How do we define citizenship in this new context where people move freely, artists collaborate internationally, show their works across the world? How does a curator represent the cultural diversity in this context, still being placed in a homogenizing platform like national pavilion?

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We know that Venice Biennale, one of the oldest in the world, is a platform which actively encourages national pavilions. Countries try to send their best artists and curators to represent their art world. Though Indian artists have been represented in Venice Biennale in the past it was the first time in 2011, the 54th edition, that India got an official pavilion. Renowned curator, poet and cultural theorist Ranjit Hoskote was selected by Lalit Kala Akademi to curate the pavilion. Today in Art1st’s “The Curator” series we will discuss Ranjit Hoskote’s exhibition ‘Everyone Agrees: It’s About to Explode…’curated for the Indian Pavilion at the 2011 Venice Biennale.

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Curator: Ranjit Hoskote

Title: ‘Everyone Agrees: It’s About to Explode…’

Venue: Venice Biennale, 2011.

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Ranjit Hoskote

 

According to Ranjit Hoskote, his objectives in curating this show was to, “mark a sharp rupture with these pre-existing notions of how India’s national art scene should be represented. Since I have long argued that contemporary Indian art is defined by multiple horizons of value, I wished to disclose artistic practices from locations other than those synonymous with the Indian art market: practices that transit among disparate economies of image production, traverse asymmetric cultural and political situations; that are nourished by diverse circulations of philosophical ideas; and that grow, often, from improvisational forms of research and collaboration.”

Hoskote’s focus was to draw attention to multiple locations from which value is created in the context of Indian art. Instead of giving importance to the aspect of nationality and fitting artists into the institution of nation-state, the curator emphasized on the idea of cultural citizenship. This was a significant shift from the idea of monolithic culture to a transcultural existence. It expanded the idea of what is India especially through the lens of migration and hybridity.

The four artists/ artist groups chosen to represent India in this pavilion were:

  1. Zarina Hashmi (print-maker and mixed-media artist; born in Aligarh, 1937; now lives and works in New York).
  1. Praneet Soi (painter, sculptor, video artist; born in Kolkata, 1971; now lives and works in Amsterdam and Kolkata).
  1. Gigi Scaria (painter, sculptor, video artist; born in Kothanalloor, Kerala, 1973; now lives in New Delhi).
  1. The Desire Machine Collective (Sonal Jain, born in Shillong in 1975, and Mriganka Madhukaillya, born in Guwahati in 1978; DMC is a media collective based in Guwahati, Assam, and works across film, installation and public space projects).
Installation view of India Pavilion, 54th Venice Biennale (2011). Praneet Soi's mural (L), Gigi Scaria's interactive video installation (R), Desire Machine.gif

Installation view of India Pavilion, 54th Venice Biennale (2011). Praneet Soi’s mural (L), Gigi Scaria’s interactive video installation (R), Desire Machine. Courtesy: Ranjit Hoskote

The exhibition was a ‘laboratory, stage and school’ for the curator to understand these developments. It became a site to map these important shifts post 90s in India. According to Hoskote, “Zarina Hashmi, Praneet Soi, Gigi Scaria, and the Desire Machine Collective act as compass points for an alternative atlas of references. An idiosyncratic line of latitude connects them across the globe, running west-east to link their theatres of life and work across New York, Amsterdam/Kolkata, New Delhi/Kerala, and Guwahati. To my mind, it was vital to honour the historic occasion of India’s first national pavilion at the Venice Biennale by proposing such positions, which demonstrated the linkages between contemporary Indian art and global art at large, while retaining the distinctiveness of sensibilities engaged with the South Asian predicament.”

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Gigi Scaria’s Elevator from the Subcontinent, Courtesy: Domus

Through their works, Hoskote used the exhibition space as a laboratory to test the ‘idea of India’, a conceptual phrase developed by Sunil Khilnani. The artists developed their works to re-imagine what it means to belong to India. The title of the exhibition was taken from a a book by an anonymous group of theorists called The Invisible Committee which was shared by Mriganka Madhukaillya of the Desire Machine Collective. The opening of the book read: ‘Everyone agrees. It’s about to explode. It is acknowledged, with a serious and self-important look, in the corridors of the Assembly, just as yesterday it was repeated in the cafés… The newspapers conscientiously draw up the list of causes for the sudden disquiet. There is the financial crisis… the failure of the educational system… the existence of a youth to which no political representation corresponds… what power is confronting is neither just another crisis, nor just a succession of chronic problems, of more or less anticipated disturbances, but a singular peril: that a form of conflict has emerged, and positions have been taken up, that are no longer manageable.”

The pavilion was conceived not only to ask questions on what is nationality and on nation-state but also to enquire what is global art.

You can listen to Ranjit Hoskote talk about the exhibition in this link https://www.aaa.org.hk/en/resources/videos/everyone-agrees-its-about-to-explode-curatorial-reflections-on-the-india-pavilion-54th-venice-biennale-by-ranjit-hoskote

A video of Gigi Scaria’s installation https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0vasYjXFzlg

Please read, share and comment. Happy weekend!

  • Premjish, Director-Outreach, Art1st.

The Curator #9

Over the last many issues of this series we have discussed the curation of collections from museums, galleries which mainly included paintings, sculptures, contemporary art forms, etc. We have not focused exclusively on the art of photography. But how many of us see photography as art? If we look at the conventional histories of art, including nationalist or mainstream histories of art which is manifested mainly in museum displays, don’t give photography its due space in terms of its importance and aesthetic relevance. Raghu Rai, Dayanita Singh, Pablo Bartholomew or Prabuddha Dasgupta are not our household names. There is an injustice in this ignoring and it is time to dispel such erasures.

Photography is one of the most popular and accessible media of our times. Outside museums, galleries and in its print forms, it is now manly accessed through screens. The arrival of mobile cameras has democratized this form like never before. But what are the reasons why photography always had a marginal presence in the domain of high art. One important reason could be this mass production of images and its consumption. An image can be reproduced as many times we want to. There is no concept of original in photography. All products are a copy. Hence it lacks an exclusivity. Why would someone acquire an artwork which is easily reproducible and accessed by a larger community? Connoisseurship feeds on rarity, not on profuseness. Other reasons for its marginalization as an art form is also due to the fundamental nature of photography. It is seen as an objective medium which can document reality as it is. Hence it lacks the “fictional” elements of art. But this was challenged by the later developments. Surrealists, Dadaists and other modern artists have used photography to create fictional works. We also forget that the photographs which we see are also composed and authored. It is the outcome of the choices made by the photographer which include how the image is composed, how it may be cropped, edited, or otherwise altered after it is taken, the point-of-view deployed and inevitably impact how we receive and understand images. The subjects in photographs, many times are also posed, rather being candid. These aspects related to the creation of a photograph gives it an artistic touch.

Today in Art1sts’s “The Curator” series let us look at an important exhibition curated by Devika Daulet-Singh titled “Photographing the Street: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka,” which was exhibited at the first edition of the Delhi Photo Festival, Delhi.

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Curator : Devika Daulet-Singh

Exhibition: Photographing the Street: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, 2011. 

Devika Daulet-Singh established PHOTOINK in 2001 as a photo agency and publication design studio, based in New Delhi. In 2008 PHOTOINK expanded into a gallery to exhibit contemporary Indian photography and international photographers. Her engagement with the world of photography has been as an editor, curator and publisher of photo books.

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Devika Daulet-Singh with Raghu Rai. Courtesy: Lpvshow

Devika was the associate curator for the Indian presentations at the 2007 Les Rencontres d’Arles photography festival and the 2007 Photoquai Biennale in France. She was the Project Director for The Photograph: Painted, Posed and of the Moment, which included 8 exhibitions, held at the National Gallery of Modern Art, Mumbai (2008). She co-curated The Self and The Other ­– Portraiture in Contemporary Indian Photography for the Palau de la Virreina, Escort woman in Turkey Barcelona and Museo Artium, Vitoria in Spain (2009). In 2011, she curated a group exhibition, Photographing the Street: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, which was exhibited at the first edition of the Delhi Photo Festival, Delhi.

Daulet-Singh’s exhibition “Photographing the Street” was an attempt in foregrounding the shared history of these countries despite its separation as distinct countries in the modern era. Even though the relationships might have strained, culturally there is something which unites them all. Singh identified streets and street life as an important trope to connect these countries and establish the shared nature of it. “Despite the many differences in the eight countries,” writes Devika Daulet-Singh in her curatorial note, “there are narratives that overlap, intermingle and are reminiscent of our shared histories.”

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Horsemen in Hisarak village, Balkh province, Afghanistan, 2004. Courtesy: Livemint

All the 117 photos were taken from the existing archives of the photographers. “Street photography could explore the shared histories and bridge some of the differences between these countries. It had the potential to transcend the conflicts of the times and present conditions of civil society as it progressed and evolved across these countries,” says Daulet-Singh.

The exhibition was able to use photography to bring together this shared nature of these countries brilliantly. These curatorial exercises are usually done by using premodern art, or modern or contemporary mediums with a heavy reliance on paintings and sculpture. Singh was able to break that monotony and give it a new twist. These are not pictures that will make it to National Geographic, they are not picturesque. Many of them do have an atmospheric quality, because they are so evocative,” says Daulet-Singh.

  • Premjish, Director-Outreach, Art1st.

 

 

 

 

The Curator #8

It is co-incidental that yesterday we had discussed the contributions of Abanindranath Tagore in Art1st’s “The Visionaries” section and today we are going to talk about Professor R. Siva Kumar who has done extensive art historical research on Bengal School and the other artists involved with Santiniketan. This co-incidence is helpful because it will help us to see things in context. It will help us to understand why the attempts by artists in Santiniketan and Bengal School were not only based on a revival of the traditional Indian arts, but it was also developing a new modern language which was rooted in its Indian context. We are going to look at a seminal exhibition in Indian art history which contextualized the roles of these artists in creating a new modernism which was not ‘blindly imitative’ of the European norms. In this issue of Art1st’s “The Curator” series we introduce you to the exhibition curated by R. Siva Kumar titled Santiniketan: The Making of a Contextual Modernism.

 

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Curator: R. Siva Kumar

Exhibition: Santiniketan: The Making of a Contextual Modernism, NGMA

Year: 1997

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Courtesy: Asia Art Archive

Siva Kumar is an art historian, art critic, and curator. He has been mainly lecturing in Santiniketan for many years but has been invited to many universities in India and abroad as visiting faculty. His main research has been on Indian modernism with special focus on the Santiniketan.

 

Through this exhibition Kumar introduced an important term “Contextual Modernism” to understand the unique development of modern art in India. The exhibition, through bringing about a hundred works each of four modern Indian artists, namely Nandalal Bose, Rabindranath Tagore, Ram Kinker Baij and Benode Behari Mukherjee on the centre stage, put the Santiniketan art movement into focus.

 

According to Kumar, the “Santiniketan artists did not believe that to be indigenous one has to be historicist either in theme or in style, and similarly to be modern one has to adopt a particular trans-national formal language or technique. Modernism was to them neither a style nor a form of internationalism. It was critical re-engagement with the foundational aspects of art necessitated by changes in one’s unique historical position.” The year 1997 was very important because the group of artists based in Baroda called the Baroda Group a coalition whose original members included Vivan Sundaram, Ghulam Mohammed Sheikh, Bhupen Khakhar, and Nalini Malani came up with an anthology of essays to situate the role of Baroda School in the context of the 1981 exhibition “Place for People.” At the same time Kumar too opened up the possibility to reengage with the role of Santiniketan School in Indian modernism. He argued that “The Santiniketan artists were one of the first who consciously challenged this idea of modernism by opting out of both internationalist modernism and historicist indigenousness and tried to create a context sensitive modernism.”

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R. Siva Kumar, Courtesy: Wikipedia

 

This detailed extract from an interview with Kumar helps us to understand his arguments in favour of the proposition of contextual modernism. R. Siva Kumar answers the question by Pavez Kabir.

 

PK: The exhibition title, ‘Making of a Contextual Modernism’ itself is quite fascinating. My question may appear quite naïve, but are you saying that all modernist programs are not contextual enough and that some are more context sensitive than others?

 

RSK: “To the academic artists of the 19th and early 20th centuries modernism was more a matter of technology, the use of oil paints and the conventions of post Renaissance representational realism. Even when the subjects they painted were Indian, the categories or genres these fell into – history, portraits, and occasionally landscape – were part of the value system they adopted along with the technique. To them the nature of modernism then was both technological and trans-local. The artists of the Bengal school in reaction to this tried to marry indigenous subject matter with indigenous style. We might have disagreements about how indigenous or revivalist this was but this surely made them even more historicist in orientation. Their modernism was then a form of indigenous neo-classicism, a new art that invoked the art of their ancestors.

 

The progressive artists of the 40s saw this as essentially anti-modernist. Traces of local life can be seen in their work especially their early work, but what made them modern was their engagement with the formal principles of Western modernism. In their hands, modernism once again was trans-national.

 

It is in contrast to these that I would argue that art produced at Santiniketan was more context sensitive. They did not believe that to be indigenous one has to be historicist either in theme or in style, and similarly to be modern one has to adopt a particular trans-national formal language or technique. Modernism was to them neither a style nor a form of internationalism. It was critical re-engagement with the foundational aspects of art necessitated by changes in one’s unique historical position. Even though cross-cultural contacts were crucial to the development of modernism and cross-cultural contacts having paved the way to the dismantling of art traditions at large made modernism, unlike any other period in art history, international in its scope, to them art produced in one place did not have to look like art produced elsewhere.

 

If colonialism brought the West into contact with the rest of the world, the coloniser and the colonised experienced it from two sides and responded to it differently. I do not mean just politically. On either side, it produced a cultural cleavage, led them to question their respective traditions, and made them open up to other cultures, other possibilities. However, it did not wipe out their history, their cultures, the differences of life-experience, and it was not necessary that it should also make their art similar. To them modernism sprang from the new situation one found oneself in – politically, culturally, and environmentally – and how one responded it. Modernism was for them not homogenous but generic.”

  • Premjish, Director-Outreach, Art1st.

 

 

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

 

 

The Curator #6

How do we tackle our times through art and curation? I would like to talk about a show which I had curated in January 2017 as part of the Curator’s Ensemble of Krishnakriti Festival. Four curators (Dhritabrata Bhattacharjya Tato, Georgina Maddox, Faizal Khan and Premjish Achari) were invited to address the relation of technology and art in our lives. We called the exhibition H20~ArT using a mathematical equation related to null hypothesis. The curators divided the exhibition into four vectors Experiential, Existential, Exploratory and Evolutionary. Through these vectors we explored the different facets of technology using art. This issue of Art1st’s “The Curator” talks about the Experiential vector and its curatorial concerns.

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Curator : Premjish Achari

Exhibition: H20~ArT, Experiential: Things are Vanishing Before Us

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We are living in a curious time where for the first time in history we inhabit both the digital and physical spaces together. This unprecedented convergence of the digital and the physical has made our lives disorienting. Our constant addiction to screens (ATMs, computer, mobile phones, television, etc.) has flattened our perception of space; it has irrevocably altered our visual experience.  In our society, screens have become magical tools used by ‘augurers and haruspices’ or those who read omens in the stars, flights of birds and the entrails of animals, uncovering guilt and foreseeing the future. Through screens, we navigate the netherworld of imaginations. They have become our magic mirrors; it appears that we have formed a Faustian pact with the digital world. Instead of our souls, we have surrendered our unrequited attention and devotion to the virtual.

Our fixation to screens has split our consciousness between the physical and the virtual realm. Software and digitised data are replacing the traditional physical dimensions of objects. We increasingly prefer Bitcoins and digitised banking rather than paper currency, digital images to printed photographs, e-books to paper books; we even seem to spend more money on our online personas. As minimal lifestyles and spaces become fashionable, it appears that our consumption and conversely our clutter have shifted online. Digitisation of objects, information, and emotions has irrevocably altered existing ways of knowing, doing and being.

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Will digital versions of objects such as artworks, photos, clothes, etc., render them obsolete? Will objects eventually shed corporeal form and become flat and virtual in the digital world? Will we define ourselves increasingly through what we consume and create in the digital space? Will our digital avatars overtake our physical selves?  To address these questions, first, we have to examine the significance of objects in our lives and the role they play in shaping our identity. I am particularly interested in this because humans have defined themselves through the objects they possess or yearn to accumulate. We are at a critical moment in our history; the physical and digital realms appear to be converging. It is imperative that instead of lamenting for the objects that are disappearing around us, we need to urgently take stock of their role in shaping our memories and identity. Therefore, the exhibition attempted to analyse and perhaps even salvage the role of objects in our life, by paying particular attention to their ability to evoke the past through nostalgia and memory.

William James in his seminal work ‘The Principles of Psychology’, published in 1890, outlined how we constitute our identity through the objects we accumulate. According to James, “A man’s self is the sum total of all that he can call his, not only his body and his psychic powers, but his clothes and his house, his wife and children, his ancestors and friends, his reputation and works, his lands and horses and yacht and bank account.” James’s text and the subsequent research undertaken by Russel Belk highlight that objects are not merely commodities; we also have to take into account their indexical qualities particularly their ability to evoke nostalgia. It is evident from their work that objects also serve as mementos that mediate our perception of the past. Objects remind us of who we are, we often use them to demonstrate our identity. There is little difference between us and what we define as ours. William James has observed on this conflation of person and possession as: “It is clear that between what a man calls me and what he simply calls mine the line is difficult to draw.”

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These aspects continue to differentiate the physical from the virtual objects. Several contemporary scholars such as James Baudrillard have similarly observed that we accumulate objects equally as a necessity and as an emotional investment. According to Baudrillard, objects have a functional value as well as emotional value. He equates objects with mirrors because they send us back not real images, but desired ones. Hence, it is interesting to note that in this relationship between possession and our sense of who we are, the objects create an extended self for us, whose functions are related to having, doing, and being. In his novel ‘White Noise’, De Lillo dryly observes, “The dead have faces, automobiles. If you don’t know a name, you know a street name, a dog’s name. ‘He drove an orange Mazda.’ You know a couple of useless things about a person that become major facts of identification and cosmic placement when he dies suddenly, after a short illness, in his own bed, with a comforter and matching pillows, on a rainy Wednesday afternoon, feverish, a little congested in the sinuses and chest, thinking about his dry cleaning.” Human lives tend to be identified by their possessions. Even Sartre in ‘Being and Nothingness’ notes that the sole reason to possess something is to enlarge our sense of self; the only way we can know who we are is by observing what we have.

Apart from these scholars, objects studies have also focused on old attics and wardrobes, particularly the way in which they function as spaces to store secret memories.  It appears then that objects produce two types of knowledge – documentary knowledge and associative knowledge. Documentary knowledge is proof; it is a trace of a person or event at a particular time and specific place. Associative knowledge, on the other hand is experiential; the object evokes a memory of a time, place, person or even taste. This exhibition, therefore,  highlighted these two important functions of objects.

According to Sartre we constitute the object as a part of ourselves in three ways. The first is by appropriating or controlling an object for our own personal use. He writes that we appropriate intangible objects and those we do not own by overcoming, conquering or mastering them. For example, climbing a mountain or living in a city demonstrates how we master these spaces. Similarly, by learning to ride a bicycle or car or using new computer, we make them a part of our lives. The second way is by creating an object. The object created could be material or an abstract thought and bears the marks of the creator. This identification is then legitimised through copyright, patent and authorship. The third way is by knowing the object in a biblical way where the object is a known place, person or thing. The relationship with them is inspired by the carnal or sexual desire to possess. It is through our intimate knowledge that we make it ours and a part of our self. Hence this exhibition delved onto these three aspects through how we come to regard an object as part of our self. It invites artists to respond to these three propositions.

The proliferation of software and digitised data are replacing the traditional physical dimensions of objects. With more time spend actively gazing at electronic screens, from smartphones to computers and televisions, a chronically split consciousness, the human attention is increasingly divided between the physical and virtual spaces that they simultaneously inhabit. Therefore in this passage of rites towards the virtual objects when things are vanishing before us I invited artists to contemplate on the function of objects, do they see this as a revolutionary paradigm shift, or do they prefer the old ways of possessing physical objects and its production more relevant in the preservation of memory and evocation of nostalgia. It is hoped that this will help us understand the role of personal collection and in shaping our identity and why we continue to seek and comprehend the past through objects?

Artists:

Aman Khanna | Arti Vijay Kadam | Atul Bhalla | Chandan Gomes | Chinmoyi Patel | Dayanita Singh | Mansoor Ali| Muktinath Mondal| Nikita Maheshwary| Prajeesh A.D.| Riya Chatterjee| Roshan Chhabria| Sharmila Samant| Sumedh Rajendran| Umesh P K| Varunika Saraf| Waswo X Waswo

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The details about this exhibition can be seen at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9KmN9G5km1g

  • Premjish, Director-Outreach, Art1st