Photo Essay – Changing forms of Indian sculpture

‘Roopantar’, an art exhibition of nearly 100 sculptures, has been curated out of the National Gallery of Modern Art’s permanent collection. Experimenting with different materials such as wood, fibreglass, stone, bronze, the exhibits demonstrate a multitude of thematic explorations, from exploring the human, animals forms to delineating abstract/spiritual representations. 

The NGMA exhibition, curated in-house by the Delhi-based gallery, reflects around 50 years of modern and contemporary art practice in India. It includes some of the well-known sculptors: Balbir Singh Katt, Ramkinkar Baij, Leela Mukherjee, C. Dakshinamoorthy, Nagji Patel, to name a few. The collection is remarkable in the astonishing scale of different forms of sculptures that it covers. The sculptures stand out for their stillness and provocative nature, while the others call out the visitor’s attention for their unambiguous ‘living’ quality.

The prominence of the form of figures in the show merits an important observation related to the origins of sculpture in the Indian subcontinent, which witnessed the earliest works of “plastic art” in parts of Indus Valley. “This first emphasis on vitality of the whole figure is important, because it was to characterise almost all the later art,” according the 1962 editorial of Marg magazine, while referring to the ancient terracotta figures of the hump bull exuding a forceful expression.    

However, one major drawback of the NGMA show is the lack of context about the movement of sculpture-making in India in the time span that it covers. Why did artists make the sculptures the way they did? What kind of artistic movements or socio-political ethos of the day informed their practice? How did the form of sculpture transform over a period of 50 years? The exhibition does not answer these questions.

For example, Britain’s domination of India for 200-odd years caused a major setback to one of the world’s greatest sculptural traditions, due to the introduction of colonial education in art schools, which included: sentimental portrait sculpture, glorification of the imperialists and naturalist imitation of the Graeco-Roman models. In this context,  Abanidranath Tagore, among other artists, has made a significant contribution towards the revival of sculpture forms in India. (Marg, 1962, Volume 1)

Despite the curatorial lacunae, a walk through ‘Roopantar’ is a transformative experience, and can be summed up in the words of the Marg editorial: “The communication of the processes of Becoming of the sculptor, seem also to offer a deeper experience to the onlooker, because they call upon all the faculties in us to be alive to the processes in which the artist is engaged. And thus the aesthetic of creative sculpture opens up new areas of awareness to the tentative sensibility, deepening the inner life and thus bringing about the only kind of subtle change that is possible in art experience, the intensification of the consciousness, the enrichening of the emotion, the refinement of feeling the integration of the whole man.”

Below is an overview of the NGMA show: 

National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi         
Nagji Patel, ‘Seed’, Marble
Natraj Sharma, ‘Standing Man’, finer glass and wood 
Natraj Sharma, ‘Standing Man’, finer glass and wood 
Rajat Kumar Ghose, untitled, terracotta
Ramkinkar Baij, ‘Horse Head’, cement 
Ishwar Chandra Guota, ‘Putna Wadha’, terracotta   
R Stojadinovic, ‘Nude Girl’, bronze (left); Subhashini Puri, ‘Chasm’, bronze (right)   
R Stojadinovic, ‘Nude Girl’, bronze
S G Vidyashanker Satpaty; ‘Gopika’, copper and bronze 
M Dharmani, ‘Frustration’, marble
Narender, ‘Sculpture-1’, fibre glass 
Suman Yadav, ‘Family’, bronze 
Swaroopini Roy Shanti, ‘Man in Circle-II’, bronze
Neelam Yadav, ‘Head with the Red Nose’, stone (left);
Leela Mukherjee, ‘Figure Lifting Foot’, wood’ (right)
Leela Mukherjee, ‘Figure Lifting Foot’, wood’ (right)
Unknown, ‘Mother and Child’, wood (left);
Piraji Sagara, ‘Sculpture’, wood (centre);
Dhanraj Bhagat, ‘Cry’, wood painted (extreme right) 
Unknown, ‘Mother and Child’, wood (left)
Tapan Basu, ‘Brahma’, copper
Shashi Arora, ‘No Answer Mama’, ceramic
Panwar Goverdhan Singh, ‘Seasonal Beggar’, terracotta
Shyamal, untitled, terracotta (left);
Shashi, ‘The Budding Venus’, stoneware (right) 
S C Ahija, ‘Musician’, aluminum 
Harbhajan Sandhu, ‘Harvest’, bronze (left);
Mohini Trikha, ‘Who the Victim, Who the Slayer’, bronze (right)
Harbhajan Sandhu, ‘Harvest’, bronze
Tarak Varol, untitled, bronze
Ashok Prajapati, “Sculpture-1”, bronze
Swaroopini Roy Shanti, untitled, fibre glass
Gopal Prasad Mandal, ‘Composition-1’, wood;
Lt. Gen. Ved Prakash, ‘Sculpture No.1’, neem wood
Krishna Shresta, ‘That Far’, plaster

Raja Deen Dayal, overlooked

It’s an unusual sight: a banner advertising Raja Deen Dayal‘s permanent gallery, surrounded by a pile of boxes and other back-alley kind of equipment. The Diwali lights hanging over the tree add to the kitsch.

The peculiar setting somewhat de-glorifies Dayal’s pre-eminent status as one of India’s earliest photographers, almost rendering him–and his history– innocuous. The irony peaks when you get to know that the location of the permanent gallery, the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA), not only has a large collection of the photographer’s negatives and prints, it also archives India’s early photographic history to a great extent.

The curatorial setup of the permanent gallery, inaugurated two years ago at IGNCA (Delhi), has been criticised for not doing justice to Dayal’s story. Reviewing the gallery’s opening, Ella Datta noted the display “merely titillates and in the end leaves the serious viewer dissatisfied” because the arrangement of the objects seemed “makeshift”, which deserved better finishing and lighting. Set in a basement, the “low-ceilinged rooms do little to focus on the magnificence of imagery that Deen Dayal sought to evoke.” She added that the gallery only offered a glimpse of IGNCA’s vast repository of early photography in India, where the medium arrived sometime in the 1840s.           

Given the way archives belonging to an important period in Indian history have been handled, should it come as a surprise that an important figure in India’s early photography history has been made to look nondescript?

In an article published on the lensman’s death anniversary, Manu Pillai writes about the struggles of Gyan Chand, who tried to keep his father’s photography business alive but rising competition and decline of royal patronage (which cemented Dayal’s rise as a royal photographer) made it difficult. In fact, when his son died a large number of glass-plate negatives had to be sold as scrap material in the city of Hyderabad, where Dayal was earlier appointed as a photographer to the nizam and even set up a studio.    

The sense of something historically significant being discarded is metaphorically evoked at this nondescript setting, showing the Raja Deen Dayal banner.  

What is your opinion about the photograph? Share your views below. 

Re-imagining the city in ‘TerraGeometrix’

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Previously mounted at the first Indian Ceramic Triennale in Jaipur, this collaborative mural re-imagines the landscape of a city, with its sprawling concrete formations and human habitation. The ceramic installation has been created by Delhi/Gurugram-based artists Rahul Kumar and Chetnaa, who worked on this wall-work for over a year. It is currently part of a new show, ‘Breathing Spaces’, at New Delhi’s Exhibit 320, which is also showing acryclic paintings of emerging Baroda-based artist Kaushik Saha, in the same show.

The dull browns and blue-white patterns in ‘TerraGeometrix’ evoke a sense of great antiquity, referencing the existence of historical ruins in a city or town. The grid-like impression suggests the wide navigational possibilities of an urban landscape, with all its detours, highways and arterial roads. The multi-shaped circular discs suggest rigidity of urban formations, while the empty spaces between each object carry many meanings: from the fluidity and tentativeness of present-day existence to the increasingly individualistic life trajectories.

What did you think of this artwork? Share your views below. 

Interrogating truth

If you missed this very important exhibition by Shaunak Mahbubani, here is a comprehensive review of the show, by Georgina Maddox

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Saavdhaan: The Regimes of Truth poses questions to the voices of authority

Georgina Maddox

Stumbling through the dark, avoiding stones and brambles, one is not quite sure what one will discover down the rabbit hole that is Saavdhaan: The Regimes of Truth. The recently concluded exhibition, curated by Shaunak Mahbubani at the little-known venue, Kalakar Theatre near Saket Metro Station, Saidul-Ajab, is not the conventional well-lit, white cube gallery display, that we have all come to expect when attending art openings. The raw brick and motor bowels of the theatre, is shadowy with wisps of cobwebs festooning nooks and crevices. The exhibition is not easily forthcoming rather it slowly reveals its contents as one negotiates through the slightly bewildering space.

IMG_1911 Arko Datto’s nigh-time photography captures the essence of the word Saavdhaan, a military call to attention as well as a neighbourly
hark of safety. All photographs of the exhibition are by…

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The Earthiness of Vipul Kumar’s Ceramic Sculptures

art1st India

Ankush Arora

The ceramic works of Jaipur-based artist Vipul Kumar, currently on view at Delhi’s Threshold Gallery, demonstrate a strong sense of the Earth element, while exploring the turbulent relationship between humans, as a profligate race, and Nature, as a depleting yet bountiful force.

19 Gallery View of Jantar Mantar and Untitled 2 Gallery View. Picture Courtesy: Threshold Gallery

Kumar’s ‘Earth Diaries’, as the show is titled, engage with two materials – stoneware and porcelain, which are different types of ceramics. Sculpted into dissimilar shapes and forms, his exhibits embody decay and doom, palpable through cracks and lava-like formations coiling over the objects. The artist, a student of fine arts at Benaras Hindu University, attributes his experimentation with ceramic art to his brother Kesarinandan, who runs a studio in Delhi. Prior to that, he was trained under famous sculptor Balbir Singh Katt, known for his adept use of marble and wood materials on a large scale.

As…

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When Art Transcends Human Creativity

art1st India

Delhi-based Nature Morte Gallery’s recent exhibition, ‘Gradient Descent’, seeks to establish artificial intelligence as a new genre of contemporary art-making

Ankush Arora

What happens when a statistician and an artist decide to create a new form of art? The outcome is an experimental initiative for artists and technologies of ‘Artificial Intelligence’ (AI) to reimagine creativity in contemporary art practices, while establishing a collaborative human-machine relationship. That is the stated goal of ‘64/1’, the Bengaluru-based art curation and research collective founded by brothers Karthik Kalyanaraman, whose interest in visual arts predates his career as an economist, and Raghava KK, a multidisciplinary artist known for creating an art book for children on the iPad.

And what happens when a gallerist realises that AI (broadly, the ability of machines to replicate human intelligence) is slowly beginning to shape the way we access technology? The result, this time, is a startling…

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