New Delhi’s National Gallery of Modern Art is currently showing masterpieces from Australia’s indigenous artists – a rare, large-scale project that is not only a precursor to the upcoming Australia-India Fest, but also part of India’s long-standing initiative of cementing ties with other nations through the realm of art and culture.
In the recent past, for example, the NGMA has hosted art exhibitions from different countries such as Slovenia, South Korea and Italy. In its latest showing, titled ‘Indigenous Australia: Masterworks from the National Gallery of Australia’, more than a hundred masterworks tell the story of the world’s oldest continuous culture. The artworks, which date back to the 1800s to the present, reveal diverse artistic styles of Australia’s most important indigenous artists.
Having existed on the Australian continent for tens of thousands of years, the art and traditions of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are among the oldest and richest in human history. Their art reveals a deep relationship between creative expression and everyday life. Themes related to nature, fertility, aquatic life, spiritual seeking, race and colonialism find expression in these artworks.
The masterpieces–from paintings, videos, sculptures to installations–are a significant contribution towards understanding the traditional and modern art vocabulary that emerged in the last three hundred years. The exhibits offer a peep into the NGA’s vast collection of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artworks, numbered around 8000, the largest of its own kind in the world.
“The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists draw on a long tradition of oral storytelling, and their art reflects this deep, ancient knowledge. Traditionally, legends were expressed through rituals, secret ceremonial songs and dances, body painting, rock engravings, and designs and patterns on domestic and ritual objects. The exhibition mirrors this variety of expression with paintings on canvas and bark, weaving and sculpture, new media, prints and photography.”
Art Critic Meera Menezes
Here’s a virtual tour of the collection:
The exhibition is on view until August 26.
Founded eight years ago, Kiran Nadar Museum of Art (KNMA) has acquired the reputation of being the first private museum of art exhibiting modern and contemporary works from India and the sub-continent. It’s core collection is made up of a generation of 20th century Indian artists from the post-Independence period, while engaging art practices of younger contemporaries as well.
The idea behind opening a private art museum, according to its founder and art collector Kiran Nadar, was to share her collection with the public and address the lack of institutional art-focused spaces in India—a domain either occupied by government-run museums, independent art festivals or galleries. Since their inception, Nadar’s Delhi-based museums have not only mounted some of the most significant multi-genre shows on modern and contemporary art in India, but they have also made a major contribution to creating more visibility for Indian art practices abroad.
In its latest art exhibition at its Noida museum, KNMA is showcasing vignettes of modern and contemporary artworks from its permanent collection of recent years. Titled ‘New Configurations’, the enormous exhibition is being seen as an opportunity to introduce newer perspectives—multi-dimensional instead of linear readings—about the art that the museum has been collecting, while reflecting on the creative breadth and historical context of these diverse artworks.
‘New Configurations’ highlights several areas of interest and engagement – the aspect of the performative and the theatrical, mythologies reimagined, the dominant subject of violence, death and destruction, the contemporary use of indigenous forms of craft and rustic, sensuous materiality, language and form of abstraction.
Here’s a glimpse of selected works from the exhibition:
F N Souza, Laxman Pai
These striking family portraits (FN Souza’s is an oil #painting while Laxman Pai uses water colour, ink and brush on paper) depict lives of peasants living on frugal meals and working-class people at a construction site in India, respectively. The rural and tribal motifs attempt to create a “formal” modernist vocabulary, while taking artistic inspiration from India’s rich classical and folk traditions. The artists, having spent their early career in either London or Paris, were heavily inspired by European modernism, even though their explorations are quite distinct.
A Ramachandran, Krishen Khanna
These modernist paintings (the first three are oils and the last is an acrylic) explore themes of human violence, oppression and martyrdom across different registers of medicine, revolution, war and religion. While A Ramachandran recollects his impressions of the holocaust and a visit to Auschwitz in ‘Anatomy Lesson’, Krishen Khanna depicts the lifeless, persecuted body of Christ in the lap of Mother Mary. Khanna’s ‘The First Operation’ has been inspired by traditional Indian medical practices – an illustration the artist made for his father’s book project on the same subject. ‘Che Dead’ shows the eponymous revolutionary leader after his execution, being identified by a group of soldiers.
Mrinalini Mukherjee, K Laxma Goud
Mrinalini Mukherjee uses unconventional materials (such as jute rope and iron armature) to create a pagan God-like figure, fusing together human (probably male), animal and plant forms. The sculpture has a superhuman and mystical element to it, defying traditional representations of divinity that are more to do with glorified human forms. K Laxma Goud’s Torana, believed to be the largest wall sculpture of his career, redefines a traditional entrance archway by installing an ‘earth goddess’ in the centre, instead of the typical Ganesha figure. This vivid mural, with its myriad hues, tones and layers, re-creates the fertility of a countryside setting.
Indian painter and sculptor Meera Mukherjee, a graduate of the Indian School of Oriental Art in Calcutta, finds inspiration from ordinary people for her art. Themes based on humanism and personal freedom feature prominently in her work. Her subjects include women, weavers and fishermen. This untitled bronze sculpture shows a group of local people engaged in a group activity such as a communal dance. However, on closer look at the sculpture, it appears that Mukherjee’s subjects are bound to together in form of bondage or imprisonment.
New Delhi-born Arpana Caur is largely a self-taught artist, whose work is dominated by women from everyday life, homes and neighbourhoods. Being a Sikh and having witnessed the 1984 riots against her own religion, her paintings also explore themes of violence, devotion, spirituality and mysticism. In this figurative oil painting, a group of women–sturdy-looking and spirit-like–seem to be floating in some kind of incorporeal space. With its luminous female figures, painted over a dark background, the painting has a surrealistic and dream-like quality to it.
In this highly imaginative and surrealist painting, Kerala-born artist Surendran Nair explores the genre of performing arts – a metaphorical theme believed to be one of the defining features of his oeuvre. With dexterous use of dramatic imagery, vivid colours and flat brushstrokes, the artist has recreated a performance that appears to be inspired from a tableau or mobile theatre in a rural setting. The performers’ facial tattoo, the costume wrapped around the lower half of his body and the intricate visual relief on his canopy reflect an artistic vocabulary influenced by folk or tribal art. The scorpion tied to the male performer’s hands, through a long thread, creates an impression of a puppetry show, introducing an element of the macabre.
The exhibition is on view until July 31, 2018.
For an urban audience addicted to instant air cooling, a trans-national collection of hand-made fans might be of little interest, until you visit an exhibition showcasing artefacts belonging to a rare and dying tradition. The exhibition has been curated by Indian visual artist Jatin Das, a well-known researcher and archivist of the craft of hand-made fan.
Odisha-born Das, who has many paintings, murals, sculptures and other visual art forms to his credit, has been collecting hand-made fans of different shapes and sizes for the past 40 years. It all began one summer afternoon, when he had a friend over to his Delhi studio. His friend was unhappy for some reason, and as he picked up a hand-fan to lighten the mood he said in jest, “let me stir the still air.” Little did he know the phrase would be the title of a book on Pankhas, which is due to be released soon.
Since then, Das’ abiding interest in hand-made pankhas has not only taken him to the length and breadth of the Indian subcontinent, but also to regions as far and wide as Africa, Middle East and East Asia. His collection, which comprises of thousands of fans created with all kinds of organic materials (bamboo, cane, date palm), was recently mounted at New Delhi’s Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA).
His archive also includes, paintings, prints, miniatures, photographs, poems and films on the subject. Entirely funded by money received from the sale of his paintings, the archive is the result of a full-fledged project that has involved documentation, research and archiving of this dying form. Over the years, the artist’s collection of fans has grown because of gifts received from friends all over the world.
These objects have had a worldwide audience, beginning with their maiden exhibition at New Delhi’s Crafts Museum in 2004, followed by shows in Kolkata, Kuala Lumpur, Manila, Zurich, London and Washington DC.
“Although the cost of making the pankha is minimal, the workmanship, effort and personal touch make these delicate objects invaluable. I feel sad when a beautiful craft of India disappears due to lack of interest, utility or outlet,” said Das.
Seen together, the fans made of zardozi, applique, mirrors; carvings from woods; some of them designed from feathers, bamboo, cane, palm leaves, paper, natural fibre and batik cloth transform a forgotten art into an alluring craft, the IGNCA exhibition shows.
The exhibition offers a historical and artistic insight into an art form that was once popular in hot and tropical countries of the world. As electricity came into our homes, the use of this art form has become largely redundant, even though people in Indian villages still use it.
Mainly sold in village markets during summer, the hand-fan is seen as a symbol of communal and personal engagement. The sight of a man fanning himself to sleep on a charpoy, or a woman fanning her husband as he eats his meal are common instances of the role of a fan in rural life. The hand-fan, Das notes, could be a tool for seduction and romance as well.
Of course, the hand-fan has been deployed for grander purposes, such as in the courts and offices of Mughals and colonial rulers; and during large congregations at temples. Costing millions of rupees, the royal fans have silver and gold handles, embroidered with silver thread or zari. Personalised and ceremonial fans are also part of the archive, with many of them being centuries old and regarded as a “priceless antiques.”
During his search for hand-fans and traditional crafts, Das found a group of monks in his home state devoted to the traditional art of crafting large circular fans made of palm leaves and stems. The collection has several fans from the monastery, one of them is more than a hundred years old. Other present-day examples include a large but neglected hand-made fan at Kochi’s St. Francis Church, the first church built by the Europeans in India. The Mayurbhanj palace, also in Odisha, in another landmark where this dying art form is still being preserved.
The craft of fan-making has been primarily done by women and girls in India, and at the heart of India’s pankha art history are stories of India’s rural folk who, for generations, have made this art form a source of livelihood. As India aims for full electrification of its villages, the pankha faces the onslaught of being completely switched off.
Installation “Idea of Smell” by artist Hanif Kureshi (St+Art India Foundation)
If you are put off by the lingering smell of fish at Mumbai’s Sassoon Dock, a new art project in the city will make sure you cannot miss the stench even if you cover your nose.
As you enter the St+Art Project galleries at one of Mumbai’s oldest docks, an installation titled the “Idea of Smell” invokes memories and figments of imagination associated with different kinds of smell.
“You walk through a room where words, suspended in the air, activate your memory. And just like that, Kureshi evokes a range of emotions — from the visceral with sentences such as ‘Perfume of your ex’, to the endearing with ‘Mom’s cooking’, to downright repulsive with ‘Vomit’,” read a story on the art project in the Hindu Businessline newspaper.
The Sassoon Dock, built by a Jewish merchant in the 19th century, is home to one of Mumbai’s oldest wholesale fish markets, where frenetic business activity begins around sunrise. And yet, according to the art project organisers, Mumbai’s residents are not familiar with it, despite it being located in the centre of the city.
The St+Art Project, previously seen in the Indian cities of Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, and Hyderabad, has transformed the Sassoon Dock into a vibrant space for large-scale murals, installations and other mixed media artworks. Artists from Singapore, France, Mexico, Denmark, Austria, Spain and Australia have contributed to this project.
This initiative has re-introduced a forgotten landmark to the people of Mumbai, so much so that a visit to the waterfront gallery has become a must-do for the city’s residents. Social media websites are teeming with pictures of this two-month long event that puts the spotlight on a range of topics–the lives of the fishermen community (one of Mumbai’s oldest inhabitants), the polluting coastline, Mumbai’s relentless construction activity and the receding historical and traditional facets of the city.
Mural, by artist Guido van Helten, showing a woman from the local fishing community
The Project, that came to India in 2014 with a group of artists, designers, photographers and film-makers, has democratised public spaces which are mostly dominated with political, real-estate, corporate, and religious advertisements. This new phenomenon, involving massive artistic creations done on landmarks of cities, creates the sort of engagement with public spaces that seems to be missing today. The “Idea of Smell” installation is one such attempt, among other 25-odd artworks, to re-establish that missing link with the city.
As an increasingly stressed and over-worked city population finds refuge in film theatres, shopping malls and cafes on the weekends, the engagement with art, culture and history of a city has become the pursuit of a comparatively smaller audience. In response to that, the St+Art Project is being perceived as a myth-breaking initiative, bringing home the point that art does not always belong to the realm of galleries and museums mostly frequented by the social elite and art connoisseurs.
In its own political—but subtle—way, the Sassoon Dock Art Project is also contributing to the conversation over the proposed redevelopment of historical and ecologically sensitive public landmarks of the city. The dock is one such landmark, expected to be transformed into a modern fishing village that will include an air-conditioned fish market, a museum, an amphitheatre, a food street and promenade for tourists.
As the day wound down and visitors began to leave the dock, I took in the sunset casting a pale shadow over the fishing boats. And I wondered about the future of this fishing dock and its people who have made this place what it is, as it braces for a multi-crore-rupee makeover.
The Sassoon Dock Art Project ends in December. Other famous spots in the city, such as the Churchgate station and Mahim, are also part of the street art project. To know more about the event, click here.
Qissa Urdu Ki Akhri Kitaab Ka, a satire on contemporary appropriation and censorship of historical narratives, Prithvi Theatre, Juhu
A new art exhibition in Mumbai explores the circular journeys of migrant families between the city and their villages in Maharashtra’s Konkan region.
The title of the show, “Mumbai Return: Journey Beyond the City”, personifies a life divided between the twin spaces of the adopted home (Mumbai), and The Home (the migrant’s place of birth and early life). By implication, the exhibition is also an ongoing narrative about themes of home, belongingness, ancestry, and alienation from the migrant’s perspective.
However, the scope of its inquiry and research is not only limited to the familiar themes of home and dislocation. Curated out of a research project by an urban planning collective and a think-tank studying the future of global mobility, the exhibition analyses the transformation of cities and villages as a consequence of migration.
What does home mean to the migrants? Can a migrant belong to two different cultural and geographical spaces at the same time? What is the impact of that migration on their ancestral home? How do the “circular” migrants’ cultural roots shape their life in a new city? The exhibition, on view at Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum, seeks answers to these questions through mixed media art-works such as installations, films, architectural models, photographs and the traditional Warli painting.
“For many Mumbaikars, home is here and there, stretched between two inescapable and complimentary polarities,” says the exhibition’s curatorial note. Just as the village house is transformed into an “aspirational city house”, thanks to the new money, some residential areas in Mumbai emanate the communal atmospherics of rural life. The transforming village home and the city flat constitute “the two inescapable and complimentary polarities”, cemented by the migrants’ desire to simultaneously belong to both these spaces.
Such “homegrown” neighbourhoods are Bhandup, Ghatkopar, Naigaon, Shivaji Nagar and Dharavi, the exhibition shows. The community of migrants in these areas live in close proximity to each other just the way they would, back in their villages, according to urbz architect Marius Helten. However, the proximity may also have to do with the city’s space constraints, unlike a village that has a lot more open space.
Public transport systems of the railways, auto-rickshaws, and buses inevitably contribute to the paradigm of the circular migrant’s life. Artist Sandeep Bhoir essays this back-and-forth movement of migrants onto a large circular “canvas”, placed at the exhibition’s entry. Bhoir’s traditional Warli art-work represents two worlds, the idyllic pastoral life and the rhythmic chaos of cities. The folk element, which personifies the Warli art form, pervades the city-village representation. Perhaps, it’s an implicit pointer to the fact that the memory of “the historical” never fades, irrespective of a migrant’s present geographical location.
The question of belongingness continues to return, or haunt, the migrant’s narrative. In one of the documentaries shown at the exhibition, a man says he belongs 50 percent to his village and the rest to his city home. The belongingness, he adds, is complete.
The exhibition closes on August 13, 2017.