The idea of Bombay through Sunil Padwal’s lens

Artist: Sunil Padwal | PHOTOINK Gallery, New Delhi

At the entrance of PHOTOINK Gallery in New Delhi is this wall installation by Mumbai-based multidisciplinary artist Sunil Padwal.  

An illustrator by training and a former advertising professional, Padwal works with paintings, drawings, installations and photography. The untitled wall work, showing an out-of-use car’s image mounted in multiple frames, is reflective of the artist’s experimentation with varied mediums, where photography and the form of installation are engaged in a dialogue.

Padwal, who studied at Mumbai’s Sir J. J. Institute of Applied Arts, grew up in the southern part of the city and his artistic practice is heavily informed by city life, its chaos and the rapid changes in its landscape. “I grew up in the small lands of South Bombay. So for me, the grid of Bombay, the objects of Bombay, the small interesting parts of Bombay, which gradually are vanishing…so someway what I am trying to do is if I can capture those changing phase of Bombay and the childhood memories of my past…that process is like a therapy for me,” the artist said, while preparing for his exhibition at the third of edition of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, which exhibited his drawings, photography and found objects.   

The untitled installation at PHOTOINK also reflects his engagement with the ethos of Mumbai, with a defunct ambassador car suggesting nostalgia for a bygone era. The vintage quality of the installation is enhanced by the use of faded photo frames, which is an important part of the artist’s work. He uses discarded frames from Mumbai’s flea markets to develop his art, a practice he began while working on his paintings, with the support of his wife in designing the frames.

In his focus on the mundane, such as an unused car or the salvaged photo frames, Padwal’s wall work establishes a connection with daily objects that are otherwise taken for granted and, hence, easily ignored. The multi-sized photo frames add an asymmetry to the overall installation, invoking multiple meanings of memory and nostalgia, each embedded with an independent narrative.                

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’


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. 

In a rare showing, Delhi gets a glimpse of indigenous art from National Gallery of Australia


Fiona Foley, HHH

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.

A video tour of Kiran Nadar Museum of Art’s personal collection

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.


Krishen Khanna (Pieta, 1988)


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.

Museum Curator Roobina Karode

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.


Meera Mukherjee

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.


Arpana Car

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.


Surendran Nair

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.