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

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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.

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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.

Fan-ning art: A look at Indian artist Jatin Das’ vast collection of ‘Pankhas’

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.

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Palm leaf fans from Alekh Baba monastery, Dhenkanal (Odisha)

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.

Can you take the stench of Mumbai’s Sassoon Dock? You can’t, but maybe you should

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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.

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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

Sunday ‘baithak’ with Ashwini Bhide Deshpande at Mumbai’s NCPA

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It was a Sunday morning well spent listening to a Hindustani classical recital by vocalist Ashwini Bhide Deshpande at Mumbai’s National Centre for the Performing Arts.

In a small, but cosy, musical gathering, Deshpande presented the different styles of the Todi raga that is traditionally sung during the morning hours. Todi is believed to be one of main parent scales in Hindustani classical music, and is also famously associated with legendary musician Tansen of Mughal emperor Akbar’s royal court.

The late sitarist Pandit Ravi Shankar has also contributed to a recent exploration of this raga, Deshpande said at the beginning of the concert. But it was a composition by the late Pandit Bhimsen Joshi that she listened to during her short trip to the concert venue that morning, she told the audience.

The compositions based on Todi, as Deshpande’s recital demonstrated, evoke a gamut of emotions: from romantic/devotional love to compassion, serenity and intense sorrow. During her performance, she narrated the story of a vocalist who began to weep while rendering a Todi song. Such was the magnitude of his grief that his wife had to pour cold water for him to calm down. But it took him twenty four hours to return to a state of normalcy, which brought upon him an inexplicable sense of peace.

The performance of Deshpande, a vocalist for more than three decades, was received by the audience with such intensity that many were found to be overwhelmed by her music. Here is one of Todi-based compositions available on YouTube:

Pictures from Mumbai’s theatres

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The set of Pakistan Aur Alzheimer’s, a tragic-comic play about India’s partition, at G5A Foundation for Contemporary Culture, Shakti Mills

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Qissa Urdu Ki Akhri Kitaab Ka, a satire on contemporary appropriation and censorship of historical narratives, Prithvi Theatre, Juhu

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The Father, a tragi-farcical play about an Alzheimer’s patient, at Prithvi Theatre, Juhu

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Gypsy Under the Moon, the theatrical adaptation of famous Bengali novel ‘Srikanta’, at Jamshed Bhabha Theatre (NCPA), Nariman Point

Like Vidya Balan, this melody from ‘Tumhari Sulu’ stands out too

Like Vidya Balan, this melody from ‘Tumhari Sulu’ stands out too

A composition rendered by independent artist Ronkini Gupta in new Bollywood film ‘Tumhari Sulu’ (Yours Sulu) is being rated as one of “finest pieces” heard this year. That may not be an overestimation, considering Bollywood’s contemporary repertoire is mostly cacophony masquerading as music.

“Rafu” (which means darning) has been composed by indie musician Santanu Ghatak, who also plays a role in the film. The song, which has received more than 100,000 hits on YouTube so far, echoes what it takes to build a home, especially for a woman who is usually expected to make far more adjustments than others in a family.

The Suresh Triveni film is about the tenacious Sulu, short for Sulochana, who takes the journey from being a housewife to an overnight radio star. Ghatak’s poetry, in a fairy tale-like way, underscores the good and bad experiences of that journey.

Here is an excerpt from the song’s lyrics:

Teri bani rahein
Meri thi deewarein 
Un deewaron pe hi 
Maine likh li baharein
Shaam hui
Tu jo aya
So gayin thi kaliyaan
kuch tune si hai
maine ki hai rafu
yeh doriyan

Accompanied by a gentle guitar, Gupta’s voice is lyrical, and its rendered in the typical refrain of a light Hindustani classical-based film song.

Ronkini, who is also part of a classical-based fusion band, was previously heard in the soundtrack of Rajat Kapoor’s “Ankhon Dekhi” (Through My Own Eyes). Her training in Indian classical music informs her style, which is evident from the intense notes delivered in “Kaise Sukh Soyein”. The composition creates the virtual setting of a music concert.

Mumbai-based Ronkini Gupta, whose formal training in music began at the age of six, has also learnt Hindustani classical singing from Indian stalwarts Abdul Rashid Khan and Parveen Sultana.

Singing is not the only talent that Ronkini is gifted with. In her free time, she likes to paint as well. Here are images of some of her creations, shared with permission from the artist:

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