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.

Shrouded in stillness, Vinayak Karmarkar’s museum of sculptures in Alibag is a surreal artistic tour

A visit to the museum of Indian sculptor Vinayak Pandurang Karmarkar can be a surreal experience. Located in a sleepy, narrow lane of Alibag, a coastal town south of Mumbai, this permanent museum showcases sculptures of famous and common people, in different moods and garbs. The first floor of Karmarkar’s house has been converted into the museum, called Karmarkar Shilpalaya. The property was deserted, except for an old caretaker woman who led us into the museum.

The property’s lawns greeted us with some of Karmarkar’s works draped in plastic sheets because of the heavy monsoon. As we climbed up the stairs, we walked into a corridor lined with more than a dozen sculptures. The corridor led to a large, sunny hall housing the full collection. We spotted Mahatma Gandhi, Lokmanya Tilak, PC Ray, CR Das, Chatrapati Shivaji, and many members of the Karmarkar’s clan, including the artist’s “self-sculpture”.

The museum was shrouded in stillness, accentuated by the serenity of Alibag, a popular weekend getaway for Mumbai’s residents. Despite the ambient stillness, the sculptures evoked a living quality, and perhaps that is where lies Karmarkar’s mastery over the form of sculpture.

In 1964, the Alibag-born artist received the Padma Shri, one of India’s highest civilian honours awarded by the central government. The award citation recognised him as one of India’s outstanding sculptors, whose repertoire includes a 14-feet high bronze statue of Shivaji in Pune.

A student of the Bombay School of Art and the Royal Academy of Art in London, Karmarkar toured Europe to study ancient and modern Western art, the citation added. His sculptures have been acquired by private collectors in England, Germany and the U.S. He died in 1967.

Despite being a well-known artist, there are only a handful of blogs about his art. A Wikipedia entry has a brief bio-data, there are no news articles either. Like its obscure location, the museum has been reduced to a tourist spot on Alibag’s map.

Here is a collection of pictures from my visit to the museum:

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Dispatch from an e-rickshaw

There is nothing exotic about a woman riding a battery-run rickshaw on Delhi’s roads; except it is relatively new, and definitely extraordinary. But we take time to accept new things – don’t we? – lost as we are in our little bubbles, stretching them to infinity as if it’s a day job. Especially some gentlemen – including myself, once upon a time – who may not prefer to hop onto a rickshaw being driven by a woman.

I didn’t interview or casually ask them, “Dude, what’s your problem? What is this inherent, compulsive aversion to it?” I just asked myself, and here’s the answer I got: What if she rams the vehicle into a pedestrian or a car or bike? But, she is a woman, why trouble her by overloading her rickshaw? A man would be more responsible and alert. So on and so forth.

And yet, when I sat behind her, with two women and another boy, my supercilious masculine notions got a quick, thorough beating – and happily so. For one, she was more involved and energetic than her male counterparts. And it seemed to me that she was having a lot of fun, being at the wheel, as she hollered to passengers while navigating through the chaotic streets of west Delhi.

But I did ask her, “So, what’s their problem?”

“Sometimes, one in a hundred is one of those,” she said, making it sound like spotting a minor defective piece in a large stock you would buy from a shop. “They may not be allowing their women to go out of the house.” She said she had been doing this job for the past two years. That was all she said before I got off and a group of women grabbed seats in her rickshaw. There was no time either to ask about her life or pose one of those questions – how are you feeling, being a woman, riding a rickshaw? Does your family allow it? What does your husband, if you’re married that is, say? And how do the male drivers “treat” you? The need for such questions did not arise.

In 2012, a Chennai-based news website wrote about Kohinoor, Delhi’s first woman electric rickshaw driver. These emission-free vehicles were introduced in 2010 in a city that is now the world’s most polluted. A minimum of 10 rupees is charged from passengers as against an auto rickshaw that would ask four times more for the same distance. Kohinoor, who was previously working at a school with a salary of 5,000 rupees, said she hoped to double her earnings in her new profession.

Last month, around 30 e-rickshaws were flagged off from Madipur, close to my house in west Delhi. These vehicles are equipped with GPRS and CCTV cameras. The women drivers have been trained in traffic rules, road safety and martial arts for six months. The smart rickshaws, as they are called, have been financed by India’s first women’s bank Bharatiya Mahila Bank.

When I think of the anonymous driver who dropped me home that evening, I also think of the gross magnitude of assumptions we have about life. I also think of a senior colleague – sorry sir, bitching about you on a public platform, but I will also keep you anonymous – who once gave me an unsolicited cricket update. Would he do the same to a female colleague? Why would he assume I follow cricket?

Why banning porn in India sucks?

I don’t remember the last year I accessed porn, not only because we have a common laptop and iPad at home or simply due to lack of private space, but I have just not had the time. That’s fine by me, but the same may not be true for those who have a lot of time and inclination to watch it, now that the government has blocked hundreds of porn websites.

[Here’s an exhaustive list of adult websites blocked by India. And boy! the research is stupendous]

During a question and answer session with a famous spiritual guru, a follower – who was most probably a yoga practitioner also – asked a question about sexual desire. What does one do about it? Does one have sex? Curb it? Do it? Ignore it?

The master, in his characteristic gentle and sweet style, said it is a natural desire, so why should it bother one so much? Except, he added, don’t watch porn; it makes you hornier, he seemed to suggest.

Of course I don’t follow his advice. But the fact is sex – like eating, sleeping, breathing or shitting – is a natural desire. Why must you curb anything that is natural? And to connect morality and decency with it is even more bizarre.

If you cut your desires, you will spill more blood. Banning access to porn will not “cure” people of their sexual desires. It will not, we all know, free our deeply patriarchal and misogynistic society of sexual crimes.

Anyone who has spent even a few minutes on Delhi’s roads or in the metro will know how men or boys look at women or girls, or just how some males look at other males. They’re already frustrated. They don’t spare their own, their mothers, sisters or daughters. They’re not scared of the law either. Maybe they are. Maybe they don’t care. Does that stop them from committing acts of sexual violence?

Recall the BBC documentary of the Delhi gang rape, which the government also banned, and those chilling statements supporting such offences, including by the lawyers.

Banning porn will not change the way how the mind of such people works.

And of course there will be those, driven insane by lust, who will find a way of still accessing these sites. And what would you do about those countless DVDs that are available in the market? Or brothels? Or spas offering special services?

And what about those frightening stares? Or that “accidental” brushing of hands in bus or metro? How would you ban that?

Then you must ban sleeveless shirts, hot pants or anything that has a deep neck. Ban everything. Cover people in black robes. And get rid of that phallus, for god’s sake, that the state cannot handle.

Jai Hind!

When in Punjabi Bagh, dig into Indonesia’s Gado Gado salad

Once a settlement colony after India’s partition in 1947, Punjabi Bagh is now a thriving locality of ridiculously ostentatious display of wealth, power and consumerism. So, it’s oxymoronic to have an austere Indonesian salad in an area many would visit for butter chicken, kebab or sharaab.

The Club Road, for example, is a hotchpotch of houses, gyms, restaurants, bars, cafes, departmental stores, tandoor kiosks, flower shops, coffee shops, and chemist shops. There’s a big jogger’s park. And there is The Punjabi Bagh Club. The road also accommodates west Delhi’s rowdy car and bike owners, who actually belong in the back seat or the prison cell.

So one fine evening, I shed my anti-Punjabi Bagh bias, and went to Starbucks with a friend, who was visiting from south Delhi. Inside, the noise of traffic was effectively blocked, with people on the street looking like mute robots.

After a cold beverage, we walked around – I found myself tour-guiding my friend through Punjabi Bagh. He did seem fascinated by the chaos, a sharp contrast to the sleepy lanes of Chittaranjan Park, his home.

Screengrab of Backyard cafe from Zomato website (https://www.zomato.com/ncr/the-backyard-punjabi-bagh-new-delhi)

We finally decided to grab a table at Backyard café, as per my sister’s recommendation. She also suggested Gastropub, a few metres ahead, which sounded more about a medical problem than food.

We ordered two virgin mojitos, a vegetarian manchow soup and a quirky-sounding Gado Gado salad. It’s a popular Indonesian eat, made of steamed vegetables and peanut sauce.

I relished every bit of it. It’s a simple, yet filling salad that thankfully didn’t come with a pungent dressing, a staple ingredient in salads these days. And it turned out to be a full meal for me.

“This is a mega salad that has its roots in Sundanese cooking and has now become the typical street food of Jakarta in Indonesia. Gado-gado means medley or potpourri, which refers to all the different seasonal veggies and ingredients that are used. Tossed with the most incredible peanut dressing, and served with something crunchy on the side, such as prawn crackers, it’s a winning combination,” writes chef James Oliver in his blog. You should check out his recipe too.

If you like salads and food that’s not spicy and don’t mind a mildly sweet taste, you must give it a try. It can be easily prepared at home. You could also add rice, eggs, cooked tofu or tempe.

Delhi’s Ritwik Sarkar makes it once every two months or so. He learnt the recipe when he moved to Indonesia in 2008 to take up a new job. After four years he returned to India with a fondness for the salad. He also got married to an Indonesian girl, who helped him “hone” his Gado Gado skills.

Being a Bengali, who’re known for their food and rapacious appetite, has Ritwik ever added the local flavour to Gado Gado? “I have never tried to add Bengali flavour to Gado Gado. But now that you told me, I may try it. Perhaps adding a tinge of mustard oil to the peanut sauce dressing,”

That sounds lip-smacking. I have had the mustard curry fish at City of Joy in CR Park and it’s a refreshing break from the staple daal, sabzi or butter chicken. I look for forward to Ritwik’s Bengali-Indonesian salad, which we will call — Godo Godo.

Being a God in India

Being a God in India

I am a believer in a very private way, but in India you don’t have to be rooted in a particular faith to be aware of the omnipresence of God or gods. They’re everywhere, millions of them. You see them being worshipped in temples, on streets, inside houses, at lavish mass events and at remote pilgrimages. They exist in discriminatory practices of their dear devotees and in protests against their depiction or interpretation in the arts. They are also a source of riches – and exploitation – for many.

(These days, the city administrations are sticking pictures of gods and goddesses on the walls to keep people at bay who tend to urinate there.)

But faith can be an ennobling experience as well, especially if you visit the largest religious congregation on earth, as I did in 2013 in the northern Indian town of Allahabad. It’s where the Ganga, Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati rivers meet.

Photo by – Ankush Arora

In order to wash away a lifetime of their sins, millions of Hindus took the holy dip in the river, an opportunity that comes only once in twelve years. Walking in a sea of humanity, I witnessed the power of faith that made devotees brave the freezing cold to bathe in the holy river, like this man:

Photo by – Ankush Arora

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Photo by - Ankush Arora

Photo by – Ankush Arora

I shot this picture at a dhaba in Delhi. A dhaba is a makeshift restaurant that is mostly found on highways, an affordable eatery for many a traveler, particularly truck drivers. Dhabas also exist in every nook and corner of the country. Their popularity knows no bounds for their spicy mix of Indian curries, and breads.

A humble sight, this, with pictures of gods and a clock hung against a green wall appearing to me a portrait of sincere piety, expected to bring prosperity in the restaurant owner’s business. The goddess sitting on the lotus is Lakshmi, the bringer of wealth. In the centre is Sai Baba, a spiritual guru believed to be the incarnation of God. Next to him is Lord Ganesha, Lakshmi’s adopted son. He is the first god to be worshipped at the start of any auspicious event.

It was past 10 p.m. I picked up my order and left, but the image of the green wall shall stay with me forever. Amen!

(In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “In Good Faith.”)