Visual Arts Gallery, India Habitat Centre, Gate No.2, Lodhi Road, New Delhi – 110003
15-22 December 2004
Plural Cultures, Monolithic Structures
Rereading of ancient Indian texts becomes increasingly relevant in the global cosmopolitan world where there is a trend towards celebrating the Derridian difference. There is, in a metaphysical sense, an India- Rush happening. Not only is tandoori chicken the ‘plat du jour’ and Bollywood finding a new high, but Indian philosophy, yoga and spirituality is the new, holistic alternative life- style. It is within this framework that the ancient canons of Indian Art find resonance in contemporary Indian art practice.
All visual arts are based primarily on visual facts, and on our responses to them. Even non-objective art does not function outside the pale of our responses to the visual. Our response to visual facts is built upon certain natural susceptibilities or inherent predispositions, and our sensations to shape, surface, configuration or space depend on them. These very characteristics determine the nature of the activities within a work of art, or its internal dynamics, and generate similar responses. These responses are certainly complex, involving sensations, interpretations and emotional discharge thrown into diverse circuits. What is important is that there is a correlation between our responses to visual facts and our responses to visual arts. What distinguishes an effective work of art from. a non-effective one is the presence or absence of this correspondence and the resultant feedback. An effective work of art can transform our vision of the world and reactivate it.
Art and aesthetics have an almost incestuous symbiotic relationship. The structure and the image was an inherent, yet dualistic part of ancient Indian art practice. Aesthetic enjoyment in Indian tradition was based on, and aimed at, an art experience, which took place in the ‘citta’ – the creative centre where the appropriate shape or form of an image was determined. According to Chandogya Upananishad hridaya aakash – the ideal space, is in the innermost core of one’s being. When unified with citta, ananda is produced, and spiritual bliss becomes synonymous with aesthetic bliss. Both were attained by practicing absorption and inwardness. To achieve this effect the artist rendered rhythmical flow of creative power into his work of art, for he had to see the object with the eyes of the Atman – the Self. The ancients understood this link between art and aesthetics as ‘saundarya shastra’, the coherent world of vital images.
A distinct emphasis was placed on the artist as a ,subjective experience, and on the viewer as the receiver of this experience. This two- way process was considered essential to every art practice, and to experience this rasa or emotion, the ancients deployed a system, which laid emphasis on the canons of art.
Artistic practice in India comes from a well- defined lineage, where all forms of art were linked and inter-related. It was, in fact, akin to a science where formulas, measurement, postures, feelings were all categorized, sub- categorized and critiqued in texts. These texts were the guidelines of creative practice, the bible of every artist. The canons and ideals of Indian art as dictated by texts such as the Visnudharmottaram describe the ‘six limbs’ inseparably connected with a chitra, or painted image, in the absence of which no chitra is perfect.
‘Shadanga’ or the six limbs of Indian art, lay prominence on the basic structure or language of a work of art, written in consonance with the liturgical texts. The principles underlying a work of art intended to propel the spectator towards the celebration of life. through the rasa or emotional experience. The six limbs. that Vatsayana’s Kamasutra speaks of. are considered to be like the two arms. two legs and torso treating each aspect of painting as part of a human body, complete when all aspects are present and incomplete when one, is missing. thus substantiating its relevance and importance to the work of art. The six limbs enumerated are: rupa-bheda, pramanani, bhava-yojana, lavanya-yojanam, sadrisyam and varnika-bhanga. These limbs translate into drawing. proportion. arrangement of line, mass, design, harmony and perspective. Emotion or aesthetic feeling can also be expressed through form. Of the six categories. as many as four deal with the external qualities of painting and can be measured objectively. The other two, bhava (emotion) and lavanya (grace) are subjective qualities, which are added by the artists intuitive skill.
The Vishnudharmottaram presupposes accurate draughtmanship. Once the shape and appearance of figures have been decided, it is necessary to differentiate them. The forms are meant to be articulated along the principles of pramanani and sadrisyam. Sadrisyam demands that the form be faithful to nature and not be lost in imagination. Pramanani is regarded by all writers on arts an essential principle of form, not only in regards to individual figuration but also the composition of the picture. Another essential quality is vamika-bhanga, which. in painting, refers to tonality of colour. in sculpture to the depth of three-dimensional volume.
The above mentioned correspondence is certainly not retinal correspondence as was supposed in the western aesthetics of realism. Rather it is an attempt to perceive the essence of form. The reproduction of the subtle embodiment, which is the basis of physical embodiment, where stress is laid on the psychic thought and feeling and which travels from the form to the formless, is appreciated in the fervor of the deeper feeling. Nevertheless, such a notion still persists in the popular mind, where the visual image is taken to be a photographic image and all digressions from it are ascribed to intellectual or emotional interference. But we know today that our perceptions of things are not so simple and uniform, that we have complicated modalities, each structurally different from the other; that our visual images, which come out of the interaction of various percepts, their interpretation and emotional responses, have each an internal logic. The same visual facts elicit various kinds of images stressing on one or the other value, like edge or surface or mass or chiaroscuro, and adhere to various scales. This depends partly on the nature of the visual facts and partly on the nature of our visual choices. This visual language and its sentiments depends on one another; where any homogenous sentiment is interfered with, a contrary modality its effectiveness. A visual fact and the visual image have various gradations of correspondence.
It is only in the last few centuries that the aesthetic and the functional have been condemned as isolated polarities, needing special efforts at reconciliation. In a contemporary society like ours where art no longer has a decided role or patronage, the boundaries between the arts is also becoming diffused. It is important in this context to reread our ancient philosophies and texts, which throws light on the universality of the subject and provide importance and relevance to the arts. The connotation and understanding of the arts has been transformed in order to place it in its context. It has become different, or rather, as the discourse of art practice is changing its application, it has become varied as the subject no longer demands adhering to the same, reinvents and reclaims the same principle. As grammar is to language, structural elements are to an art work, making us understand the relevance of aesthetics as an important tool in the making of an art work.
As we celebrate the Derridian difference in this post-structuralist, global hegemony, where the new idiom is dominated by issues of transnational cultures and an increasingly international sphere of communication. the figure of the ‘other’ becomes a point of conversation – a powerful counter force to homogeneity. Sameness continues to be perceived as a threat, where multiculturalism becomes the challenge to discourse. Post- modernism then celebrates the plurality and hybrid character of language where ‘the poet’s’ corpse is in the capitalist’s fish tank. There is such a vortex of change that we should not forget our cultural consciousness, our inherent tradition to sustain the sense of alienation. Tradition as a category in art is narrowly understood in terms of the visual language we have inherited, but the rich literary tradition that dictated the artistic idioms has, to a large extent, been overlooked.
This exhibition is an experiment in contemporary art creation, categorization and criticism, using one of the most influential Indian aesthetic guidelines. The exhibition will explore the relevance of these limbs in contemporary artistic practice. With mechanical techniques, which capture exact likeness in an instant, how is an artists’ genius measured. Photography, video art, performance art, installation art, assemblages, they all require a re-situating of these ancient texts, categories, markers of creativity and artistic skill. Since a close analysis of the ‘six limbs’ show that they are largely technical in character, they might easily be translated to the modern artist’s visual vocabulary and tools.
What the exhibition attempts to do is to find the relevance of ancient treatises in contemporary creative practice. Is there a continuity or is there a fracture in the reading of classical canons. Can seminal texts such as the Vishnudharmottara Purana find a voice or relevance in today’s art practice? It is against this backdrop that the work of twenty contemporary artists is being showcased. They represent different aspects of Shadanga. Through their diverse vocabularies, different narratives and sub- texts, they express the rereading of the six limbs of Indian art within a contemporary context. It is but natural in the growth of any language that constant reading and rereading of texts takes place. It becomes an absolute necessity and therefore, Shadanga becomes increasingly relevant within tradition and contemporary art practice. Within the reading of Indian art which is embedded in the shastras or canonical text, certain key Questions need to be addressed: can tradition be applied to contemporary art practice? The twenty artists showcased here, in one way or the other, illustrate different aspects of the six limbs of art… Shadanga.
Neeraj Goswami, Paresh Maity, Sakti Burman,Jayasri Burman, Jogen Chowdhury, A. Ramachandran all emerge from the academy, but what really binds them together is the fact that in their works rupa-bheda meaning that the component of drawing is the dominant factor. All their works acknowledge the use of the six elements in different gradations. They also delight in the beauty and form of colour appealing both through the decorative and the aesthetic motion, blended within the classical narratives with affluent grace and subtlety of line. Badri Narayan, in addition to ancient narrative tradition within a contemporary format, expresses human predicament and emotions through piquant distortion of imagery which is replete with emotive expression. Both the artists are foregrounding what could be termed as lavanya and angikabhanga (emotive expression) in their works. Ajit Kumar Das. through textiles and vegetable colours, presents an interesting conversation with, Neelkant Choudhary the latter taking inspiration from the definitive lines of the folk art of Mithila. Dipak Banerjee on the other hand, walks firmly with abstract tantric forms and vegetable dyes exploring aspects of Shadanga. Jangarh Singh Shyam holds his own with his strong powerful vocabulary, which, while deeply embedded within the tribal language of Madhya Pradesh, presents an interface with the indigenous and the contemporary spirit of Indian art. In Jangarh’s work the quality or element of line, design and decoration becomes increasingly important.
Laxma Goud, expresses mood through a hybrid imagery, here rupa is used in a more realist representation, presenting a highly contoured shape, which expresses eroticism. Haku Shah, lives in the dynamic intermediate space where there is a merger between the rich craft technique with the prevalent art historical practice, suggesting a mythical landscape with folk simplification, defining in itself a dexterous and simplified line quality. K.S. Radhakrishnan a figurative sculptor through his emblematic gestures utters the very grammar of Shadanga. Operational in Manish Pushkale’s oeuvre is the concept of chanting or ‘saamyik’, his works, with the complex intervention of the brush give the canvas a textural Quality of the warp and the weft. Satish Gujral, the high!y experimental artist, complies with the classical techniques of fine art yet moves forward with the alphabets of technique to introduce a language, which is fully conversant with Shadanga. Atul Sinha a sculptor, blends rupa with utility and design. Chhotu Lal, the Rajasthan based artist, while continuing with the traditional Rajasthani miniatures moves forward with his own personal innovations, giving it a contemporary feel. Varnika-bhanga or emtoive use of colour and rupa-bheda and form, give Ganesh Pyne his unique expression.
There is one common subterranean thread which flows through the works of all the twenty artists. It is the rendering and re- evaluation of the ancient canons within a modern context. The canons can be translated, transformed and transfigured within, the contemporary idiom by the present day visual artists who used their own personal vocabulary and tools. All the artists in the exhibition have translated and transformed ‘Shadanga’ and placed it in every work of art, whether consciously or unconsciously.
Visual Arts Gallery, India Habitat Centre, Gate No.2, Lodhi Road, New Delhi – 110003
09-14 December 2004
‘India’s cities are hinges between its vast population spread across the countryside and the hectic tides of global economy, with its ruthlessly shifting tastes and its ceaseless murmur of the pleasures and hazards of modernity. This three- cornered relationship decisively mould India’s future economic, cultura1 and political possibilities. The demographic drift across the world is unstoppably towards the urban.’ ‘Modern India’s political and economic experiences have coincided most dramatically in its cities- symbols of the uneven, hectic and contradictory character of the nation’s modem life. From the ancient sacred space of Benares to the decaying colonial pomp of Calcutta, from the high rationalism of Chandigarh to the software utopia of Bangalore, from Bombay’s uneasy blend of parochial politics and cosmopolitan to the thrusting new cities of the north… The evident urban dysjunctures have enlivened distinct political sentiments. .. The real and imagined experience of the city have individually and together reconstituted both the nature and the range of the selves, the’identities’ that indians can call their own.’
– Sunil Khilnani (The Idea Of India)
If Is there a singular identity within a global context, when the world is shrinking and turning into a global village. The title itself is meant to provoke and tease both the practitioner and the viewer to relook at identity. Is it singular? multiple? dual? or even fused. Which intersections does it emphasize, which points of reference resonate? A globe called home, yet a search for imaginary homelands? A polyglot culture, where every being is in tumultuous transit between identities? Or composite identities, perhaps a current reality?
Art today becomes an exciting statement of the cultural diversity mapping diverse geographies. Homogeneity, which emerges as a by- product of globalization, leads to the growing importance of nudging the cultural producer to look for the celebration of the difference.
The trauma of post modernism is that we seem to be everywhere at once; so many different positions seem to be available to us in our perceptions of art. If we are living in the west, our journey may threaten to take us back in time and to transplant us to many locations on other parts of the globe. Art emerging from different areas have changed the trope of the debate, leading to a new emergence of ideas of internationalism, a new perspective a new difference in the reading and making of art history, a new exotica. Leading to issues concerning – plurality, heterogeneity, migration, travel, transculturation, contact zones, hybridity, de-territorialisation, re-territorialisation, identity, nationality and nationhood – that are at the forefront of artistic practice the world over. As a visual language, art melts barriers and, in the last few decades, there has been a definite move towards the macro-spaces of globality, bringing together artists on a plane where individuality celebrates differences.
In the case of diaspora, exiles, immigrants and emigrants, struggles with dislocation and recognition of the empowering potential remain a constant engagement. And within such a milieu, identity is not discovered but established by acts of self-representation that are political. Certain kinds of cultural forms had to be negotiated in the process of identity construction becoming, in the bargain, an establishment of differences as well as an accretion of experiences. Where the individual ‘self’ has bec9me in itself a universal topic.
The post modern thought see ‘identity’ as something fragmentary and dynamic, rather than static. Seeing in this way the individual has different identities in different social situations. The questions of identity ‘now’ orbit around the development of new identities and homogenous cultures which stand in contrast to the hybrid plural technical. Leading to tribulations of dislocation of identity and problems of identity fragmentation, the splintering of culture into diverse sub- cultures, the spread of mass-media culture, and the clash of social values” Identity is neither continuous nor continuously interrupted but constantly framed between the simultaneous vectors of similarity, continuity and difference.” (Stuart Hall).
This question of identity carries valence for artists particularly in the age of globalisation where boundaries are not so definite and the dynamic interactive process through diverse media takes precedence which is essentially observable in the virtual space that has shrunk the world to a small screen. Suggesting a brave new terrain where the poetry of visual arts often completed in the imagination of the viewer. Globalisation has been the tendency to treat history, culture and political economy as a world system with the possibility of reducing it to a single and unique point of view. Art today is becoming a living statement of the effect of globalizations and of the acceptance of the diaspora by the host society. Signaling a shift away from the history of visual art as a single narrative which distinguishes itself from the inheritance of aesthetic traditions and including in itself the demands of the twentieth century. Inhabiting itself in the ‘now’ of the increasingly common international biennales, with their gatherings of diverse and maybe even incommensurable practices, generating communications and confusions in the melange of practices from the disparate cultures; the ‘now’ of international exchanges today in business, politics, leisure and culture, operation though the p6wer, speed and relative availability of air travel and tele-technologies such as e- mail and web, the now in which different cultures and ethnicities face, meet or confront one another for all sorts of reasons, sometimes by choice and sometimes not, differentiating the boundaries and horizons of social and cultural bodies in the process, the now of economic globalization, the now of cultural, symbolic borrowings, appropriation, assimilation and transformation in the international context both at the individuals and collective imaginaries. What it all proposes is a critical articulation of contemporary cultural practices and their presentation, and of what contemporaniety might infact be. The immediate challenges are clear: bringing together artists from different geographical and cultural zones into a single exhibition space.
The new urban space is particularly well suited as a starting point for understanding contemporary India: The city is a crucially intricate construction born out of the intersection of diverse social, economic and cultural tempers, as a source of multi valiantly layered experiences, playing itself in various keys across diverse visual regimes, the city, now occupies the mind of the artists in various arresting poses.
The mega cities reflect the complex relation between globalization, local traditions and newly created spheres of life, and they allow contemporary art production, spiritual healing and body work, folk art and handicrafts, cinema and pop to coexist. Here we can see how traditional approaches are translated into contemporary forms of expression and how they are becoming established as widely influential in western circles.
In Indian cities today, the visual image – as seen on billboards, calendars, stickers, magazines, posters, in television broadcasts and films, in restaurants and shops, on the road side and on the facade of buildings on taxi’s, trucks and buses – plays a major role in the everyday of the people. It shapes their identities and moulds their personal and social values, thereby forging ideological conceptions of the nation itself.
Mumbai/ Bombay, New Delhi, Bangalore and Calcutta/kolkatta are not only among the mega- cities of the world they also represent increasingly important cultural intellectual centers. Here, a whole new world of images, sounds and gestures is evolving and gaining significance in India and abroad alike. Bollywood, Bhangra, beat and Asian dub are influencing global culture to an increasing extent, a lively contemporary art and theater scene has developed in the past decades, and India has become home to a large number of outstanding intellectuals and authors of- the art technology and ancient forms of culture which meet and merge in India.
Not only does this new emergence in art practices give India a new reading and making of art history, but it also creates a bridge between the cultural divide. A bringing in of a new trajectory, while retaining its cultural traditions. The Indian cultural sphere seems to be in a debate between conservative and the liberal, the revivalist and the progressive, the socialist and the consumerist, the indigenist and the international. Becoming for the artists’ fraternity, a heightened difference make their creative experiences unique. The concept is replacing the image, and the process is diminishing the prominence of the product, where the questioning of the medium for its foreign origin is less important as more compelling questions become discussed. Art is ‘now’ portraying sensibilities and cultural specificities.
Against this backdrop of outburst and outpourings a new trajectory is emerging by ways of ideas, materials, processes and a breaking down of artistic genres. Where a new ideology is shaping and changing the landscape of contemporary art practices of today.
Art works cover a gamut in terms of their techniques and material as well in their forms of expression – from installations to digital prints to mixed media to watercolors to relief sculpture. Celebrating differences, the heterogeneity of concepts and their visualization by the artists makes dynamic references to borders crossed and recrossed. It (borders) marks a place that is the moment of difference becoming a source of productive excitement.
The artists in this exhibition are the voice of contemporary India-the visual culture which is encompassing the spirit of a nation which is finding its unique voice in the global, international world which has a cosmopolitan feel to it. A young India that is ready to face the dualities of Tradition-modernity, rural-urban, literacy-illiteracy, wealth-poverty.
The artists selected here for this exhibition suggest and use a post modern language, a multi-disciplinary approach, working in photography, installation and video. Their works work deal with issues of identity within a global context, particularly looking at the homogenizing effect of commodification in relation to developing economies. The projects undertaken by these eleven contemporary artists involve eclectic collecting, documenting and recycling of urban debris, looking at the mundane and the profane, The works critique the market forces that define the cultural and art practices of the peripheral nations and question how our identities, within the global set up, can be sustained via a hybridization of our culture.
The Margi and the Desi-Between Tradition and Modernity
Presented by Gallery Espace Lalit Kala Galleries, Rabindra Bhawan, Mandi House, New Delhi – 110001
21-26 April 2004
“Only a dialogue with the past can produce originality”
– Wilson Harris
“…That between the traditional and the new, or between order and adventure, there is no real opposition, and that what we call tradition today is a knit work of centuries of adventure.”
Jorge Luis Borges
Tradition and Modernity are not contradictory or exclusive. They are merely two different classes of things, which can interact beneficially. Tradition is still very often considered as a “thing of the past” without any contemporary legitimacy, and modernity is often mistakenly considered as modernism.
What is tradition? The straightforward answer may be that it is the accumulated heritage of a culture i.e. the symbolic culture of a group. Tradition looks into the historic roots of the present culture into the past. The formulation of this accumulated heritage of a group, its various events, people or historical processes become mythologised and function as images, as symbols, as myth. The source of wisdom, of knowledge, of tools of survival, tradition tolerates the coexistence of a multitude of life forms, of cultural patterns and ways of life. It shelters the forgotten, the marginalized and the destitute, the scum and refuse of progress. It is an area of diversity in opposition to the uniformity of modern structures. Its every corner houses untold colours, designs, languages, tastes, sights, and smells.
India has its own Parampara, canons for traditional art. Aestheticians have defined various etymologies of artistic practices. Modernity is a part of the Indian tradition and thus what is modern in India, is in may ways post modern. Hybridity and multi-culturalism have been a part of India. This exhibition attempts to examine the new visual vocabulary that has come of age at the turn of the millennium, from the ancient to the modern, form modern to post modern and issues of post colonialism are enveloped in this. In painting and sculpture there is an underlying thread of continuity with fractures and ruptures at moments in history. Post colonial India brought with is its own neurosis and with contemporary art geographical spaces are changing, artist were moving from India to the west and now there is a return of the Diaspora.
‘Traditional’ art as dictated by ancient texts such as the Silpa Shastras and Agama texts provide invaluable insight into various aspects of the production of art from the scientific nature of paints to the canons dictating their use. These works make it very clear that different terms were specific to different arts-citra referred to sculpture, citrardha meant relief sculpture while citrabhasa denoted painting. The Silpa texts are a rich source of information, and prominent among them are: Visnudharmottaram, Samarangana-Sutradhara, Aparajitaprccha, Abhilasitartha-Cintamani (or Manasollasa), Silparatna, Naradasilpasastra, Kasyapasilpa.
Emerging from consciousness, artistic representation may be traced back to Vedantic and pre-Vedantic philosophy where thought preceded form. From the abstract to the figurative and from the figurative to the abstract, the core of Indian aesthetics develops in a highly structured fashion originating in the Natyashastra a compendium of dramaturgy. In ancient India the very essence of appreciating the arts, be they the plastic or performing, lay in the savouring of the ‘sap’ or juice of expression.
The canons and ideals of Indian art as dictated by texts such as the Visnudharmottaram include foreshortening, light and shade, verisimilitude to reality, perspective, colour application and so on. The Samarangana Sutradhara describes the ‘six limbs’ inseparably connected with a chitra or painted image in the absence of which no chitra is perfect. The six limbs or Shadanga are as follows: Rupabheda, or the differences of form, Pramanani, proper size, Bhava–yojana (which produces rasa), furnishing moods, Lavanya–yojana, furnishing beauty, Sadrishya, resemblance to reality and Varnika–bhanga, differentiation of colour.
This brings us to the question of what constitutes modernity? Modernity may be understood as the sense or the idea that through a process of social and cultural change life in the present is fundamentally different from life in the past. Modernity is thus a keen sense of originality of a specific culture at a particular moment in space and time. Modernity must be distinguished from amnesia, because nothing can be measured to be different, original, innovative, if the yardstick is not acknowledged or deliberately forgotten or ignored! Thus modernity being the vibrant experience of uniqueness of any moment in history, is simultaneously the intricately bonded experience of a contemporary present with its historical memory.
The 1920’s saw the development of art that grew out of a different flowering derived from a western iconography. Raja Ravi Varma (1848-1906) was an early protagonist of modern Indian art. Ravi Varma’s imagery was influenced by and synthesized the various elements of his traditional Hindu upbringing with his British education creating a pictorial language, which the vast Indian public could identify with and were most visually comfortable. Without blindly aping the English artists living and painting in India, he combined the technique of oil painting with the decorative attitudes of Tanjore glass painting and the drama of Marathi theatre to create a fusion between the east and west. Amrita Sher-Gil, (1913-1941), was the icon of ‘the feminization of modern Indian art’. It was she who carved a niche for the woman artist in India. “…functioning without the feminist discourse, she dramatised her own self instead.”
Amrita Shergil and Raja Ravi Varma were two of the most important catalysts responsible for the forging of a modern sensibility and the establishment of a modern aesthetic in Indian art. It is from them that the seeds of modernism were sown.
The ‘crisis of transition’ from the traditional to the modern is particularly easy to pin point and define within the Indian context. What is traditional today? Is it craft? Is it the decorative arts? What is modern? Did a tradition undergo a transition or mere displacement? Is the transition more about context than content? Is merely a change of format transition? Is the artisan the original traditional artist meticulously adhering to the canons prescribed in texts? Where is modernity in India? Are the folk and tribal traditions in art the linkages between tradition and modernity?
The exhibition ‘The Margi and the Desi’ shall concentrate on these very questions, while raising key issues, such as the nature of the fine art tradition in India and whether there has been a break in modernism in the past century. As part of this process of ‘requestioning’ the artists will be asked to incorporate this viewpoint in their work, producing a piece specifically for the exhibition.
Modernization is a composite concept, it is also an ideological concept, and ideology also serves as a canopy under which the similarities and differences of contra-distinct models of modernization can be examined. Modernism may be defined as the deliberate departure from tradition and the use of innovative forms of expression that distinguish many styles in the arts and literature of the 20th Century. While “Modernism” generally refers to the broad aesthetic movements of the twentieth century; “modernity” refers to a set of philosophical, political, and ethical ideas that provide the basis for the aesthetic aspect of modernism.
The present “crisis of modernity” is the sense that modernity is a problem, that traditional ways of life have been replaced with uncontrollable change and unmanageable alternatives. The crisis itself is merely the sense that the present is a transitional point not focused on a clear goal in the future but simply changing through forces outside our control.
In India the crisis of modernity is at several levels. The co-existence of paradoxes, dilemmas, continuities and fractures render it complex, and challenging at the same time. The interface between art and craft between the Margi and the Desi, between the formal and the non-formal, the spiritual and the decorative are key issues that need to be unravelled.
True modernity has often been discussed as being aware of the difference of the present time to preceding ones, without implying that the preceding ones have to be rejected. It is the consciousness of a different sensibility and of a fresh perception of time and space. This thought was apparent in Raja Ravi Verma and Amrita Sher-gil’s work. However, were these the only examples of real modernity in India?
We experience modernity as a proliferation of alternatives either in regard to lifestyle or historical possibilities. Traditional cultures see themselves as repeating a finite number of alternatives in the present; while in modern cultures, the future opens up a vast field of historical and lifestyle choices. This proliferation of alternatives is a source of great anxiety and often results in cultural attempts to restrict alternatives in the face of this anxiety.
Danielou, Alain, The Myths and Gods of India, New York, 1985
Donaldson, Thomas, Kamadevs’s Pleasure Garden: Orrisa, New Delhi, 1987
Kapur, Geeta, When was Moderism, New Delhi, 2000
Ray, Niharranjan , An Approach to Indian Art, Chandigarh, 1984
Singh, Yogendra, Essays on Modernization in India, New Delhi, 1977
Sivaramamurti, C., Chitrasutra of the Vishnudharmottara, New Delhi, 1978
Thankurtha, Guha Tapati, Making of a New India
Secrets – The Spectacle Within
Queen’s Gallery, British Council, 17 Kasturba Gandhi Marg, New Delhi – 110001
12-26 March 2004
“The thing about performance, even if it’s only an illusion, is that it is a celebration of the fact that we do contain within ourselves infinite possibilities.”– Daniel Day Lewis
The air in India is lush with expectations. It is becoming the hub of practitioners in all arenas, social, religious, artistic and with New Delhi as the capital it is becoming the nerve centre of the shifting paradigms in global hierarchy. From an India long steeped in history and tradition with its undertones of conformity we arise in the 21st century with our finger on the pulse of the ‘glocal’ – located in the global but with a unique positioning within the local, national. It marks an assimilation of influences national and international, urban, rural, folk, post modern where individuals have won the right of self-definition choosing freely the positioning of the parameters of influence.
The last century is marked by increased movement between cultures, a movement initiated by choice. This exchange or dialogue led to knowledge and the confidence in self that stems from it. Greater numbers of artists today are deciding to initiate a cross-cultural dialogue but situate themselves firmly within the Indian aesthetic without the overwhelming desire to dredge up the past golden traditions. They are self aware, knowledgeable about their history and participating in the exchange of ideas that began in the last decades of the 20th century.
In addition to the free and easy accessibility to information, there is an economic shift. The art market in India which started in the 1980s is approaching the light at the end of a tunnel with Indian artists commanding international prices. With their increasing marketability, the critical debate surrounding the multi tangential post modern aesthetics of contemporary Indian art is beginning to manifest internationally.
The five artists selected for the exhibition have a common subterranean thread running though all their works. The artists, three international Diann Bauer (United States), Young In Hong (South Korea) and Christian Ward (United Kingdom) and two Indian, Suhasini Kejriwal and A. Balasubramaniam have all lived or continue to live and worked in England. But within this common framework they each approach their art from their separate backgrounds. This exhibition will explore the personal and intimate spaces that each artist inhabits.
The exhibition is designed covering the entire spectrum of art materials. Christian Ward and Suhasini Kejriwal will exhibit paintings. Young In Hong and A. Balasubramanium shall create site specific installations. Dianne Bauer’s work is a bridge between the two. The unifying thread in all the works is their visual compulsion, their immediacy of medium. Ambitious in scale the works become almost deliberate displays of skill and intricate detail. It is as if the work is designed to seduce the viewer with its ‘extravagance’. For instance in Bala’s art the reversal is explicit and not unpredictable but yet so effective because it is so extreme. A body cast sculpture will disappear upon exposure to air in a few days. In Dianne’s work the “more” is much more subltle, the detailed richness of the work and the contrast it makes to the violent imagery. In Suhasini’s work the entire image unravels into lots of little images and depending on the position of the viewer from the painting the viewer can see the whole image (depicting the object for instance a flower), lots of little images, or even just pattern. With Young In’s work, the obvious absurdity of the curtain-pillars is overwhelmed by their sheer presence. They overcome you with their ‘elaborateness’. As in Christian’s work too, the deliberate painterly brush strokes and the fantastic color do not mar the credibility of the landscape, in fact they add to the intricate and extreme details and give the images a real presence.
A bold disclosure of what is otherwise hidden, the show aims at revealing the excessive and spectacular that exists within an artist’s reality.
Visual Arts Gallery, India Habitat Centre, Gate No.2, Lodi Road, New Delhi
Jan 8 to Jan 14, 2004
From Egon Schiele to Gustav Klimt, from The Dancing Girl of Mohenjodaro to the Indian temple niches depicting apsaras and alasa-kanyas; artistes have celebrated the female form unabashedly. Nudes have been an intrinsic part of the art of ancient civilisations like the Egyptian, and the Greek. Every figurative painter I can think of at some point of his artistic journey has explored the nude. In the western art practice, artists and sculptors right from the ancient times have been absorbed with depicting the nude.
Rajiv Puri in this body of work revels in the feminine form in its multifarious postures and varied manifestations. He is not a voyeur but an observer of the feminine form. His is a male gaze that it is non-invasive and inclusive. It reveals his absorption with the female figure, in her personal yet public space where she’s located as a cultural signifier. Moving out of the pornographic construct, his women refuse to be objectified but, instead, are invested with the stature of signifiers – of location, desire and presentation. Their sensuality refuses to be a mere image of desire, and demands your interpretation – your way of seeing.
Rajiv Puri does not fall into the trap of turning his women into publicity images, or even following any other convention of painting the nude. His women are not the femme fatales so typical of the Pre-Raphaelites; nor are they the coy and demure Madonnas of the Italian school. He relies on his own instinct and creates a personal idiom, which celebrates the female form in a quintessentially personal manner.
An instinct and an idiom that drives him to foreground the nude female form and not its male counterpart. A preoccupation that is not unusual considering artists over centuries have found the female form more attractive.
Many of the great creative struggles of the modern era can be seen as attempts to move beyond or away from studio conventions to achieve a more authentic relationship with the human subject. In the context of profound social change, artists have employed radical approaches to address the body, as both subject and object, and as a means of exploring themes of life, death and individuality. They have recorded the traces of their own bodies through marks and gestures, and have documented physical performances in video and photography. Increasingly, artists have sought to highlight the relationship between the viewer’s own body and the work.
Painting the nude begins from the academy itself, where nudes are drawn as an exercise. For centuries, drawing the nude was almost exclusively confined to the academy for its practical implications, but in the 19th century the nude became a subject for art in its own right, rather than an object for preparatory study.
For Puri, the nude becomes a point of reference. Through the feminine form, he enters into the trajectory of sexuality, and it is here that sexual politics and the ‘gaze’ are fore grounded.
Rajiv simply celebrates.