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Vol 24 No. 6/2010

ISSN 0970 5074

VOL 24 NO. 6/2010

India Perspectives

‘UFO’ by Subodh Gupta. Brass utensils, stainless steel structure, 114 x 305 x 305 cms. Exhibited: Bodhi Art Gallery, Mumbai (2007). Image courtesy: Artist.


Navdeep Suri Guest Editor

Rajeev Lochan Director National Gallery of Modern Art Assistant Editor

Neelu Rohra India Perspectives is published in Arabic, Bahasa Indonesia, Bengali, English, French, German, Hindi, Italian, Pashto, Persian, Portuguese, Russian, Sinhala, Spanish, Tamil, Turkish and Urdu. Views expressed in the articles are those of the contributors and not necessarily of India Perspectives. Images published in this issue of India Perspectives cannot be reproduced without prior permission. Editorial contributions and letters should be addressed to the Editor, India Perspectives 140 ‘A’ Wing, Shastri Bhawan, New Delhi-110001. Telephones: +91-11-23389471, 23388873, Fax: +91-11-23385549 E-mail: jspd@mea.gov.in, Website: http://indiandiplomacy.in/indiaperspectives.aspx For obtaining a copy of India Perspectives, please contact the nearest Indian Diplomatic Mission. This edition is published for the Ministry of External Affairs, New Delhi by Navdeep Suri, Joint Secretary, Public Diplomacy Division. Designed and printed by Ajanta Offset & Packagings Ltd., New Delhi.

The Eye and the Mind: New Interventions in Contemporary Indian Art

J. Swaminathan

Subodh Gupta



Jitish Kallat

Sudarshan Shetty




A. Ramachandran

Jogen Chowdhury

Tyeb Mehta




Anjolie Ela Menon

K.G. Subramanyan

Vivan Sundaram




Arpana Caur

Krishen Khanna

So, what’s new?



Raqs Media Collective

Arpita Singh

Manjit Bawa




The Moderns

Atul Dodiya

Maqbool Fida Husain

Uma Nair

Rajeev Lochan



Bose Krishnamachari

Paramjit Singh



G. Ravinder Reddy

Ram Kumar



Ganesh Pyne

Riyas Komu



Gulammohammed Sheikh

Shilpa Gupta




Cover: Detail of Riyas Komu’s ‘Left legs VI & VII’, 2008. Complete work is on page 126. Inside front cover: ‘Highway for Mansur’, 1999. Oil, Acrylic and Marble Dust on Canvas, 84 x 60". Artist: Atul Dodiya.

Editorial As a 5000 year old civilization, India is justly proud of its heritage of classical art, music, dance, theatre, literature and much else. But our open and democratic society also encourages artists to let their imagination soar, to seek fresh dimensions for their creative expression and to constantly explore new frontiers that go beyond the conventional and the classical.

offer the readers a visual treat, while the breathtaking mural by K.G Subramanyan is inspiring and the works of Manjit Bawa need no introduction. We bring you the works of J. Swaminathan who was not only an artist but also a writer, ideologue and activist. The list is unending, as we move on to Jitish Kallat, Jogen Chowdhury, Krishen Khanna and so many more.

And the world is beginning to take notice. Recently works of several Indian artists have attracted million dollar bids at Sotheby’s, while the annual India Art Summit has established a place for itself on the global art firmament.

The subject, of course, is far too vast to be covered in its entirety in a publication like ours. We make no claims that this review covers every genre, medium, form or region. Nor do we make a value judgement on one artist being more important than another. To stay neutral, we preferred to list the artists in alphabetical order. And if we manage to whet our readers’ appetite, to provoke you into a deeper enquiry into contemporary Indian art, we would be delighted.

We devote this special issue of India Perspectives to an exploration of India’s contemporary art landscape. It has come about through a wonderful collaboration that we established with Delhi’s famed National Gallery of Modern Art and its Director Prof. Rajeev Lochan, who joins me as the co-editor of this issue. I am sure that his selection of the artists covered in the following pages will provide our readers with a unique perspective on the subject. Between Prof. Lochan’s bird’s eye view of the artistic landscape and Uma Nair’s concluding chapter on The Moderns, this issue carries essays on 24 major artists. They range from established masters to young prodigies and recent arrivals. They also offer a rich diversity of forms and formats. We have the remarkable installations by Subodh Gupta and Riyas Komu that feature on the rear and front covers and multi-media art by Shilpa Gupta. The articles on Anjolie Ela Menon, Arpana Caur and Arpita Singh profile three of the leading female painters of our times. Atul Dodiya and Gulammohamed Sheikh

We are grateful to the National Gallery of Modern Art and in particular to Prof. Rajeev Lochan and Ms. Kanika Kuthiala for their unstinting support to this issue. The images have been provided by the National Gallery of Modern Art and by the artists themselves unless the credits indicate otherwise. I also want to record our appreciation for Mr. Dilip Ghosh and M/s Ajanta for their excellent work in helping us with the translation, design and printing of India Perspectives over the last 3 years. We move to a new arrangement from the next issue but let’s keep that as a surprise for now. We hope you enjoy reading this issue as much as we enjoyed producing it. As always, we look forward to your comments and feedback.

Navdeep Suri





The Eye and the Mind: New Interventions in Contemporary Indian Art RAJEEV LOCHAN

“The whole history of art is a history of modes of visual perception, of the various ways in which man has seen the world. The naive person might object that there is only one way of seeing the world - the way it is presented to his immediate vision. But this is not true – we see what we learn to see and vision becomes a habit, a convention, a partial selection of all there is to see, and a distorted summary of the rest. We see what we want to see and what we want to see is determined, not by the inevitable laws of optics or even by an instinct of survival, but by the desire to discover or construct a credible world. What we see must be made real. Art in that way becomes a construction of reality.” – Herbert Read


o articulate the above statement ‘The eye does not see what the mind does not know’. Contemporary art is generally enough to start an argument and throw people in a frenzy as to what they might be seeing before them. This is because of the fear of the unknown, the unexplored incomprehensible truth, which is often confronted in ways and mediums that are not always easy to understand. Such shocking and often consciously absurd and contrived compositions employing objects that in the traditional sense of the word do not qualify as

‘art’, haunt people who have never been to a museum, let alone bought a picture and this is generally the case with most people. Another persisting problem faced by our society today is ‘reason’. With advances in science people are not always easily perceptive to the ‘experience’, the experiential quality that art holds. This has been aptly summed up by artist Pablo Picasso when he says, “People want to find a meaning in everything and everyone. That’s the disease of our age, an age that is anything but practical but believes itself to be more practical than any other”.



Art in India as across the world has undergone a myriad change that has eventually culminated into what we see today, a unique amalgam of sensibilities from the West as well as from across Asia. What defines modernity in art? This is a persisting question that plagues and keeps most people at bay from art. Modernity does not mean mere abstraction or abstract forms, arbitrarily arranged together on a surface, painted in alluring colours possessing no meaning at all. Modernity in art is defined by artists governed by their inner self, their true calling, their insecurities and prevalent social and personal issues. These artists have chosen to break away from the mould of the existing art practices and have given birth to new approaches and genres in art previously not experienced and contrary to popular belief contributing greatly to the value of ‘shock’ and the unconventional. Hence, when art was redefined setting new paradigms for itself, so were the people and the society and this has been an ongoing process since the advent of art practices and shall continue till art remains. Time and again it has been proven that art has been a vehicle to tell us as a society and a people where we are, where we figure in the larger scheme of things and it plays a vital part in telling us who we are. The pleasure principle that

is derived from art is incidental; its cardinal role is to act as a mirror and to tell us the truth. Art has always had an edge over all other media and modes of communication which has ensured that it survives the test of time, scrutiny and criticism. For centuries, art has made statements directly or not about its time, and has encapsulated and marked all key moments in history. Art has given people great insight into the world of the extraordinary, the mythical and been a vehicle to tell stories that people have wanted to hear without the written word becoming a barrier. Art has preceded the written word and above all, art has been a constant consoling element, telling people what they want to hear, lending form to formless and illegible experiences, breaking all boundaries of language with one and all. Art possesses a certain rejuvenating quality; it has the capacity to instill a feeling of oneness with nature and society. The oneness and sense of belonging that we all want and crave for, art is that linchpin that integrates us, hence, it is justified when we feel disconcerted when art seems to shift its ground in ways that we find difficult to keep up with. In more recent times art has shifted its ground rather rapidly, encoding its message in a complex labyrinth of unconventional material, this being a direct result of art questioning its own nature. The INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 6/2010


new art that has culminated by constant reshaping and restructuring may pose to be an ordeal to the viewer as they are subjected to ideas that they do not fully understand. In the 21st century a new phase in the history of awareness in India has opened up. In the words of philosopher Derrida ‘There is no culture or cultural identity without this difference within itself’. Such is the form of art on the Indian subcontinent a unique amalgam of foreign sensibilities along with a variety of internal cross cultural pollination. India today offers a very different world to the artists than a mere 50 years ago. One of the fastest growing economies of the world the new is replaced by the newer at lightening speeds, archetypes changing with the blink of an eye are a sum total of the convergence of modernity along with traditional values. The cultural diversity of the country adds to the multi dimensional approach which is a direct contribution of various religious beliefs, languages, and the still prevalent rural culture mixing with the rapidly growing urban culture. The diversity of the country like its art is an experience in itself and cannot be understood by a bystander. Such is the nature and crux of the new modern India and its newly emergent art. According to artist Sudhir Patwardhan, ‘To bring such

[new media] fragments together as part of a work of art, the artist has to devise a structure of even greater openness. The structure has to have the resilience and breadth, and the wit, to somehow hold together the fragments of authentic meaning available to us today, without denying their reality as fragments….’, however the openness of structure must not be misunderstood as a looseness of structure. The elements of art now in the 21st century are being pushed to the limit and artists are achieving greater, newer and previously incomprehensible and inconceivable heights. Art can no longer be compartmentalized into painting, sculpture, print making etc. Art is now breaking all previously laid out barriers and has diversified into a multitude of media such as installation art, video art, performance art, conceptual art and the new buzz of media art. These too have evolved and developed over a period of time. Aptly put by novelist Marcel Proust. “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes”, with this in mind artists today are using a myraid of media to express themselves.

the idea of the environment and in its nascent stages was site specific. The art works of the initial stages were more experimental than the more refined experiments that we see today, with a variety of objects strewn around the exhibition space complimented by music, lights and on certain occasions with performances, were all aimed at interaction with the audience. However, the experiments in this form of art took a rather potent and extreme position which is evident with the works of artist such a Damien Hirst whose first major animal installation, ‘A Thousand Years’, consisted of a large glass case containing maggots and flies feeding off a rotting cow’s head and later ‘The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living’ became Hirst’s most iconic work consisting of a 14-foot tiger shark immersed in a glass tank filled with formaldehyde. Such works often blur the boundaries between installation and performance. Installation art took a further turn with the introduction and the use of video as part of the work, this eventually became the dominant form in the field of contemporary art.

In the Western world ‘Installation Art’ developed from

In India installation art has been epitomized in the works ‘Behold’, 2009 by Sheela Gowda. Hair, steel. Size: variable. Installation view at Making Worlds, 53rd Venice Biennale, Venice.





a painter took to installation after an intense revelation during the riots in Mumbai in 1992. It was then that her work underwent a colossal transformation in terms of the material and also her subject matter. Employing the use of materials and processes that represent the traditional Indian ethos such as cow dung and Kumkum (vermillion pigment that Hindu women customarily use on their forehead as a sign of their marital status) she delineates the symbolic space that exists in rural women and rural life. Her work is an ephemeral confluence of violence, nationalism, religion and femininity and questions each of their positions in contemporary India. Her work sways between two and three dimensionality and more often than not echoes the feelings of pain, loss, healing and contemplation.

‘Where the Bees Suck, there Suck I’, 2009 by Hema Upadyay. Project brief: The project involves a large scale installation using a fiberglass industrial dumper and hundreds of miniature hutments made of car scrap, aluminum and plastic sheets, resin and enamel paint. The installation is set up in a room 40' wide with a ceiling height of about 25'.



of artists such as Sheela Gowda whose work cannot be defined as painting, drawing, sculpture or installation, but has carved a niche for itself somewhere in between all these mediums. Gowda essentially

Another artist who has worked extensively with installations is Hema Upadyay who through her sculptural installations investigates issues pertaining to herself. She draws on subjects that are personal to her and have left a lasting impact on her through the journey of her life. She has explored in her work the notions of personal identity. Her work is cathartic and reminiscent in nature that delves into her concerns with location, relocation and most importantly dislocation. Her installations are an allegory of her body, which INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 6/2010


bears the brunt of multiple emotions and traumas that one has to go through and confront, such as the realities of space, religion, gender and other associated concerns. She is fascinated by space; the physicality of space which includes all the objects that are strewn around across the length and breadth and fill up the cities in turn making them vivacious and vigorous. Reena Kallat’s anguish at the political and social issues of the country and of the world shines through in her work. Through her work she clearly states her political and religious views in an attempt to change society. Articulately Reena voices her opinion making silent but strong statements through volatile and imprinting installations. Although not always an installation artist Reena expressed similar concerns in her paintings exploring the dynamics of society and then delineating her thoughts. Her work often makes subtle but strong statements pertaining to the state and the trauma that ordinary folk face due to the wars of dominance. Tallur too through his installation works makes statements about the rural community of India. He accentuates the pulverizing poverty and the effects that it has on the minds of the rural folk using indigenous signs and symbols. Tallur

Above: ‘Light leaks, winds meet where the waters spill deceit’, 2008-2010 by Reena Kallat, 85 x 173 x 20". Metal, sacred thread, fly zapper with UV fluorescent tubes and electrified grid. Facing page: ‘Chromatophobia’, 2010 (top) and a detailed section (below) by Tallur. Wood, bronze, nailed coins, 500 x 200 x 300 cm.

through his installations makes subtle statements about the vulnerability of the country and its people employing the symbols that are known and easily recognizable and are a part of popular as well as the traditional culture of India. For Tallur the unfastidious traditions of rural India form a gratifying incongruence when juxtaposed with the urban more westernized tradition.

An artist who has effectively borrowed from the society and his personal experience is G.R. Iranna. Remaining in touch with his roots his works possess a sombre quality enunciating affliction that has often been articulated as gashes on the canvas surface serving as an analogy for the human body. His works provide an impediment, emitting energy against suppression,





with more creative freedom and malleability. Artists such as Shilpa Gupta have successfully captured, employed and incorporated this new medium into their work, often centred around interactivity with the viewer and exists mostly in the moment. Through her work she lends life to the beliefs, practices and experiences of people. Though her work involves the extensive use of technology it is not to isolate or highlight the importance of technology but rather is a means to the end, shedding light on the ‘experience’. Another vital message encoded in her work is how technology has percolated our lives and caused us to be ever so dependent. Peace and pieces, 2010 by G.R. Iranna. Fiberglass, iron, steel, sand, 66 x 98 x 24".

an energy that is almost palpable. Suppression in his work often deals with ideas and views that have been stifled by religion and other overbearing associated views. The palpable quality of his work strikes a chord with the viewer rendering the work as the voice of the people, voicing their unfulfilled muzzled desires. New media is the new rage and a great many artists are experimenting with this medium. The new media art movement gathered pace

Another artist in the genre is Sheeba Chhachhi who has had a deep rooted interest in philosophy, literature, flight and the liberation of the spirit and has been a voice in the women’s movement in India as an artist as well as an activist. Chhachhi has been actively involved with media such as photography and installation. Her entrenched interest in photography has led to the use of photographic material even in her installations. The experience that her work offers is a culmination of a variety of media such as sound, light and video brought together in a space and usually centered around a sculpted object. Her more recent works are a visual treat that employ the use of still


With such works being put at the forefront and representing Indian contemporary art on a global platform it becomes evident that artists in India today are breaking new grounds by exploiting the fertile fusion of tradition, culture, history, spirituality and foreign influences keenly mixed with personal experiences to form a palatable new Indian art. An Indian art that has its distinctive features defined by the rich

Untitled, Heat Book, 2008-09 by Shilpa Gupta. Mid Steel, heating element, 2000 watts + Pedestal, 52 x 17.5 x 13"

in the western world with the invention of videos and computers. The genre often deals with society as well as culture and associated events and objects, digressing from traditional media of art such as painting, sculpture, print making etc. New Media is a blend of various media juxtaposed with enticing concepts. With the onset of globalization, new media picked up pace in India as computers, the internet and digital aids infiltrated the country, spreading its wings to art schools and institutions providing artists


images on a light box that are mechanically moved creating a cinematic effect. The core of her work addresses issues and personalized concerns pertaining to transmogrification in relation to representation, gender the body violence and the visual culture.



artists such as Sonia Khurana who has worked extensively in the field of video art. The essence of her work lies in embracing and according great value to experience; social and personal experiences of people and how they affect the mind, the body and the soul. Her works make understated personalized yet true to life statements about the inhibitions that society has and encourages one to embrace such inhibitions with grace while simultaneously exploring the dynamics of identity. Khurana’s oeuvre includes elements of video, performance, text, drawing, photography, installation and above all her work is interactive and engages the viewer compelling them to delve deeper into their encounters with naïve experiences that they may not ordinarily think about.

‘Neelkantha: Poison/Nectar’, 2003-08 by Sheba Chhachhi. 25 x 25'. Video installation with 260 Aluminium towers, light, photographs, light, translides and video (5 minutes 30 seconds looped).

amalgam of the historical and cultural past of a vast and multi-cultural country like India with Western sensibilities being expressed in a rather unique, personalized and transformed art form. This becomes apparent with the works of artists such as Bharti Kher, a lot of whose work is centred around the ‘bindi’ (a

forehead ornamentation used by Indian women that is now available in plastic stick-on format). The use of the bindi lends texture to the surface of both painting and sculpture metamorphosing the image by adding an additional dimension to the work. Kher uses the bindi as a mass produced product that she successfully employs to make powerful statements that



are articulately infused by her individual style and symbolic undercurrents. The use of the bindi lucidly yet firmly makes a statement about the shifting and changing role of women in the society as well as about femininity. Other artists who have approached the sensitive issue of femininity more popularly known as feminism in their own choice of medium are

Mithu Sen whose work directly reflects on her own attitude towards life, apart from being bold her work possesses a certain whimsical yet intelligent quality with oodles of sarcasm. Sen often uses signs from popular culture and tosses up their meaning. Her images are open ended and leave much scope for permutations and combinations for one to derive meaning from. The signs and images that she represents in her work form a kaleidoscope of thoughts in the mind of the viewer that can be changed and shifted INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 6/2010


by simply turning the tube. Sen has dealt and on many occasions made statements on the femininity and sexuality of women. Such statements. Sen has chosen to make in a rather tactful manner. In the works of Anju Dodiya one finds oneself in a world that has been created by the artist, in intense and private moments from the life of the artist that have been thoughtfully articulated and have been inspired by a variety of sources such as Japanese prints and culture to Greek mythology and the Indian folk tradition. In her earlier works Anju explored the abstract world of art and eventually came to realize her true calling which lay in the figurative and in due course came to recognize her true inclination which becomes evident in her art practice today. Rumination and describing situations and dilemmas of her life as an artist became the focus of her work. Although her works are brimming with dazzling colours they are an intricate convolution of symbols with personal undertones that observe femininity and personal agendas giving viewers an insight into moments that are private and conversations that the artist has with herself leading to revelation. Through constant introspection and interjection Anju strives for self realization and freedom that can only be attained through her work.

For Navjyot Altaf art is an attempt to engage with the beliefs and desires of people; real people and real events that take place in their lives, their trials and tribulations. Initially a painter and print maker, Altaf included video and multimedia art to her oeuvre in the 1990s. Greatly influenced by the social construct that we live in and the concept of building realities, Altaf took her art to the lesser known rural parts of India engaging with the locals and the artisans of villages. Through such endeavours she hopes to engage the people along with exploring the idea of public spaces in rural India. She has undertaken many such projects which include the planting of trees on the outskirts of the city of Delhi etc. Besides her rural projects she has been exploring the concept of public spaces in urban India where public space is limited and how people engage with her art. The essence of Altaf’s work lies in the interactivity that it shares with the audience and how the work evolves from such interactions. Besides having a social dimension in her work Altaf’s work also explores ideas of femininity or feminism in rural and urban India. Many artists in the west as well as in India are using the

‘Inevitable undeniable necessary’, installation view by Bharti Kher. Hauser & Wirth, London, 2010. Photo: Andy Keate. INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 6/2010




concept of moving pictures. Video art is a medium that in contemporary art is being used extensively and either compliments other forms of art or stands by itself in an installation. Video art in accordance with contemporary sensibilities shares the same platform as painting, sculpture or photography even though it shares more ground with television presentations and films, it has been able to carve out a separate niche and is an art form in itself. Video art often uses only images and is void of dialogue or actors and on other occasions it may have both. Another feature that is extensively employed by video artists is the repetition of an image or motion to emote the essence of the work. One aspect that largely draws the distinction between video art and films is entertainment, films and movies are often produced to entice emotions whereas video art uses characteristics that may vary depending on the objective of the artist. Video art in the contemporary scenario has streamlined itself into a multitude of formats such as visual music, interactive film and real-time computer graphics that employ the entire spectrum of technology and the new media. A culmination of all the technological advancements when meshed together provides the viewer with an entirely unique and on most occasions fulfilling experience.

Besides the extensive use of video in art today, Still Photography holds a special and important place as moving pictures have only been derived from still images. Still Photography has given rise to a variety of different visual experiences and an artist such as Dayanita Singh has amply explored the medium and is probably one who has largely contributed to the field of photography in being accepted as a separate entity in the field of art. She has captured the entire gamut of emotions of the Indian middle and upper class families in articulately framed portraits. The great value and magnetism of Singh’s work lies in the perishability of the moments captured, fleeting moments that are candid, and are true-to-life, images describing a moment rather than marking a static pose. Her works outline and are a series of photographs that serve to tell a story instead of just detailing a single moment in time and are true to their existence. Images of people at work, resting in their homes or leisurely partying portray Indian life in an unadorned fashion. Apart from people Singh has captured places in India that of the interior and exterior

Facing page: ‘Lying-down-on-theground’ by Sonia Khurana. Public performance during Aichi triennale, Sept 4th, 2010. Metro station and other public areas near Aichi art center, Nagoya, Japan.





of the places that she knows and understands. The quality of Singh’s work that shines through is the subtlety through which the mundane or the fantastic has been represented that is a direct result of the consummation of intimate and fervent observation. Ram Rehman who has extensively photographed the streets of urban India capturing the popular culture of the country along with a unique juxtaposition of politics and the popular culture. Through his lens he has explored the dissonance of the streets of urban India and how political symbols have found their way into the lives of the common man. The major chunk of his work forms two categories that of portraits and urban landscapes. Rehman’s images with their strong composition and rich tones (mostly black and white) are a testimony to the activities of urban India. His images accentuate the textured fabric of the nation and its politics in a perplexing concurrence of signage across cities, its people, the architecture and the activity that goes on, making his work

Left: ‘All things are matter’, 2009 by Mithu Sen. Mixed Media with water colours, ink, fabric, metal, leaf, fur on acid free handmade paper, 83 x 42". Facing page: ‘Face-off’, 2010 by Anju Dodiya. Water colour, charcoal & soft pastel on paper, 178 x 114 cms. Photo: Anil Rane. INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 6/2010




fascinating and revealing with a playful quality. Ravi Kumar Kashi is an artist who has extensively used photography to construct meaning. He uses a variety of objects that are positioned in rather unique ways that evoke a sense of a film montage to construct meaning that one or all the elements used may not convey individually. Kashi uses familiar images and recontextualizes them to construct and convey new meaning rendering the previously familiar images as strange and unknown. Through these objects Kashi expresses the coexistence of opposing attitudes and the dilemma that is faced in fabricating new meaning and probable constructions. Kashi demands the rearrangement of representation and his work sets new paradigms where new meanings come into existence. His compositions seem irrational at first but are a deliberate combination of imagery that impregnates the mind with new interpretations. Besides photography being used in the conventional way there are a few artists who are exploring the multidimensionality of the medium. This is evident in the works of artists like Pushpamala N. who is essentially a photo and video performance artist and is the subject in most of her

photographic endeavours. Through her work she redefines and recontextualizes photography as we know it. Through animated performances she stimulates an alternate way of seeing and making art. Her work sets a melancholic tone representing traditional women in India, striking performative photo-narratives with posed studio photographs that involve elaborate sets and costumes. She has impersonified many traditional paintings such as those of Raja Ravi Varma and others challenging the authenticity of the photograph along with exploring issues pertaining to identity. Pushpamala’s works revamps and recodes stereotypes in a discerning fashion in which she plays both the subject and the object. T.V. Santosh like many contemporary artists uses photographic references in his work, he turns a positive image into a negative which lends to a certain telescopic distance between the event and its painted representation and with the omission of certain elements the events that unfold in his work possesses horrifying undertones. The indirect representations of images are a complex weave that have been referred to from multiple sources such as magazines, the internet, newspapers, and images from cinema that allows the artist to make multiple interpretations by



‘Dream Villa 20’, 2007-2008 by Dayanita Singh. C-type print, 123 x 123 cm. Edition of 7.

constantly changing the context of the images and exploring different meanings. He is greatly influenced by ongoing events and their horrors that he develops through intertwined multilayered images. His art

possesses a certain irony that gets transformed into analogies through his painting, questioning political views, history, popular visual culture and the like. Many images that appear and reappear in INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 6/2010


Santosh’s work are those of machine guns, mushroom clouds created by a nuclear bomb etc. He tactfully plays with images with a distinctive stylistic treatment. The elements that set apart Santosh’s work

Above: ‘Engaging Buddha -1’ by Ravi Kashi. Inkjet on archival paper, 24 x 24". Edition of 6. Facing page: Fair ground entrance gate, Red Fort, 1990 by Ram Rehman.

from his other contemporaries is the photo-realism of his work clubbed with mono-chromatic rendering and the creation of different layers of meaning and the mysterious undertones. INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 6/2010


When confronted by the works of Baiju Parthan one can see the multiple influences ranging from Indian mythical arts such as tantra the ritual arts and Indian mythology, imagery of INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 6/2010


the Mandalas and the Tibetan Thankas and also being influenced by western art. Later in his career as an artist Parthan took to the understanding and the extensive use of technology

‘Abduction/The Pond’, 2009 by Pushpamala N. Cast: Pushpamala N and Suresh Jayaram, Archival Inkjet print, 40 x 60". Photo: Clay Kelton.

as he explored the underlying metaphysical implications of the infiltration of computers and technological advancements into the lives of ordinary people. He has expressed a deep rooted interest in the influence that technology emotes on the religious beliefs of people and the long-term implications of genetic engineering. Parthan possesses an extremely chimerical and mythical imagination that has culminated into an unparalleled idiom based on the extensive use of symbols and superannuated imagery.

Besides the use of photography as an uncorrupted medium and the multi-layering of the photographic image in painting and as a reworked photograph there exists a group of artists who are juxtaposing different media such as photographs, video and the painted image to form an enthralling fusion. Such a mix can be seen in the works of Ranbir Kaleka. One is captivated by the ethereal quality of an image being projected and superimposed onto a painted surface. The viewer is transported into a dream like sequence of flowing



‘Endless Chain of Revenges - II’, 2010 by T.V. Santosh. Oil on canvas, 48 x 72". Exhibited at Palazzo Saluzzo, Paesana, Torino. Courtesy: The Guild Art Gallery.

images that seem to beckon the viewer into the moving picture frame. Kaleka’s work is a multi-dimensional and a multi-layered procedure creating an aura which is a matrix of the photographic image, video and the painted image. Ranbir’s earlier work revolved around interiors and slowly he introduced landscape in his work. The exploration of space in Ranbir’s art is that of the psyche, events that take place within the psychological space of people and their minds. The transparency and subliminal existence of Ranbir’s work with

their rhythmic repetitions invites the viewer in, not to decode a complicated concept but to encode and construct their own meaning. Artists in the past and even today continually draw inspiration from their surroundings depicting simple relevant concepts which lead to great revelation. Take for instance the artists who painted the Kalighat paintings of the 19th and early 20th century, some of whom came from rural backgrounds flocking to the Kalighat temple near Calcutta, now Kolkata, INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 6/2010


were confronted by urban life throwing their thinking and values into a whirlpool of doubt and contemplation. They painted urban scenes with a satirical undertone. One such famous incident being that of the ‘Priest and Elokeshi’ in which Elokeshi the wife of Nabin was seduced by a priest and committed infidelity and in a fit of rage Nabin cut her throat. Again, in the 1940’s artists such as Gobardhan Ash, Chitta Prasad, Zainul Abedin etc. painted scenes of unemployment and Indians under distress

after the great famine that hit Bengal. With rampant unemployment and dearth of food many were dying on the streets. Even under such dire straits art remained a constant, helping people live, spreading awareness about the happenings across the nation and becoming a vehicle in the initiation of change. Artists even today use their art to make social statements and are often satires on the evils of society and modern day living.

The distinction of the artists of the past as of today is that they are engaged with a wide range of subject matter, evolving pertinent stylistic approaches created by disquietude arising from global differences and divides between cultural and economic deprivation in a consumerist world. The vast plethora of such concepts is available to artists who utilize these elements to articulate the complex sociopolitical circumstances that

envelop them or engage their sensibilities. Take for instance Nilima Sheikh who uses simple symbols to make profound statements that are governed by her personal interests and emotions. Nilima almost exclusively works on paper and has devised an interesting style that employs the lyricism of the Indian miniatures and the strong compositional value of the Japanese wood cut. Her work is mostly centered around human

relationships and everyday life; Nilima delves into the life of the subject not as an outsider but as the subject herself, whom the depicted events effect in a personal way. More recently Nilima has been preoccupied in exploring the dichotomy surrounding the Kashmir valley. On the one hand Kashmir being labeled as ‘paradise on earth’ and on the other an inferno like situation that claims the life of many innocent civilians each day. Through her work she delves into the multi cultural

‘11th Hour Chorus’, 2010 by Baiju Parthan. Archival Print (3D rendering and photo compositing), 60 x 180", (Triptych).





sensibilities that have integrated to form the Kashmir of today, the extraordinary, mythical, spectacular and magical which has been amply delineated in text and paint with the underpinning of violence, grief and trauma. Her language explores the theme of suffering of a community in the face of brutality and violence. Veer Munshi is an artist with an agenda and his body of work is almost archival in nature. The majority of his work

is centered around Kashmir, the horrors and the oppression of the people and the once vibrant culture of the state. Through his paintings and photographs he seeks to tell such stories that are almost impossible to ignore. The images created by Munshi if set aside from his oeuvre may tell another story that of the natural course of dilapidation,

neglect, ruins caused by natural disasters or war etc. However, once the viewer enters the world of Munshi it becomes near impossible to disregard the underpinning of oppression and injustice caused by terrorism that has now plagued the Kashmir Valley for over two decades. His work even though motivated by a single cause

does not subvert aesthetic significance, and evokes multiple feelings in the mind of the viewer, feelings of being watched, an ominous presence moving stealthily across the picture plane and in the mind of the spectator. N.S. Harsha through his work strives to make a political statement and with the use

of subtle and witty nuances, his work is a commentary on modern India and the lifestyle that people have come to acquire. Harsha has come to devise his own unique style that draws from the traditional miniature paintings and popular arts such as street art, posters, illustrated text books for children etc. These multiple inspirations have come to

‘Conference of Birds and Beasts’ by Ranbir Kaleka. Duratran, 24 x 60"





influence the delineation of his figures that are delicately treated with fine lines and are yet flattened, his compositions often have a contorted perspective and generally focus on an event; an event that causes great curiosity that points to something that is either odd or out of the ordinary. The events that Harsha depicts raise the levels of curiosity to the extent

Above: Leaves like hands of flame – still image from two channel video by Veer Munshi. Facing page: ‘What happened that day 1 & 2’, 2008 by Nilima Sheikh. Tempera on sanganer paper, 198 x 58.4 cms. Courtesy: Gallery Espace, New Delhi.

that it becomes infectious. His work is animated and possesses an inconspicuous undertone and is a parody pertaining to globalization and its effects on India, its people and the lifestyle that they lead. They are satires that are playfully and comically presented yet make strong and compelling statements. In the works of Atul Bhalla one is confronted by one of the supreme concerns of the contemporary world, particularly India and even more so the city of Delhi i.e. Water. He portrays and accentuates the significance of INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 6/2010


human existence with water being a critical component that supports life on the planet. Bhalla being based in Delhi has been particularly perturbed by the relationship that the people of the city share with its river Yamuna which is a tributary of the river Ganga more popularly referred to as the Ganges. The river a life line to millions of people and urban and rural communities that live along its banks is also one of the most polluted rivers of the world. He through his work aims to raise the cardinal questions of pollution and the scarcity of water. He has captured the multiple uses and roles played



Above: ‘The Epic-III’, 2010 by Jagannath Panda. Acrylic Fabric, Glue. 13’ x 7.6’, diptych. Facing page: ‘Habitual Sky Gazers’, 2010 by N.S. Harsha. Acrylic on canvas, 2.5' x 3.5'. Courtesy: Victoria Miro.

by water and how the river is being beguiled by man. Jagannath Panda presents an eclectic sequence of work that seamlessly makes contriving elements coexist. His works are minimalistic and possess a dream like quality, transient moments that are captured in time as if by a dream catcher depicting singular and occasionally two forms. His works make subtle suggestions regarding the existence of the subject and are rendered in a realistic fashion. In the works of Panda colour plays only a secondary but cardinal role as the picture plane is a INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 6/2010


confluence of multiple materials such as foil, tracing sheets, thread etc. that highlight and accentuate the image and the subject. Jagannath deals with personal issues pertaining to that of urbanization which are a culmination of his life’s experience moving from one city to another and finally settling in the city of Delhi. The conflicts that Panda deals with are that of being a rural migrant to a fast growing urban and westernized world. His works are often a matrix of multiple images tastefully juxtaposed which lends to the work a futuristic appearance.



The nature of contemporary art can be compared to that of the nature of DNA, complex strands intertwined to form complex beings. DNA in living organisms is made up of genes, each gene defining a certain characteristic feature such as hair or eye colour etc. Humanity has evolved over millions of years from single celled organisms leading to the development of complex multi cellular beings, with each minor change in the gene pattern evolution reached its epitome with the human race. Similarly, an analogy can be drawn with art that has evolved into the complex matrix

of contemporaneity that we see before us today; evolving slowly and steadily with minor changes in the gene pattern of art, that has ultimately led to what we see before us today a new “organism”. Yet some people are intimidated when confronted by this new sensibility, i.e. the new media that the artists are employing to convey relevant issues. People feel that they are being stared down by something that they don’t understand hence don’t like and can’t believe. More over the feeling that an important part of life, technology and cultural

advancement is being withheld from them, however, there is a section of people who are continually drawn to art and its new sensibilities as it inspires awe and amazement. With this said if any thing is certain in this world it is that art is there to help us live, and for no other reason. Contemporary Indian art is a treasure trove of the unfamiliar and the unexpected, the viewer is like a child with a ‘Matryoshka doll’ (Russian nesting dolls). A large doll that has smaller dolls one inside the other and a child constantly discovers the multiple layers of dolls that are revealed only on

opening the other. Similarly, art is synonymous of the doll that needs to be opened and discovered to know what it holds and what it has to offer. Art, in the multiplicity of the visual experience that it offers permeates and can almost immediately mesmerise the eye. This medley cannot be understood from afar and one must be up-close to be able to comprehend, discover and experience the simplicity that is incidentally as deep, the messages that are visible yet invisible and the experiential quality that the visual arts have to offer. Once the viewer chooses to take this embryonic

‘Water Gods’ by Atul Bhalla. 28 x 75". Archival Pigment Print, 2010. Edition of 3.





step and is tantalized by the power and experience that is being offered, subsequently the mind too is captivated and art becomes not just a part of life rather a way of life.

◆ The author is Director, National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi since 2001. An eminent artist, curator and writer, he has also held several exhibitions in India and abroad. He has served on the faculty of the College of Art, Delhi University, Jamia Millia Islamia University and is a guest faculty at several important institutions. Author’s Note: We would have desired to incorporate many more artists but due to various constraints were unable to make this article more inclusive.

A. Ramachandran ELLA DATTA


ne of the foremost artists of India, A Ramachandran has charted out a singular course for his artistic expression. Both as a painter and a sculptor, Ramachandran has established a new idiom in which man and nature share a symbiotic relationship that is unshakable and unbroken. Ramachandran’s art is marked by references to India’s mural traditions, strong control over line, vigorous brushwork and a mastery over colour. Born in 1935, Ramachandran grew up in the lush landscape of Kerala. Among the many formative influences, the flourishing vegetal backdrop and the brilliant colours of the Facing page: ‘Incarnation’, 1995. Oil on canvas, 142 x 204 cm. INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 6/2010


Kerala temple murals which he observed during his growing up years left an indelible impression. After obtaining his Master’s degree in Malayalam literature from Kerala University, Ramachandran went to Kala Bhavana, Visva Bharati in Santiniketan, West Bengal to study art. His awareness of the beauty and power of nature was further stimulated by the Santiniketan environment and its aesthetics. In 1961, he finished his art education at Kala Bhavana and was enrolled there as a research scholar for four years working on Kerala mural traditions. However, it was not till 2005 that his life-long research into the subject saw the light of day. A seminal book, Painted abode of gods: Mural traditions of Kerala was



published jointly by IGNCA and Vadehra Art Gallery. Sometime in the early years of the Sixties of the last century, Ramachandran relocated to Delhi. In 1965, he joined Jamia Millia Islamia and became a professor and head of the department of fine arts and art education. He took voluntary

retirement in 1992. Since the mid-Sixties, Ramachandran has held several one-man shows both in India and abroad. In 2003-2004, he was honoured with a retrospective of his works mounted by the National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi. Of the many commissions that he has received, his most outstanding

public sculpture was the bas-relief at Rajiv Gandhi Ninaivakam in Sriperumbudur. This monumental sculpture in granite is perhaps the largest work of public art in India. The work is a telling example of how Ramachandran can reclaim and reinvent tradition. Ramachandran has been honoured with many awards,

significant among which are Gagan-Abani Purashkar from Visva Bharati University for the year 1998, Raja Ravi Varma Award from the Government of Kerala in 2003 and the Padma Bhushan in 2005. Several features distinguish Ramachandran as an artist – his dexterity in handling material

‘The Indian Resurrection’, 1965. Oil on canvas, 385 x 179 cm.

whether it be paint or bronze, the ease with which he shifts scale from the monumental to the miniature, the vitality of his lines, the blending of intellect and emotion that he brings to the image. In the early decades of his artistic career, Ramachandran painted huge canvases showing brutalized, dehumanized figures in an expressionist style. While studying in Santiniketan, he was deeply moved by the scenes of misery and distress of East Pakistani refugees trying to find a life in post-partition Kolkata. These grotesque images of human figures embroiled in turbulence and turmoil slowly softened as the years went by and nature gradually made its presence felt in the artist’s canvases. A catalystic factor was a visit to Rajasthan in the early seventies. Ramachandran was not only fascinated by the vibrant landscape of the Udaipur region and the simplicity and directness of tribal life there but it also helped him to reconnect with Indian art traditions. In the seventies, Ramachandran painted two suites of miniatures where he brilliantly fused traditional and modernist ways of seeing. The decade was also a period of gestation for him. He undertook many experiments in ceramics, sculptures where he explored both iconic totem-like forms as well as embryonic forms.





Anjolie Ela Menon UMA PRAKASH


njolie Ela Menon’s love for beauty surfaces from the sub-conscience. Her voyage into self discovery and experiment is evident in the sheer vibrancy of her images. With her heightened sense of magical realism, mastery of colour she continues to create exquisite pieces of art in various mediums. ‘Colour lotus pond at dawn’. Oil on canvas, 78 x 168".

He designed postal stamps. He earned recognition both in India and Japan for his illustration of children’s books. In his large oils done during this decade he cited references to traditional Indian images of Nayikas painted in a modern context. He also painted the marginalized sweeper and scavenger women that he saw in the neighbourhood where he lived bringing them centrestage. The year 1986 marked a watershed for Ramachandran when he exhibited Yayati, a huge mural some sixty feet long and a small group of bronze sculptures. From this time onwards, Ramachandran’s canvases blazed with colours. He began painting the tribals around Udaipur, people who

lived on the edges of society in harmony with nature. Ramachandran imagined an idealized territory where man’s integral link with nature was a constant source of celebration. The totemic sculptures also conceptualized the bonds between the female form and the fertility of nature. His lotus ponds are an extension of this metaphor of the abundance and beauty of nature. He has painted them during the different times of the day and in various seasons. The lotus ponds, visualized as a self-contained universe, have been painted in rich, saturated colours and have become signature images by the artist.

◆ The author is a noted writer on art.



Yet another unique visual experience is created by Menon in ‘Malabar’. She draws her viewer into her panorama experience. The lyrical nuances in the flow of her lines weaves through the landscapes, taking the viewer into the deep horizon to include a chair and crows to complete the picture. Menon added window frames to her paintings giving them a new dimension like ‘Foras Road’ in 1990. With a deep sense of satire the artist exposes the sad plight of a nude prostitute in Mumbai’s notorious red light district. Her empathy for the downtrodden emerges in her paintings of Tsunami, the Gujarat riots Midday 2.

Menon (1940) studied at the JJ School of Art in Mumbai, earned a degree in English Literature from Delhi University and studied fresco in Paris at the Ecole des Beaux Arts on a French Government scholarship. While in Europe the Christian Romanesque, European church imagery and the brilliance of a Byzantine palette caught her imagination only to emerge in her iconic images of Mother and Child, Madonna and Christ Some of Menon’s narrative leads the viewer through delightful family tales. Her character is either absorbed in performing a ritual like ‘The Thread Ceremony’ or is standing pensively praying at a temple. With great panache she covers a vast spectrum of images from the portrait of Ravi Shankar called ‘Maestro’ to the breathtaking sensuality of ‘Nude on a Patch work quilt’.

Top: Anjolie Ela Menon. Above: ‘Kamal Hasan’, 1998. Found object, painted, 36 x 24 x 48".

She displays her sultry and well endowed form surrounded by innovative patterns and designs on the quilt. INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 6/2010


In ‘Follies in Fantastikal: Object Trouves-Recognized, Retrieved and Resurrected’ she reinvented rejected colonial furniture. Chairs, tables, cupboards, boxes taken from junk heaps, radiated with a new found life. By painting the image of famous South Indian actor ‘Kamal Hasan’ 1998 on a found object taken from a junk yard, Menon breathes life into it with the stroke of her brush. Menon’s experiments with different mediums include

computer aided images using collage and photography in Pentimentos. She juxtaposed different images of her works and worked on them with acrylic, oils and inks to create pieces of art like ‘Mutation’ 1997 creating an unstructured combination. Nude, serpent, boy and crocodile recreated in a fantastic digital world are added to surprise the viewer. The concept of pentimento reveals the layer beneath in a pentych or 5 images showing the different avatars of women.

of the monasteries resonated in her abstract paintings. Menon’s latest work ‘Ardh Kumbh Mela 2’ was the outcome of her visit to the Ardh Kumbh Mela in Allahabad two years ago. She catches the first ray of light in muted colours and creates an ethereal atmosphere by injecting her own fantasy to the memory of people taking holy dips in the river. Although the kite and crow have appeared in her earlier works it is the ladder that symbolizes the spiritual upward rise. To attain the delicate texture the artist used three thin layers of paint: first white followed by indigo and finally pink.

‘In Gods and Others’ a new found freedom was expressed by Menon when she transferred images from calendar art, cinema hoardings and kitsch and incorporated them with her own like ‘Conjuror’s Trick’, 2000. She juxtaposed the image of the young priest who has frequented her paintings with the conjuror in a theatrical manner, his body miraculously sliced into two. The lion below completes the magical fantasy. She experimented with used recovered cut out paper gods, bedecked with cloth and sequins, wedding cards, embellished with gold and silver, and old maps.

With her sense of beauty and finely tuned aesthetic sensibility Anjolie Ela Menon has mesmerized her viewers for the past four decades. However her unique technique and ingenius experiments bear testimony to the fact that the artist will continue to surprise and enthrall viewers in the future.

Above: ‘Thread Ceremony’, 1990. Oil on fiberglass, 48 x 90”. Courtesy: N.K. Modi. Right: Foras Road, 1990. Mixed media, 48 x 32”. Courtesy: Saryu Doshi.

of exquisite glass sculptures entitled the ‘Sacred Prism 1 and 2’. Menon’s joy is transferred on to the happy cobalt blue Balakrishna lying on his back.

◆ The author is a journalist and art critic for Asian Art News and World Sculpture News.

While her interpretation of the ferocious Kali takes an abstract mode, her deep red Ganesh chooses to sit in a meditative mood in ‘Brahmachari’.

Menon chose to experiment with glass sculpture in Murano. She created a wide range

From glass she moved to abstraction. Her creativity took a spiritual and non figurative path. Inspired by the Buddhist

‘Alchi 3’, 1996. Oil on masonite, 60 x 36”. Courtesy: Saryu Doshi. INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 6/2010


iconography of Ladakh in ‘Alchi 3’ the Buddhist chanting INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 6/2010



‘What, then is time? When nobody asks me, I know it. But when I try to explain it to someone, I don’t know it’. This quotation from the Father of the Church Augustine is frequently mentioned when the phenomenon of time is discussed. Art has Right: Arpana Caur. Below: ‘Immersion, Emergence (Nanak)’, 2005. Triptych, oil on canvas, 12 x 6'. Facing page: ‘Day and Night’, 2010. Oil on canvas, 3 x 4’. Collection: Arushi Arts.



differing access, explanations and presentations for it. In antique and medieval times,



for instance, naïve narrative sequences of pictures are formed, sequences of scenes are collocated in a single picture, particularly in the 14th and 15th century. Famous for this is the Medici-cycle in the Louvre Museum in Paris by Peter Paul Klee, Miro and Magritte did deal with the phenomenon of time many times; in particular surrealists like Dali, Max Ernst and others up to Delveaux depicted different time-layers as one single unit.

Arpana Caur (1954) affiliates to this prominent school of time-explorers. ‘I’m obsessed with the phenomenon of time’, she said once, and her pictures are witness to this obsession in many ways. It seems we realize motifs in her paintings seemingly known from classic art. Scissors are a frequently repeated symbol and remind us of the Fates, antique

goddesses of destiny, who cut the thread of life when time is due. The norms, then, spin the thread, quite like many women toiling the distaff in Arpana’s pictures. Train-tracks cross through mythical landscapes. Traffic lights are phases of order and timing. Everywhere you’ll find the river of time, from which powerful plants emerge or twisted dead trunks

‘Resilient Green’, 2010. Oil on canvas, 5 x 5.5'. Collection: Art Alive.



and branches submerge. A mediating yogi, oblivious of time and space, stands on one foot and ponders ascetically over spiritual eons. However, Arpana wouldn’t come up as a truly grand philosopher of painting when sufficing in such motifs, sets of classic scenery. She pervades the phenomenon with quite

a different intensity. Indian experience and conception of time differs from that of the western world. In India, time tied to karma and fate, which is renewed permanently and appears in varying complex forms; in the west, a teleological conception, time as a steady stream aiming at one goal. The idea of Yuga, the Indian world-era, encircles the

‘Harvest’, 1999. Oil on canvas, 167 x 137 cm.



‘Compassion’, 2008. Oil on canvas, 4 x 6’. Collection: Rajiv Kumar.

chance to create time and to recant it. In myth, fish-shaped Grand Makhara belches time as a lotus-flower and retracts it. God Vishnu appears differently in each world-era, to save it, to protect it from evil. But then he retires again to energizing slumber during an in-between-the-eras, in a no-time. Arpana’s pictures haven’t elaborated ostensibily on this theme, but cannot be received without. In her painting ‘The Lady Swimmer’ from the cycle The Legend of

Sohni, the realistic swimmer is shown against a black background, in which she merges and which engulfs her like a parting matter. Black as experience of firmness and static is counterbalanced by the river of time, passing behind the dark surface in rippled waves. A light splits the flow of motion realistically and concrete to a stop of discipline. The picture of the mediating yogi lures the spectator from proper surrounding into a timeless space. Arjuna is shown in the great rock-relief at Mahabalipuram immersed in INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 6/2010


timeless space and so does the mediator here. Flowering trees surround him and enlighten everything alive in glowing colours. But beneath him: the black river with floating branches, translucent, withered, almost bodiless. The yogi is moved far from this world, no signs of sex, no emotions discernible on his almost transcendental face. He is kindred to figures of Buddha, which Arpana painted and drew in obsessive affection. Her figures recall sculptures from the Gupta-period: round, clear, full of spiritual power

and bodily perfection. The enlightenment of Buddha, the thundering experience of Gautama Siddhartha in search of redemption, is portrayed by Arpana by contemporary means: like us drawing energy from the electric plug, the enlightenment of Buddha is experienced as plug-in. Energy, spiritual power and the world of growth and organics determine the active men in the pictures of Arpana. The women she portrays are influenced by the artistic activities of her mother, Ajeet Cour, a prominent author who writes in Punjabi; they are set to their fate and the tissue of the world. They weave and spin, they divide with organizing scissors the streams of the time and narration, they are norms, fates, goddesses of destiny at once. The activity of her great paintings of females is not limited to religiousphilosophical significance but extends always into social and political significance. For example, in one of her recent paintings a walking woman leaves the precinct of her home in order to march away into the open, into the green, into active life. Yet she is startled as tradition impedes her daring steps. The situations of Indian women, and women in general, becomes intelligible and clear by a timeless presentation. Arpana’s visual narrations for several decades formed

and styling of the bodies lead to a level of abstraction in the concrete, which we experience in a similar way only in ancient Egyptian art. No wonder she shares the predilection for large eyes, ever mirrors of the soul.

‘Hamburg – Non-commercial’. Mural on wall with Sonke Nissen, 2001, 50 x 50'.

a block: the concrete versus the abstract. Arpana has always insisted in telling about thoughts and actions in her paintings. She follows thus the tradition of sequences of tales as they are presented in Tamil Nadu and Kerala, and also in Punjab from where she hails. The way she tells stories is akin to modern Indian-English literature as conceived by Salman Rushdie and Vikram Chandra. However, inside the Indian art circle and in the international world of painting Arpana represents an autonomous quality. Graphic elements are joined with illustrative and pictorial ones. Each of them aims at a different frame of presentation. Abstract and realistic merge without blending. Form and colour gain importance. Smoothness INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 6/2010


Only few artists of the present Indian art scene have such an eminent influence and are present in all important art-centers of the world. Arpana’s paintings are to be found in all major collections in Museums of Modern Art in Delhi, Mumbai, Chandigarh, Bhopal, Dhaka, LA, Singapore, Hiroshima, Victoria and the Albert Museum London, Bradford, Kunst Museum Düsseldorf, MOCA Los Angles, Asian Art Museum San Francisco, Peabody Essex Boston, and Ethnografiska Museum Stockholm. Her positive, always active and social oriented oeuvre obtains energy from an immense pleasure in pictures and narrations bonded to time and space. Secular and spiritual aspects blend. In Faust by J.W Geothe the protagonist conjures the spirit of Earth; the latter, in describing himself, defines almost the genius of Arpana: ‘So I am producing on the dashing loom of time, thus creating God’s living raiment’.

◆ The author is a German expert in contemporary Indian art.

Translated by Dr. Ernst Fuchs, Munich.

Arpita Singh ELLA DATTA


ne of India’s outstanding modern artists, Arpita Singh has inscribed a recognizable stamp on Indian art of our times. Born in 1937 in Baranagar, a northern suburb of Kolkata, Arpita lost her father at a very young age. Arpita’s mother along with her daughter and son moved to Delhi in the mid-40s. Untitled, 1974. Poster colour, pastel & ink on paper, 10.5 x 14". Courtesy: Vadehra Art Gallery

‘Night Cab’, 2007. Watercolour on paper, 14.5 x 11". Courtesy: Vadehra Art Gallery





After finishing school, Arpita started studying art at the Department of Fine Arts in 1954. Five years later, she finished her art education with record-breaking marks. In 1960, Arpita along with her former classmates formed a group ‘The Unknowns’ which exhibited every year till it dissolved four years later. Since then Arpita participated in group shows regularly and earned critical acclaim right from the start. In 1962, she married fellow-artist and her senior at art college, Paramjit Singh. Her daughter, Anjum, who is also an artist, was born in 1967. In the early seventies, Arpita held her first solo show at Kunika Chemould. Subsequently, Arpita has shown extensively both in India and abroad. Among the awards that Arpita has won, mention must be made of Kalidas Samman from the Madhya Pradesh Government in 1998-99, and the Gagan-Abani Purashkar from Kala Bhavana, Visva Bharati University, West Bengal in 2008. Over the fifty years of her artistic trajectory, Arpita has established a recognizable idiom both in oil and watercolour. Beginning with abstract and semi-abstract images in the earliest stages of her painting, Arpita has swung between the abstract and the figurative in her artistic journey. ‘My Lollypop City; Gemini Rising’, 2005. Oil on canvas, 60 x 84". Courtesy: Vadehra Art Gallery.





Her experiments with abstraction appear to be exploratory exercises before she embarks on a new phase of image-making. Arpita’s art is marked by an exuberant palette, a child-like naiveté in the simplification of forms, rich ornamentation of the surface and a marvelous control over the lyrical lines. She deftly creates a dream-state in her canvases or introduces a whimsical fantasy by the random placement of the figures and the apparently whimsical but rhythmic repetition of forms. To Arpita, the blank canvas is like a child’s playground where she plays out profound existential questions relating to life and death. The opposing pulls of love and death contribute a great deal to her enigmatic images. Even as there is a joyous abandon in the toy cars, the bird/airplane forms, the fruits and flowers, the droll ducks, there is also a melancholy note in the sadfaced men and women, a sense of menace in the gun-wielding men, a hint of doom in the supine male figures. Even as Arpita paints the portentious finality of death, she also uses as counterpoint elements from nature as promises of hope and life. The inside/outside dialectic

Arpita’s handling of both oil and watercolour are quite distinctive. In oil, she builds up a glittering surface by adding layers of thick, viscous pigment. Her subversive use of colours such as pink, blue, bright yellow add to the poignancy of her image. Her use of watercolours is very different. Here she adds texture to the surface by applying layers of transparent paint and then rubbing them down and then painting over them again. She achieves a mysterious shadowy feel in her watercolours. Besides oils and watercolours, Arpita regularly does drawings. Her strong lines make her monochromatic drawings unforgettable visual experiences. For a while, she also did reverse paintings on acrylic sheets in the nineties. Also in the nineties, she worked out images for carpets and ceramic plates. Arpita has an impeccable sense of space and design.

‘Ashvamedha’, 2008. Oil on canvas, 60 x 108". Courtesy: Vadehra Art Gallery

lend an intriguing edge to her paintings. Often the intimacy of the domestic space is counterbalanced by the busy, chaotic scenes outside. Of late, Arpita has been mapping

locales and also reaching out to the skies. She seems to be contextualizing human beings and their place in the universe. Apart from such iconic paintings INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 6/2010


such as ‘My mother’, ‘My lollipop city’, ‘Whatever is here’ among others, perhaps the most haunting mark that Arpita has left on Indian art is her representation of the

female form. She has painted the female body engaged in everyday activity. She has painted her in all her sensuousness and statement of sexuality. She has painted her melancholy mood at the

loss of youth, her sadness lodged in the flaccid creases of her ageing body. Some of the most memorable images of the female form can be seen in the series ‘Feminine fables’ painted in the nineties. INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 6/2010


Her sources of inspiration are many. From folk arts and crafts to textile arts to graphic symbols in popular culture, Arpita’s canvases are replete with references from such diverse sources. At the same time, she is well aware of the classical art traditions. Her genius lies in that she can appropriate them and leave the stamp of her unique imagination on them.

◆ The author is a noted writer on art.



tul Dodiya’s art is nourished by his longstanding interests in literature, cinema, political history and popular culture. Dodiya (born Bombay, 1959) has consistently explored the conceptual problems of art-making while remaining engaged with the complex cultural politics of his lifeworld: an India being reshaped by the processes of globalisation. His work spans painting, sculpture-installation and mixed-media artefacts; these seemingly diverse manifestations are unified by several interrelated trajectories of artistic concern, of which I shall outline five here, to indicate the contours of Dodiya’s imagination. The first of these trajectories is an allegorical dramatization of the artist’s life in the studio. This is best seen in such paintings, conceived as grand pictorial machines, as ‘Sour Grapes’ (1997), ‘Dadagiri’ (1998), ‘Gangavataran: After Raja Ravi Varma’ (1998), and ‘Highway for Mansur’ (1999). These works are literary in structure and delight in their self-reflexivity: here, Dodiya revitalizes the picture space with a richly INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 6/2010


rubric, Dodiya’s ‘Cracks in Mondrian’ (2004–05), a series that encrypts his ongoing obsessions with his favourite artists and art-works. In the Mondrian paintings, he references an artistic genealogy he has created for himself, with Mondrian, Benodebehari Mukherjee, Jasper Johns, Raja Ravi Varma, Gerhard Richter and Mansur as his ancestors and exemplars.

Top: Atul Dodiya Above: ‘Letter from a Father’, 1994. Oil & Acrylic on canvas 72 x 48". Facing page: ‘Sour Grapes’, 1997. Oil & Acrylic on Canvas, 69 x 48".

referential and intertextual handling of resources. We may also include, under this INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 6/2010


Dodiya’s second trajectory involves a meditation on the postcolonial nation-state and on the uncertain fate of the artist-as-citizen within it, and is most strikingly articulated in paintings like the iconic ‘Man with Chakki’ (1998) and the ten large-format watercolours collectively titled ‘Tearscape’ (2001). The overwhelming presence that dominates Tearscape, attended by such symbols as a precariously located house, a shipwreck, a giant turtle, and a skull in the belly, is a female figure: part-ascetic, part-madwoman, part-demoness. She is not the beatific Mother India, idealized as a goddess in the mythology of patriotism, but an altogether different and terrifying entity: the embodiment of an India threatened with schism

belief that individuals can craft their selfhood from diverse cultural materials; that they do not merely play out the scripts of an inherited national, ethnic or religious identity. Through the 48 large-scale watercolours that form his 2008 series, ‘Pale Ancestors’, for instance, Dodiya asserts the importance of a culturally amplified selfhood. We meet many of Dodiya’s patron saints and guardian angels here: the artists Bihzad and Fontana, the filmmakers Pasolini and Bergman, the saints Sabari and Ramana Maharishi. Longstanding Dodiya interests such as the glow of the stain, the body articulating itself between torture and yoga, and the conflict of Eros and Thanatos, are enshrined in this polyphonic project. Pale Ancestors celebrates that formative agent of history, the self-making self, which stands at the centre of Dodiya’s artistic universe.

and violence, a motherland driven mad by turmoil and fragmentation. In contrast to this idiom of critique, Dodiya often revisits the charismatic figure of Mahatma Gandhi, vital to the liberal Gujarati ethos of his upbringing. In paintings like ‘Bapu at Rene Block Gallery, New York 1974’ (1998), he has used the archival photograph as a starting-point to generate powerful fictive portraits of the Mahatma as a healer and redeemer. Dodiya’s third trajectory is that of the autobiographical narrative, the articulation of an oblique self-portrait through his social and cultural investments. The artist secures the earliest habitats of his emotional life in paintings like ‘Letter from a Father’ (1994), ‘Night Studio’ (1994), and ‘Douanier, My Father’s Moustache’, and ‘Other Stories’ (1996), which evoke his family and neighbourhood. In this vein, Dodiya draws on intimate mnemonic details such as the popular religious icons, academic-realist landscapes and folk-wisdom parables of his childhood in the Bombay suburb of Ghatkopar. Using demotic materials like the movie poster, Dodiya has also produced exquisite pictorial fictions of the self: an outstanding example is ‘The Bombay Buccaneer’ (1994), in which he portrays himself as

◆ The author is a poet, cultural theorist, curator and has written several books on art. ‘Gangavataran: after Raja Ravi Verma’, 1998. Oil, Acrylic and Marble Dust on Canvas, 84 x 60". ‘Man with Chakki’, 1998. Enamel paint and mirrors laminate, 72 x 48".

an amalgam of James Bond, Shahrukh Khan, and Dürer. Indeed, the fourth of Dodiya’s trajectories arises from his fascination with the peculiarly INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 6/2010


public yet secret, picaresque yet poignant realm of popular culture. In paintings like ‘Heroic Fiddling’ (1996) and ‘Gabbar on Gamboge’ (1997), Dodiya charts the realm of

collective fantasy embodied in the cinema. Employing images both from classic and popular cinema, he invokes the cult films of Satyajit Ray, Ritwik Ghatak, Guru Dutt and Mehboob Khan, as well as the commercial movies of the

1930s, cast as Perso-Arabic fantasies or ‘mythologicals’ based on Hindu epics, and the kitschy Hindi movies of the 1970s. The fifth trajectory that I shall discuss here affirms Dodiya’s INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 6/2010


Bose Krishnamachari NIVEDITA MAGAR


ose Krishnamachari (1963) juggles between his many identities as a practicing multi-media artist, collector, philanthropist, co-curator/director of Gallery BMB, Mumbai. More recently, Bose along with Riyas Komu, is the artistic director of the forthcoming Kochi-Muziris Biennale, scheduled to launch in 2011. As an artist, Bose is prolific in his output, operating confidently in a range of expressive strategies: the most distinctive among these would be the tendency to confront and redress the imbalances in institutional structures while working within the systems that contain them. His works have shown widely in some of the most significant international exhibitions over the past decade, and are part of several respected collections both private and institutional. Not only was his work included in the ‘Indian Highway’ (London, Oslo, Herning, 2008, 2009, 2010) show, he was also invited to curate a sub-section within it; he was similarly invited to guest curator the ‘Panorama: India’ section of the fair, ARCOmadrid in Spain, 2009. As a curator, Bose Krishnamachari has remained committed to his role as catalyst

Bose Krishnamachari. Photo: Shankar Natarajan.

for change, particularly when it comes to the ways in which viewers approach, respond and ‘consume’ contemporary art. One of his earliest curatorial projects, ‘Bombay x 17’ (Bombay, Kochi, 2004), featured works by 17 Bombay-based artists. The show in Kochi was accompanied by a symposium in which participating artists with local practitioners examined the issue of whether the visual arts had been side-lined in Kerala and if so why. This show, prompted the heraldic, ‘Bombay Boys’ (Delhi, 2004), which was followed by, ‘Double-Enders’ (Mumbai, New Delhi, Bangalore, Kochi, INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 6/2010


2005), that featured works by sixty-nine artists, all of whom had their roots in Kerala. The ‘Mallu Artists’ show as it came to be spoken of, received its share of criticism for applying what was seen as a regionalist criterion of selection. The show, however, played a crucial role: it gave a platform to lesser-known, emergent artists, exposing them to a nationwide viewership (and was thus significantly instrumental in launching their careers), besides, and more importantly, it introduced the rest of the country to the astonishing diversity and maturity of artistic voices from Kerala. Comparable in scale and range of practices, was the show, ‘Her Work is Never Done’ (Mumbai, 2010) which featured works by 26 women artists that variously demonstrated a resistance to established systems of orders, and a tendency to question normative ascriptions. As an artist, Bose’s versatile modes of expression have, over the years, included painting, drawing, photography, sculpture and assemblage. His paintings draw from figurative as well as abstract traditions. Mondrian’s intention of seeking to ‘stretch the line’, as he painted it repeatedly over itself, inspired

‘Plot’, 2005. Oil and acrylic on canvas, 54 x 90".

Bose’s energetic abstract series, ‘Stretched Bodies’. These works stretch not only the ‘line’ but also colour and texture: by choosing to paint in fast-drying acrylics, that compel him to work on each canvas, within a brief span of time, and by adopting a technique which allows for “maximum accidents with maximum freshness”. Bose’s paintings have been drawing on abstraction and minimalism since as far back as the 1990s: his first solo show in Mumbai featured works with a series of regular perforations and impressions that resembled the Braille script. Enclosed within frames, displayed on the

immaculate walls of a white cube space, the works that could not be touched to be ‘read’, posed an ironic comment on art gallery decorum and approaches to contemporary culture. A long, debilitating period of ill-health in Bose’s early youth effected a preoccupation with ‘memory’ and ‘blindness’. Early articulations of the latter are evidenced in the frequent referential use of Braille-like dots on paintings (‘Plot’, 2005), raised-point texturing (‘Music of the Cubes’, 1993), and perforations (on the edges of ‘Dandy’, 1995 & 2005, and ‘Objects of Attention’, 1995 &



‘Exist’ (Mumbai, 2005) stages the formerly cited preoccupation, the notion of ‘memory’. Spread across two gallery spaces this body of works enacts a play between history, remembrance and re-contextualization. In an attempt to locate his work within an immediate historical context and to offer the viewer a chance to map the progression from one body of works to the next, this show re-visited nearly a decade and a half of the artist’s oeuvre in a self-styled, solo retrospective. Aside from new works and older ones that were on loan, some bodies of work like ‘Objects of Attention’ and ‘Dandy’, first made in 1995, were re-created specifically for the show in 2004, and 2005 respectively. ‘White Builder and the Red Carpet’, 1x1 Dubai.

2004) that sprinkle his canvases. These meditations on blindness culminate in recent works like, ‘Love’ and ‘Minus + Minus = Plus’ (2010) – wall-sculptures that draw eloquently from minimalism and comprise small, white knobs that spell titles’ texts in Braille. “Perforated peripheries” carry various resonances for the artist. Visually, they reference the perforations in publicity billboards. Conceptually, they represent the essence of the Sanskrit phrase, ‘Tama soma Jyotir gamaya’ (which roughly

translates into, “From the darkness lead us towards the light”). Whereas formally, the dots articulate the structure of a grid. Grid-lines, possibly one of the most oft-used drawing tools, help the skilled draftsman to maintain accurate, relative, proportions while scaling an image up or down. The grid is a recurrent visual component in Bose’s works, sometimes structuring his display design (the series of portraits in ‘Ghost’, 2008) and at other times, has a presence in his figurative “life-drawings” (‘MOB Relocated’, 2005).



Echoing, Larry Halprin’s view of research and documentation as “a protest against forgetting,” Bose’s practice has consistently addressed the importance of archiving, and the process of museumization/canonization. ‘A Museum’ (Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai, 1992) which collapses the words, “Amuse” and “Museum”, featured large, sculptural installations fashioned out of books (symbolizing established canonical hierarchies) that had been written over with largely illegible, poetry, “defaced, ornamented and mummified” with a profusion of colour.

Subsequent bodies of works, like ‘Objects of Attention’ (Mumbai, Delhi, 1995) and ‘Persistence of Memory’ (Mumbai, Delhi, 1997) sought to “museumize” and render iconic, the mundane, non-spectacular aspects of contemporary culture – whether workmen’s tools and the ubiquitously used and transported, ‘tiffin dabba’ (lunch box) in the case of ‘Objects’…, or a selection of 13 poets each, from Kerala and Maharashtra , in ‘Persistence’…. The artist often returns to the iconic dabba and their legendary ‘herders’, the dabbawalas, whether in skillfully rendered, ballpoint on paper portrait sketches, or sculptural installations like the widely shown, ‘Ghost/ Transmemoire’ (preview, Mumbai, New York, Lille, 2006). This work comprises a profusion of dabbas, containing small LCD monitors mounted on an iron scaffolding structure, with a tangle of wires, headphones, and hand straps, similar to those found in local, public transport vehicles like busses and trains. This reference to public transport relates to his view that a traveling show (like the one this work was first shown in) is in itself a potent channel of “cultural transportation”. The monitors inside the boxes screen conversations with a range of Mumbaikars, speaking variously about “displacement, delight, or dejection”. INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 6/2010


Projects like ‘DeCurating’ (Mumbai, Cochin, Bangalore, 2003) and ‘LaVA’ (Mumbai, 2007, 2009-10, Bangalore, Kolkata, Kochi, Baroda and New Delhi, 2007) take his early concerns with archiving further: here the artist dons the mantle of watch-guard and canonist of the contemporary zeitgeist in one, and that of archivist, educator in the other. In the catalogue accompanying the show, Bose describes the series, ‘DeCurating - Indian Contemporary Artists’, as an act/intention of “making of memorabilia”: the 94 handcrafted ‘artefacts’, pay homage to a personal canon of all those contemporary Indian artists, himself included, who (in the artist’s estimation) have made seminal contributions to the recent history of contemporary art and who, must, imperatively be acknowledged and remembered. This work was made at a time when the artist felt the conspicuous lack of a systematic body of research and documentation that maps the contours of contemporary Indian art; DeCurating may be seen as an attempt to point out and redress this lack. Besides archive-construction, ‘LaVA - Laboratory of Visual Arts’, coalesces two other areas of long-standing engagement: design and architecture. This body comprises a ‘shifting’ archive of books, catalogues, audio material and DVDs that

G. Ravinder Reddy ANUPA MEHTA


ndhra based sculptor, G. Ravinder Reddy’s (1956) work draws from several traditions to arrive at an unmatched grandeur which is entirely contemporary.

‘Stretched Bodies’, 2009. Acrylic on canvas, 72 x 36"

covered a wide range of trends in international art, design, film, fashion and architecture over the past five decades. The archive is housed in vibrantly coloured and sensitively designed, modular display units that may be re-composed to suit the dimensions of the display space. LaVA seeks to pose “a challenge to existing institutions and their outmoded modes of pedagogy” and demonstrates how an artist and a gallery could extend their roles as producers of collectables and sales-and-profit driven mechanisms, respectively, to evolve into strategic repositories of knowledge systems. ‘White Builders and the Red Carpets’ (Mumbai, Dubai,

2008) made for the show, ‘Everywhere is War’ appears to re-stage Leonardo Da Vinci’s ‘The Last Supper’, as an empty podium at a press conference, with thirteen, white chairs like towering constructions set against a long red table holding a mass of microphones. Microphone-wires snake out from (Bose’s trademark) Braille-like perforations in the table to lie limply, unplugged on the floor. The reference to the press conference calls attention to the politics of the control and distribution of information as those in positions of power wield religion to wage wars and build (or destroy) communities for their own vested interests. This work marks a departure from INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 6/2010


earlier installations in its overtly political stance and anticipates a wider scope of engagement in Bose Krishnamachari’s artistic trajectory.

Among India’s feted contemporary artists, G. Ravinder Reddy’s early exposure to various sculptural traditions, including African, Mayan, Nepalese, Thai, Japanese Buddhist and Indian, resulted in an ongoing quest to “make the visual beautiful”. The artist’s interest in Mathura sculptures as also

G. Ravinder Reddy

in the sensuous modeling seen within Hindu iconography, are two important points in any discourse about his unique idiom, known for its monumental scale and stylized symmetry.

Recognized for their lush, sensual and iconic figuration, Ravinder Reddy’s painted fiberglass sculptures are birthed out of an eclectic marriage between the systematic grammar of traditional sculpture, the unbridled sensuousness of folk and tribal imagery, and the flamboyant, celebratory nature of international contemporary pop practice. His vivid and bold colour palette exemplifies this admirably. Painted in bright primary enamel colours and imbued with a strong erotic charge, Ravinder Reddy’s sculptures aspire to draw

‘Family’, 1996-97. Painted Polyester Resin Fiberglass. Height 105 x width 205 x depth 130 cm.

◆ The author is an independent curator, writer and editor.

All quotations in the text are those of the artist, Bose Krishnamachari. These have been gathered over the course of several conversations with the artist and from statements in various published catalogues.



component in the artist’s approach.

attention to the pristine beauty of the human form. Colour, an integral part of the artist’s oeuvre, is used primarily with a view to accentuate form – its volume.

In the early years, Ravinder Reddy chose to work only with terracotta and bronze casting. In the 80s he discovered the tactile flexibility afforded by fiber glass. In recent years, several large public commissions at international venues lead him to once again cast in bronze at international foundries that were able to fulfill his requirements of scale. The impact of these monumental works is akin to being confronted by larger than life religious icons from an imaginary pantheon.

Form thus remains the mainstay of his oeuvre, even as aspects of the ceremonial and elements of kitsch blend together fluidly to dazzle the eye: the surface grandeur, which lends the voluptuous gilded figurines an air of royal splendour, too draws attention to the meticulous modeling of the form. The aesthetics of form, as seen either in the female heads, the full frontal female nude, or the male torso, remain of prime importance to him. He says: “Decoration is but a way of breaking surface monotony: volume is broken by adding earrings, nose rings or painting the lips in different colours, so that diverse materials and contrasting hues set each other off in dramatic ways drawing attention to the primacy of form.” In the course of a trajectory that spans nearly three decades, Ravinder Reddy’s monumental figurative works have been honed with remarkable skill. They are now presented with perceptible refinement.

‘Migrant’, 2010. Painted Polyester Resin Fiberglass. Height 44 x width 21 x depth 21". (front and profile view attachments). INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 6/2010


The artist’s larger interest lies in recording change. The rural/urban divide and the paradoxical shifts of urbanization form the fecund field from where he continues to harvest his imagery. In the process, the work becomes (also) a social commentary.

‘Bronze Head for Diego’, 2009-10. Gold Gilt and Paint on Bronze. Height 300, width 193, and depth 271 cm.

Each work has become more elaborate with reference to finishing and detailing. The emphasis on the decorative, especially towards hair adornments and jewellery is greater. The eyes too are treated differently. There is a definite shift in terms of proportion

and elongation. The poetically named women’s heads possess a more confident allure: They are, at once, goddesses and seductresses, in varying degrees. The sculptural tableau though depict the human condition with certain poignancy – empathy is an important INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 6/2010


Drawn to the tribal and the folk idiom, where grace lies in the expression and texture, he is also drawn to the abiding lure of the classical. Ravinder Reddy’s work continues to be a resplendent and entirely contemporary amalgamation of these lively and formal strains.

◆ The author is an arts consultant and writer.


Below: ‘Relics’, 1982. Tempera On Paper, 35 x 45 cm. Facing page: ‘The Princess’, 1967. Tempera, 21 x 17 cm.






anesh Pyne’s paintings, born of his poetic vision of life, hold a mirror to our turbulent and mysterious inner selves. They reveal a magical and enigmatic world of shadows where dreams often turn into nightmares, life blooms even as death seems to be triumphant, and sardonic humour is the flipside of agony and despair. Wild emotions and lawless urges that we hide behind a front of respectability are released in his dimly-lit temperas glowing with rich veins of colour. Like a magician, a recurrent motif in his work, he conjures up archetypal images dredged out of the collective consciousness. Born in 1937, Pyne was raised in a small, gloomy house in a dingy lane in crowded central Calcutta where the play of light and darkness made a lasting impression on his mind. Animal forms and movements, more than human beings, had always fascinated Pyne, and this could be traced to a Garuda figure he had seen in a neighbour’s house. Fairy tales and bedtime stories he heard from his grandmother had introduced him to many such chimeras. A picture of the universe revealed in a Krishna visage had brought him in close contact with superreality, breaking the boundaries of logic. Pyne had been under the influence of Abanindranath Tagore from childhood, and

and encouraged him to break out of the rigidity inherent in art college training. Thereafter, he achieved greater flexibility and freedom. Simultaneously, as a member of the Society of Contemporary Artists, he was in the thick of the art movement in Calcutta, and this parallel consciousness kindled ideas that later found shape in his canvases. The alchemy of his imagination transformed the childlike and humorous images into a fanged and snarling beast, the boatman on a stretch of water, putrefying fossils, isolated and crumbling buildings washed in baleful moonlight.

Ghostly visages peer through the lamp-lit gloaming. The richness of life and starkness of death are juxtaposed. Flowers bloom in a ribcage, spring in the form of a luscious maiden entices a skeletal ascetic. A pretty little prince is perched on a mount whittled down to dry bones. In a painting suffused with sinister eroticism, a queen holds a conversation with an anthropomorphic bird. He raises the ghost of a childhood that was not a state of innocence but already had knowledge of evil. In a moment of self-pity the artist wears a menacing grin or is mutated into a midget. At

‘The Animal’, 1972. Tempera on canvas, 57 X 62 cm ‘The Blue Boat’, 1980. Tempera on canvas, 51x54 cm

many of his compositions in the mid-1950s were inspired by the Bengal School. Rembrandt had cast his spell on him and so did Paul Klee, whom he discovered at a lec-dem by Paritosh Sen. At the same time, Pyne did exhaustive studies of the Bishnupur, Orissa and Varanasi temples. He was also greatly affected by poet Sakti Chattopadhyay’s recitation in the 1960s of one of his own compositions which spoke of roaring and turbulent waters, a corpse and the lawless wind. Pyne passed out of the Government College of Art & Craft, Calcutta, in 1962, and thereafter he was employed by INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 6/2010


Mandar Mallik, an amazingly creative man obsessed with animated cartoons who was in correspondence with Walt Disney.

times he is a sage, both god-like and human. In yet another self-portrait that gives a rare glimpse into his “ambivalent” existence, his eyes burn like those of a cat in the dark. This is a portrait more befitting a Medusa than the gentlemanly artist that Pyne is. When Pyne sketches he is not guided by an idea or a theme developed beforehand. While he doodles he weaves a web of lines that synthesises and gives birth to his phantasmagoric imagery, often tempered with irony. He does not hesitate to admit that “the visual experience of my art is an extension of the colours and forms absorbed in childhood.” His mind is like a melting pot in which diverse influences have crystallised taking an independent form of its own. His work does not develop in a unilinear manner, and dreams and memories continue to be wellsprings of his art. There is no radical change either as he follows tradition. Pyne has no regrets that contemporary political realities find no reflection in his art. His art is still a quest for the grail of self-discovery.

Mallik employed a rather primitive technique to make his animated cartoon films, and Pyne was required to make several hundred sketches every day. During the 15 years he was employed in Mandar studio from 1962 to 1977, several animated films were made, and as the sole animator, Pyne’s cartoons, some based on Panchatantra tales, were pure Disney. This had a liberating influence on Pyne

◆ The author is a journalist and writer on visual arts. Photographs: Asit Poddar



Gulammohammed Sheikh GAYATRI SINHA


he wide angled embrace of Gulam Sheikh’s view places him within and outside his time, within India’s modern art movement but also beyond it, into other times and image fields. In the manner of an earlier time where artists viewed the canvas as a world map, or the tabula rasa as an entire cosmogony, Sheikh’s world is real but also fabulous, steeped in the voices and writing and philosophies of the past – that touch and transform the present.

Below: Kahat Kabir, ‘Soor aur shabda’, 1997. Gouache, 76 x 56 cm. Collection: Lalit Nirula, New Delhi. Facing page: ‘Tree of Life’, 1996. Oil on canvas mounted on board, 8.54 x 6.67 mtrs. Site: Vidhan Bhavan, Bhopal.





images and literary traditions. Thus his landscape, its heroes, their utterances are all informed with a particular universalism, one that has stood the test of time. By a curious alchemy, Sheikh’s world view since the 1990’s evokes routes and territories without borders, vast landscapes that beckon the willing traveller through an undulating Eurasia, a map formed for the innocence of a

Born in Surendranagar, Gujarat in 1937, Gulammohammed Sheikh has worked towards the realization of multiple scales of time, and progression within the fabric of the modern. As an academic who taught at the MS University Baroda, Sheikh has also had a deep engagement with modern Indian art and artists, regional literature and critical writing, pedagogy and exposition. A prolific writer in Gujarati, a critic and ideologue, Gulammohammed Sheikh brings to his painting a vast reservoir of (art) histories,

Left: Gulammohammed Sheikh. Below: ‘Book of Journeys’. Accordion format book, 1996-2007. Gouache. Each page 9 x 11".

‘Kaavad’, 2008. Travelling shrine, Home – 34 panels back & front. 244 (H) x 782 (W) and 732 (D) cm.

child’s view as much as for a synoptic, cosmic gaze. These are the worlds opened up by a Chenghiz Khan and Marco Polo, of conquest and trade and the inevitable cultural osmosis that followed. What Sheikh seeks to privilege here is the consequent efflorescence – of poetry and exchange. In his endeavour one may see at least two distinct strains. The first is his examination of the city, his own home, namely Baroda, in a series of works like ‘City for Sale’ (1982-84) with the noise, clamour crush and potential violence of a city street. Here he devises split and INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 6/2010


multiple perspectives – perhaps the gaze of a wandering cloud or djinn that reveals the small gestures of congested even violent domestic interiors. Using traditional Indo-Persian and Siennese painting like a memory bank, Sheikh plays with real and imaginary worlds. Seen through the haze of his strong palette, the works invariably have high architectural definition, and thus a sense of the local, as well as a fabulous component of angels and djinns and other visitants that charm and elude and render the ordinary magical. Even within local referents, Sheikh accesses the national, and some of the



acute tensions of our time. One of Sheikh’s most finely realized works of this period is ‘Mirage/Marichika’, 2001 which integrates popular art and miniature painting, documentary photography. Laid out like a schematic architectural painting reminiscent of traditional miniature rendition the work invokes the documentary photo evidence of the breaking of the Babri Masjid within the legacy of Ram as heroic warrior. From the mid 1990s, this engagement with the tense excitable sprawl of India’s urban spaces made way for another figure, the peacable bhakti poet Kabir, claimed equally by Hindus and Muslims. The figure of Kabir, serving as landscape/earth as a repository for habitation and the elements has appeared in his work like a moral colloseus, sentinel of the ideas of truth and brotherhood. Sheikh has also explored the kaavad, a traditional story telling device that itinerant story tellers would use as they sang of heroic deeds. As a subaltern poet of the masses, Kabir spoke of a universal brotherhood and freedom from dogma, a compelling position in a frequently polarized society.



Sheikh transforms the kaavad by personalizing the narrative, to quote his own paintings. Enlarging it into a room like structure that reference his own work, the kaavad in his hands plays with the idea of the opening and closing art work as autobiography, one that will simultaneously reveal and conceal and that can be only partially understood, at a given time.

◆ The author is a writer, art critic and curator.

‘Meghdoot’, 1988. Oil on canvas, 169 x 118 cm.


In Sheikh’s painting he returns as witness/ participant, a silent commentator on societies rent apart by polarity. Like his semi autobiographical short stories in Gujarati, these works are closely self referential. In the manner of the large format Hamza Nama paintings, Sheikh’s works can be read like scrolls, through multiple angular points of entry. This device of being framed by the city appears with stunning effect in ‘The Mappamundi Suite 2 Looking for Layla’ digital collage gouache on inkjet 58.5 x 70 and ‘Visitors of the Sky ceiling Kaavad’ 12 x 16 which combine photography and painting to tease out different registers of recognition and response.


J. Swaminathan S. KALIDAS


n artist, writer, ideologue, institution maker and activist – Jagdish Swaminathan (1928-1994) straddled worlds of art, ideas and politics in his tempestuous life. Having run away from his colonial bureaucrat father’s home at the age of 16 to join the Congress Socialist Party (CSP) in 1943, he was a ‘selfwilled’ artist of extraordinary determination who laid the

foundation for an indigenous understanding of contemporary art. Inspired by both Gandhi and Marx, he was an ardent champion of folk and tribal artists and his influence on the Indian modern art scene is considered as seminal.

Left: Jagdish Swaminathan. Courtesy: J. Swaminathan Archive. Below: Untitled, 1986. Oil on canvas, 114 x 80 cm. Left: ‘Dwani Vimb’, 1973. Oil on canvas, 124 x 124 cm. Right: Untitled, 1970. Oil on canvas, 15 x 15". Courtesy: J. Swaminathan Foundation.

J. Swaminathan was born in 1928 in Simla. Passionately fond of drawing and painting right from childhood, Swaminathan was educated in Delhi and Simla. As the Quit India movement gathered momentum, Swaminathan left home and college and became a member of the Congress Socialist Party (CSP) in 1943. Here he came under the spell of stalwarts and leaders like Acharya Narendradev, Jayaprakash Narain, Ram Manohar Lohiya and Aruna Asaf Ali. Later, after independence, he moved to the Communist Party of India (CPI) but left active politics in 1955; though his association with the Left-wing causes and the news magazine ‘Link’ (and later the newspaper ‘Patriot’) continued till 1968. INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 6/2010


Although he worked as a journalist during the day, he attended the evening art classes at the Delhi Polytechnic for some time and was deeply influenced by the romantic and bohemian figure of Sailoz Mukherjee. In 1958, Swaminathan went to study graphic art at the Academy of Fine Arts, Warsaw, Poland, for a short stint. In August 1962, Swaminathan along with some like-minded young artists founded the ‘Group 1890’. Rejecting all that came before them in one broad ideological sweep, the manifesto of the Group written by Swaminathan declared: “Art for us,” wrote Swaminathan, “is not born out of a preoccupation with the human condition. We do not sing of man, nor are we



Bhavan was inaugurated by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in February 1984. Swaminathan wrote two important essays – ‘Pre-naturalistic Art and Post-naturalistic Vision’ and the ‘Perceiving Fingers’ – on the art of the adivasis while at Bharat Bhavan. He resigned from Bharat Bhavan in 1991.

his messiahs… Art is neither conformity to reality nor a flight from it. It is reality itself, a whole new world of experience, the threshold for the passage into the state of freedom.” The Group’s first and only exhibition in Delhi was inaugurated by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru in 1963. Poet Octavio Paz, who was at that time the Mexican ambassador in Delhi, wrote the introduction for the catalogue. Swaminathan held several group and solo shows through the 1960s. With Paz he jointly brought out a short lived but influential journal of ideas called ‘Contra 66’. Paz in a sense mentored Swaminathan in his philosophic and cultural outlook and became a close friend. In 1967 Paz wrote a poem titled ‘To the Painter Swaminathan’ for Swaminathan’s exhibition catalogue and which has subsequently formed a part of Paz’s collection of poems written in India, ‘Ladera Este’. The next year, Swaminathan was awarded the Jawaharlal Nehru Fellowship to study the ‘Relevance of the Traditional Numen in Contemporary Art’. This led to a passionate engagement with folk and tribal arts of India that lasted till his death. At this time, Swaminathan had started to delve into Pahari miniatures and Tantric diagrams that resulted in an important exhibition titled ‘The Colour Geometry of Space’. Here he

In his paintings of the late ’80s and early ’90s Swaminathan broke away from his hugely successful bird-mountain paintings, going back to retrieve the tribal-folk inspired style with which he had started in the early 1960s. He was nominated a Founder Trustee of the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts in Delhi and was the Chairman of the Museum of Man, Bhopal. He held around thirty one-man shows and participated in many national and international exhibitions.

Above: ‘Tribal Motifs’, 1982. Oil on canvas, 32 x 46". Right: Untitled, 1962. Oil on canvas, 23.5 x 29.35". Courtesy: J. Swaminathan Foundation.

‘Bird, Tree and Mountain’, 1979. Oil on canvas, 42 x 36". Courtesy: J. Swaminathan Foundation.

invited to be in the jury of Sao Paulo Biennale in 1969. He broke his journey in New York to participate in the historic Anti-Vietnam War Moratorium.

divided the pictorial space in flat fields of solid colour (derived from the palette of Pahari miniatures) in sharp geometric shapes – rectangle, triangle, square and circle – taken from Tantric mandalas. Though he soon moved on, many Indian artists took to what has later been called neo-Tantric Art with varying success. Swaminathan was INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 6/2010

Through the mid-1970s Swaminathan painted his best known series of works referred to as his ‘Bird-Mountain’ series. These luminous landscapes with flat fields of pure colour were 82

set with floating mountains, rocks, flying birds, flowering plants and trees. Here he was evoking the best in the Indian pictorial tradition in a completely new language. In 1978 art historian and critic Geeta Kapur wrote her seminal essay on Swaminathan ‘On the Wings of a Metaphor’ in her highly acclaimed book ‘Contemporary Indian Artists’. Swaminathan also wrote Hindi poetry intermittently that was published in various literary journals. He was also very fond of the Urdu ghazal and would quote extensively from Ghalib, Iqbal and Jigar. In 1982 Swaminathan was invited by Ashok Vajpeyi to Bhopal to help set up the

Bharat Bhavan, an active museum comprising Roopankar, an art centre, Rangamandal, a theatre repertory and Vagarth, a poetry library. Swaminathan conceived Roopankar as being a museum where folk and tribal art of Madhya Pradesh could be shown along with the best of contemporary art from all over India. During the collection drive for Roopankar he discovered several folk and tribal artists like Jangarh Singh Shyam and Pema Phatia who went on to gain international recognition later. Bharat INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 6/2010


J. Swaminathan died of a heart attack in 1994.

◆ The author is a noted commentator, writer, administrator and has scripted and produced documentaries and programmes for TV.



he practice of the artist, Jitish Kallat (1974), survives, encouragingly blossoming under both times of duress and the highs of the last two complex decades, demonstrating a strength that has transformed his works from an earlier practice based on the production of paintings to one which is increasingly accompanied by large scale and ambitious sculptures, lens-based installations and recent video works.

ensuing years. One such area of concern has been the need to express and ‘demute’ the voice of the subaltern, a term that

Kallat’s early work reflected many of the concerns of other Indian artists and these have been consistently mined in the

refers to persons who socially, politically and geographically remain outside of the societies’ power structure. Kallat resolved his heartfelt concern in simultaneously folding their place into the miniscule and plethoric sweeps of urban and city India. His family moved from Kerala to Mumbai in the fifties, where Kallat later, like thousands of others came to realise the potential of stories to be told from this vast metropolis. Left: Jitish Kallat. Below: ‘Disclaimer’, 2004. Mixed media on canvas, 175.26 x 731.52 cm.



Enrolling in the prestigious JJ School of Arts, Kallat embarked on his earlier works, all paintings, which were guided by, if not dedicated to, a sense of surveillance of his new surroundings and of finding a mode of address. This de-muting had started to successfully provide an innovative use of textures and scale, incorporating the vast body of the subaltern’s twisted realities. The painting ‘When so many Spectacles Happen I see-saw’ (1995) provides an example of the complexity of his task and the means by which the use of the street is marked in employing graphics that quote posters and notices which rally the cries for justice and equality.

portraits that he begins to define in the nineties, of young men whose lives are defined by the battle to scrape a living from cities which are currently becoming overstretched by the constant drift of urban-bound rural communities:

It seems that these very subjects are further evaluated in the


This theme, which has been consistently evaluated and strongly addressed by Kallat, is evident in his earlier paintings, including ‘Italics (War Dance)’ (2002) and ‘Disclaimer’ (2004)1. ‘Untitled (Fish)’ (2002) is another example of Kallat’s distilled emotive use of the subaltern mass; ‘knot-bodies’ filled with an internal fuzz – of what could be visually deemed to represent an unrequited Shaheen Merali in conversation with Jitish Kallat, Jitish Kallat, Public Notice-2 [exhibition catalogue], ed. by Shaheen Merali. (Singapore: Bodhi Art, 2008), 16.



Above and facing page: ‘Sweatopia’ – 1 & 2, 2008. Acrylic on canvas, 274.3 x 518.2 cm. Right: ‘Untitled (Fish)’, 2002. Mixed media on canvas, 175.26 x 175.29 cm.

ambition, quizzically looking back from the overcast world of the unidentified. Whose conjoined reality? In proposing a set of active and recurring codes, Kallat starts to propose a need to ‘hear and see’, as in ‘Tragedienne (Taste, Lick, Swallow and Speak)’ (2002) which suggests a community that he embellishes with vehement textual references. The measure of his references remerges strongly in ‘Sweatopia-1’ (2008); the glazed looks of faces that stare in every direction but at us, native Mumbaikars, parade the city, fuzzy in their heads and in their hair. The blue evening, with dusky sky, forms an uneven backdrop, casting yet another one of Kallat’s inner mythologies – a colour INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 6/2010


reference which suggests the anger and fearful rhythm of the city. The colour combination or plain backgrounds that Kallat employs in many of his paintings refer to the colourcoded, terrorism threat scale introduced by the Homeland Security Advisory System in the USA in March 2002. Similarly in ‘Oxygen’ (2002), the camouflage assumes the colours of these varied threat codes and includes another sad observation. Here some of the men seem to smile. Are they happy to be unhappy? The flaming horizon line in ‘Sweatopia-2’ (2008) is painted in the four remaining colours of threat level. In a more recent lenticular photowork, ‘Aspect Ratio’ (2009), the seven colours of the rainbow appear and disappear, suggesting the



momentary possibility between the changing potential risks. The use of historical texts: Public Notices Kallat asks in his ‘Public Notice’ (2003) project “What are the terms of the debate?” He makes text into image at a time when political debate has become regressive and our understanding of secularism has been to the exclusion of those deemed ‘fundamental’. In the experience of reading, Kallat helps to cast another net – one that helps us to understand these texts in their time and in their potential. The treatment of the individual letters in burnt metal or cast-in bones or even the use of the colour-coded, terrorism threat advisory scale are typographical variations by which to create an extreme graphic impact on the reader’s attention. These baroque installations with frugal means make visible the humane and liberal limits of that which we have lost. Kallat makes these texts as physical borders that help us to negotiate the function of history and memory in our world that obliterates so much, so quickly, through a repetition of trauma and by meditating on the infinite possibilities of an ecology of fear. ◆ The author is a curator and writer.

‘Public Notice’, 2003. Burnt adhesive on acrylic mirror, wood, stainless steel, 198.12 x 137.16 x 15.24 cm (5 parts). INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 6/2010






ogen Chowdhury (1939), with five decades of a commendable career, is one of the most sought-after Indian artists today. A hugely prolific artist with critical acclamations from all over the world, Jogen is also a reputed mentor, teacher and a cultural activist who refuses to live and work from an ivory tower. He is truly an artist of our time.

Jogen Chowdhury responds to the time and space around him in a very vital, crucial and organic manner. His reactions appear almost instinctive and yet they are hard-bitten. Ostensibly, his paintings and drawings induce a congenial Left: Jogen Chowdhury. Below: ‘Abu Ghraib’, 2005. Ink & pastel on paper, 50 x 70cm, Santiniketan.

ornamental craving but at the deeper level it is not all that comforting. There is no romanticized depiction and certainly no sentimental retreat. He can evoke a sense of decay and degeneration despite and within a lyrical and often decorative world. He chooses to take a highly personalized approach in style and technique and has over the years developed an idiom which is quintessentially Bengali in its social ethos yet the expansive and profound character of his art make them universally

communicable. Moreover, by virtue of being devoid of explicit and specific visual signs Jogen’s art encourages more than one interpretation; it is open to multiple readings from various subjective standpoints. The lucidity and the apparent simplicity of his art further augment this. They are simple in appearance but complex in terms of their poignant expressions and the iconic and inescapable presence of the images. He gets rid of the superfluous and concentrates on what is essential to build up

‘Tiger in the moonlit night’, 1978. Ink & pastel on paper, 288 x 152 cm.





the intensity of his images. This intensity is the hallmark of most of his art. Born in 1939, in an East Bengal village, now in Bangladesh, Jogen Chowdhury right from childhood experienced a life fraught with the aftermath of Partition, displacement from a comfortable homeland and a difficult upbringing in a Kolkata refugee settlement. Yet, artistically gifted and determined, in 1960 he completed his art education from the Government College of Art and Craft, Calcutta with the highest credits. In 1965 on a Cultural Exchange Scholarship he went to Paris for higher education at the Ecole Nationale Superieur des Beaux Arts and the Atelier 17. He worked as a textile designer with the Weavers’ Service Centre, Chennai (1968-1972) and then as a Curator of the Art Collection of Rashtrapati Bhavan, New Delhi (1972-1987). Finally he moved to Santiniketan as a teacher in the Painting Department, Kala Bhavan (1987). He formally retired as the Professor and Principal of Kala Bhavan in (1999) to devote himself full time to art and related activities. Early in his career and more specifically after his return from France in the late 60s he developed his own individual style. In the context of the emergence of a new phase of modern Indian art in the

Top: ‘Couple’, 1984. Ink & pastel on paper, 71 x 99cm. Above: ‘Life 2’, 1976. Ink & pastel on paper 152x154 cm.



60s, when the likes of Husain, Souza and Raza had already set a standard, in their own individual ways in the post-40s Indian art scenario, Jogen an atypical artist preferred to work mostly in pastels, water colour and ink instead of oil-painting and strove to develop a visual idiom rooted in Indian soil without taking either any revivalist refuge or deriving out of an obvious model of western modern art.

cross hatching and impassioned marking bring in an inimitable notion of drawing figures, vegetations and even objects. Whereas most of the artists draw, trail, build, paint, carve or construct, Jogen Chowdhury stitches, as it were, his figures. “Like women crocheting apparels, he knits them into shape – squiggle by squiggle – interlocked into quivering, heaving, criss-crossed surfaces” – writes R. Siva Kumar.

Jogen Chowdhury’s personal style can be understood as a natural consequence of his own affinity with the organic energies of life manifested in nature and an incisive observation of life around. Even the pitch dark background or the sagging people with distinctive facial features or female figures with disturbing scars on their bodies have direct or oblique references to his own traumatic experiences of life around. It is evident in works like ‘Woman’ and ‘Tiger by Moonlight’, or various portraits and images of couples. These references make his works edgy and expressionistic often bordering on social and political satire. Through the caricature-like look of many of his figures Jogen does ridicule the corrupt and fraudulent characters he encounters in various social circuits. It is from the same stylistic mode that he can endow his images with erotic underpinnings as well.

Thematic concerns too have seen an evolution in Jogen’s art. Motifs have expanded in identity and style. He has also worked in other mediums (oil, acrylic, serigraphy, and lithography) and explored different techniques and execution methods. Despite these shifts off and on what is consistent is the human warmth and intimacy his art exudes. With this unfailing concern Jogen Chowdhury’s art continues to attract global attention and international recognition.

‘Man and the Black Sky’, 1980. Ink and pastel on paper, 152 x 216 cm.

Jogen has thus evolved a remarkable way of connecting with the human condition. As he himself says, ‘Man and life, their complex co-existence, are the central concerns’ of his art. Simultaneously, he is stimulated by nature’s organic quality, its design value and the rhythmic construction. His associations with the Handloom House and Indian design in general and his fascination for alpona (traditional floor designs of Bengal) are clearly discernible in his ability to render his forms with a unique sense of rhythm which bequeaths the forms with a tantalizing decorative appeal. This decorativeness often borders on the erotic overtone in many of his works. In all these works Jogen Chowdhury’s penchant for crissINDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 6/2010


◆ The author is currently teaching Art History at Kala Bhavan, Santiniketan.

K.G. Subramanyan R. SIVA KUMAR


ctive for more than 65 years, and alive and very contemporary at 85 K.G. Subramanyan is one of India’s most engaging and influential artists. Born in Kerala in the early 20s and keenly interested in the arts since childhood, he, however, decided to study art only after an initial engagement with socialist and Gandhian activism and a short term in prison for participation in the Quit India Movement. Debarred from government colleges for his involvement in the national movement he left Madras where he was pursuing a degree in economics and moved to Santiniketan in 1944, and from the orbit of Gandhi to the orbit of Rabindranath. In Santiniketan he came into intimate contact with Nandalal Bose and his close associates in the new art movement, Benodebehari Mukherjee, and Ramkinkar Baij, who sensitized him to the requisites of a national modernism. From them he learned to see art as a response to social and personal needs for communication and expression, and to seek a perspective on art which has a cultural rather than a professional horizon. This led him to simultaneously pursue the varied roles of artist, designer and teacher and to make them mutually enriching. His early work which he has described as an ‘apotheosis of the

Facing page: Untitled, Reverse painting on Mylar sheet, 2008, 21.5 x 29 cm INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 6/2010




ordinary’ was in tune with those of his contemporaries but they were more cautiously explorative and syntactically measured rather than charged with youthful audacity or rendered with bravura. The decorative sometimes clashed with the expressive initially, but by the 60s he was as an exemplar of the artistic versatility that art-craft interface can lead to. Doing paintings structured with the communicational efficacy of consummate design, and printed and painted textiles and woven sculptures with the aesthetic subtlety and expressive economy of art, designing toys that are expressive and witty, illuminated books in which text and image extend each other, and murals in which details and the aggregate play hide and seek of image and meaning he became in the 60s an artist who amplified his expressive reach by extending his communicational range. If during the 60s by increasing his spectrum of activity he enlarged his range of communication and expressiveness, during the 70s Subramanyan demonstrated through his re-articulation of the age old techniques of terracotta and his retake on the popular genre of glass painting how an artist can tap older practices to add the Black and white mural, Santiniketan, South side, 2010. INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 6/2010




simple platters he paints for an art fair or in the expansive murals orchestrated to come alive at many levels, is truly phenomenal. A lucid and perceptive writer, an inspired educator closely associated with the art institutions at Baroda and Santiniketan, and a design-consultant associated for many years with national and international bodies for design education and crafts promotion, Subramanyan has also been able to share his ideas and vision with three generations of Indian artists and designers, and has had a seminal influence on the art and design practice in India.

Above: ‘Fishes and Fossils III’, 1976. Teracotta relief, 55.5 x 55.5 cm. Facing page: ‘Malwa Nights’, 1998. Reverse painting on acrylic sheet, 128 x 189 cm.

semantic resonances of one’s work. While most modernists by conforming to a personal style brought their individuality into sharp focus but narrowed their range of activities and skills Subramanyan preferred to develop a personal language and use its syntactic plasticity to enlarge his communicational reach. And it was a strategy that paid off. It helped Subramanyan to embrace an enduring vision and ethics but innovate continuously and to burgeon from decade to decade. And his recent INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 6/2010


work, thought provoking and celebratory, teasing and subversive, humane and irreverent at once and done with scintillating spontaneity, is not only more expressive and complex than anything he has done in the past but also some of the most vital art today. This comes partly from his growing engagement with the world; and partly from the way he moves from one level of communication or expression to another through calculated inflections of his visual idiom. And the ease with which he does this, whether it be in the INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 6/2010


As an artist with the ingenuity of a consummate craftsman and the alertness of a nimble thinker Subramanyan’s perspectives on art and life still carry resonances of his early engagement with the nationalist movement, but he is also an artist with an incisive insight into the contemporary world with its alluring sensualities and unsettling complexities and a wise and witty commentator on our times. And a modernist who convinces us that contact with traditions can add cultural and linguistic depth to an artist’s work, and that an awareness of global practices can coexist with sensitivity to local environment. ◆ The author is Professor of Art History at Santiniketan, curator of several important exhibitions in India and abroad, writes extensively on Modern Indian Art.

Krishen Khanna GAYATRI SINHA


rom his vantage point of nearly six decades of art practice, Krishen Khanna’s career reveals a remarkable consistency. In the vanguard of young artists who sought an international art style and consciousness in the 1940’s, he was soon to identify the deep and consistent veins that are embodied in his work: the expanding Indian city, labour and the ethical position of the artist. These become interwoven in a rich and vitalized memory



field where a panoply of characters weave in and out like way farers in a cacophonous, awkward and intensely humane journey. The single distinguishing factor in Krishen Khanna’s painting is his acute and deeply charged Left: Krishen Khanna. Photo: Aradhana Seth. Below: ‘Suspense at Last Supper’, 2010. Oil on canvas, 59.5 x 89". Facing page: ‘Bandwallas in Practice’, 2002. Oil on canvas, 72 x 48". Collection: Karan Khanna.



compression of narratives in time. As he paints each day in his studio – an act of discipline and pleasurable enquiry – any one of several figures may appear. Ancient heroisms, of a dying Bhishma Pitamah, or the betrayed Christ and his disciples jostle and shift for space in his stack of canvases, with bandwallahs, who bear in their frame the noise and energy of Delhi’s roads. Watermelon eating children under the light of a North Indian summer sun, labourers and day workers, and the clatter and conviviality of the street dhaba all come into play. That the dhaba becomes the site for a poignant last supper, that the roughly hewn labour of Delhi’s construction sites appear as the twelve disciples preoccupied with issues of everyday survival is within Khanna’s understanding of cyclical manifestations, and his use of history painting in an utterly contemporary context.. Krishen Khanna is the only Indian artist to engage with the subject of Christian theology as a metaphor for our times . Unlike Souza’s fierce iconoclasm, Khanna’s Christ is a working class figure. Much after painting an entire cycle of Christ paintings. Krishen renders the labourers turned disciples as his progressive artist confreres: Husain, Bal Chhabda, Souza, and Tyeb Mehta, among others. That a select identifiable group of modernists appear as Christ’s disciples locates Krishen’s

the Christ lies his preoccupation with the quotidian. The artist says “Ours is the modernity of the once colonized. The same historical process that has taught us the value of modernity has also made us the victims of modernity. Our attitude to modernity therefore cannot but be deeply ambiguous”. Krishen Khanna’s most ambitious work has been a large mural constructed in the chaitya like hall of the Maurya Sheraton. Here several of the subsets of

themes that he has realized come together: of street scenes and loitering figures, dhabas and the city and its itinerant workers and animals. In Khanna each figure is a character bearing within himself a universal typology, but also the oddities that distinguish the individual. Time and again Krishen Khanna has returned to the street itinerant of Delhi – the bandwallah, the labourer in

‘Rear View’, 1978. Acrylic on canvas, 48 x 60"

‘Rear View’, 2003. Oil on canvas, 70.5 x 93.5". (Private collection)

concerns around the issues of artistic vulnerability in a fraught political climate. The artist is here read as artisan-visionary, a position that Krishen’s entire oeuvre has sought to establish. How then does Krishen Khanna arrive at such a sweeping world view? Born in Lyalpur, Punjab in 1924, he schooled in England at the Imperial Services College during the war and was powerfully impressed by the war poets, Auden and Eliot. His first exposure to Christian biblical theology was during his summer holidays at a parish for the physically challenged. The English chapter with its discipline and war-determined austerity had a particular resonance with his childhood in Lahore, cheery groups of playmates and his peaceable recollection of his home on INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 6/2010


McLagen Road, all of whom return in his painting. Krishen left Lahore with his family just weeks before Partition, making his life in Bombay as a close associate of the Progressive Artists Group and as a young banker. Devoting his energies to painting for the last six decades, he is distinguished by the humanism and humour that characterizes his world view. In his body of work these early strains of recollection intertwine with a narrative mediated through history and myth. Krishen Khanna’s work straddles the genres of narrative – allegory and social realism, all within the rubric of an expressionistic style. Outside the grandeur of the epic subject of the betrayal of Bhishma or INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 6/2010


trucks, the serving boy at the dhaba. As sympathetic spectator and somewhat humorous interlocutor, he locates in them a vigorous and deeply humanist vision. A refugee from Pakistan during the Partition, one who was compelled to leave England during the war, he has an innate sympathy for the itinerant worker, his aspirations and unconscious heroism. Of particular interest here is the ‘Bandwallah’, a figure that in his red uniform mimics the military band, and which infact recalls the generals at discussion in his works, ‘The Game I and II’. Here the faux military uniform is deeply ironic since the bandwallah plays to accompany a groom’s wedding party as it dances and wends its way across Delhi’s streets. As a body of paintings these musicians of the street present a bluff optimism usually missing from Krishen’s other work with its emphasis on daily toil, and acts of betrayal. What is remarkable in Krishen Khanna’s work is the austerity of his compositions. He takes recourse to only the most minimal of architectural details, allowing the human figure to appear in its excruciating vulnerability. That he returns to his chosen narratives time and again speaks for the depth of his subject and his own passionate engagement with life. ◆ The author is a writer, art critic and curator.

Above: ‘Captain Dentist Pesika awaits Clients’. Oil on canvas. Facing page: ‘Bandwallah’. Oil on canvas, 178 x 125 cm.





Manjit Bawa INA PURI

‘In the old days there was a river, Above which the bright moon used to shine, Mr Huang had two golden carps Which have gone, becoming dragons.’ – ancient Chinese ditty Untitled, Oil on canvas. Collection: Amrita Jhaveri


In those early days, apart from the vibrantly coloured miniature school (particularly Basoli and Kangra to which the painter acknowledged his artistic inspiration), Indian artists were by and large conservative in their use of colours. Naturally, Manjit’s use of vibrant shades drew criticism for their ‘popsicle’ brightness, but the painter dismissed his detractors and their barbs, continuing to experiment with the high-octane, vivid, pulsating colours that captured his imagination. Bawa courted a palette drawn from memories of boyhood – the cadmium yellow mustard fields, the fiery orange-red gulmohar blossoms, the green of paddy fields or INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 6/2010


where the protagonists, heroes of antiquity or the winged beast, manifest themselves on the silkscreen-like background suddenly, “like apparitions, in a field that could well be an aura”.

hen I watched Manjit Bawa (1941-2009) paint, it was easy to believe that myth and fantasy were a logical extension of life. The viewer’s imagination would yield to the images of the gambolling lion and the skittish kitten playfully facing each other against a vivid jewel green background; to the pictorial narrative of an adolescent shepherd mesmerising a herd of cattle with his flute; or even be beguiled by the antics of an audaciously purple-mauve panther leaping in the air, witnessed quizzically by a grey goat, against the backdrop of an iridescent cadmium yellow.

Top: Manjit Bawa. Above: ‘Sufi Saint’, 2003. Oil on canvas, 139.7 x 116 cm. Courtesy: CIMA Gallery, Kolkata.

the mauve jacaranda blooms. Like Fellini, he believed, “The dreamer can see a red meadow, a green horse, a yellow sky and they are not absurdities. They are images tempered with the feeling that inspires them.” Here, believing is seeing, allowing the imagination to bask in Marquesian magic realism, INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 6/2010


Bawa’s intense reading of the Puranas, Upanishads, Ramayana and Mahabharata have invested his art with mythic figures like Jatayu, Dhritarashtra and Gandhari, the one-legged Dharma, icons of antiquity caught in moments of high drama. Do they serve any didactic purposes held up to the viewer as examples to be emulated or eschewed? Or are they indeed intended to be magical means of keeping the powers of these examples from the past alive and efficacious in the present? His dramatis personae remain moored in their roles that are part-fantasy, part-reality, speaking as he wills them to, in diverse voices, their dialogues (like a ventriloquist’s puppet) in verse or rhyme. Each of the perfectly proportioned form, animal and human rejoicing as Ranjit Hoskote writes, “in its plasticity and libidinal energy, its gymnastic ability to defy the structures of the anatomist. The rounded contours of each toy-like figure speak of its prana, the life breath that gives it a vital buoyancy, allowing it to occupy rather than be trapped in those flat, glowing, single-colour fields of red,

yellow, green or blue that are Bawa’s hallmark device”. Manjit’s genesis as an artist can be traced back to his boyhood when he tried to follow in his older brother Manmohan’s footsteps, as a commercial painter. Realising Manjit’s potential, Manmohan enrolled him in Abani Sen’s art class and it was here that Manjit learnt his first important lesson:

on anatomy. Sen instructed his disciples to always begin a drawing with the leg and then tackle other areas and, if it was a portrait, to start with the eyes. That and his emphasis on the handling of space were lessons that always remained with Manjit, through the later years when he studied art formally at the Delhi Art School and in his years in England, when he mastered

Untitled, 1989. Oil on canvas, 213 x 162 cm. Courtesy: Kiran Nadar Museum of Art.



period, we culled together, Mapping the Conscience ’842004, which was, I believe, his most significant exhibition ever.

the technique of silkscreen printing. Stylistically though, he experimented with diverse styles and techniques for decades before he found his painterly idiom. Early days, post-England, found Bawa experimenting with Tantric forms till he moved in another direction, choosing to explore on his canvas cloud-like abstract floating forms. His artistic journey next involved experimentations with dismembered limb-like forms which then joined gradually to take the shape of what we can recognise, in retrospect, as his figuration. Ranbir Kaleka says, “Manjit has created a new figure, forming a new land and speaking in a new voice. He reaches different areas of our experience, and has influenced others tremendously with his way of assembling a body. His way of making a body speaks of other things – his aspirations, which so far had remained only in the recesses of his mind, spiritually retained. In other artists, figures were distorted as if they were following a certain style. The way Manjit assembled a body, he could very well make a chair or a tree even. This was a major shift. If we look at the history of art, we will find hardly any instances where somebody has made such a great shift.”

‘Pink Field and the Flute Player’, Oil on canvas, 172.5 x 137 cm.

The paintings were, in turn, reflective, meditative, steeped in Sufi mysticism or layered with sensuality and eroticism. Maybe it was his orthodox childhood but Bawa preferred not to paint nudes, hence the sensuality in his figuration was never overt, but subtle and suggestive, to be found in the folds of pliant limbs or soft drapery, in glance or posture, in gestures, never loud nor visceral. At other moments, tongue-in-cheek, his paintings were deliberately provocative and touched with dark humour, quintessentially Manjit, for those who knew his irrepressible sense of fun (his painting of Krishna devouring a banana, for instance). Fond of reading and researching

ancient texts, Bawa sometimes cast characters from epical myths, parables, Puranas and even the Panchatantra, in his pictorial world, but in their new avatars, they had metamorphosed into contemporary beings. His art never sought to sermonise or make a statement of political causes because he truly believed that an eye for an eye would leave the world blind. A Sufi, he advocated peaceful co-existence, as he himself respected different ethnic groups, nationalities and religions. Therefore, the anti-Sikh riots in 1984 left him deeply anguished. Two decades later, from rough sketches and drawings of that INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 6/2010


For sheer scale, though, Manjit Bawa’s Modern Miniatures & Recent Works (2000) at Bose Pacia Modern, New York, was the seminal show. It included, alongside the large canvases, a body of his rarely seen, exquisitely proportioned miniatures. While many works in Manjit Bawa’s repertoire will remain significant in the history of the study of Indian art history, I would single out as perhaps the most important, his painting (miniature and in large format) of young Krishna holding a pack of dogs enthralled by his flute. Against a deep red background, the figure of the youthful Krishna, lost to his music as the dogs listen on mutely (each in a different mood and posture) speaks not only of Bawa’s sensitive handling of the medium but also the painter’s compassion and humanity that encompassed animals and humans alike.

◆ The author is a writer, art curator and documentary maker.

Maqbool Fida Husain PRAYAG SHUKLA


he contribution to contemporary Indian art by Maqbool Fida Husain (1915) has been myriad and immense. A versatile artist he started his career in Mumbai by painting large cinema hoardings for a livelihood; pursuing simultaneously the ‘creative’ and innovative works in the genre of painting per se, and befriending artists of his generation like Francis Newton Souza and others. Along with them Husain participated in the formation of the ‘Progressive Artists’ Group’ (1947), which was to make history, as this group of artists opened up new vistas in Indian art, with their bold lines and colours exploring new themes, and areas. Husain especially experimented with various art materials, and was soon Below: ‘Horses’. Wax on paper pasted on canvas, 42 x 40". Collection: Vadehra Art Gallery. Facing page: ‘Farmer’s Family’, 1960. Oil on canvas.





to design toys in wood, and furniture in innovative shapes, to fulfill his own creative urges and to humbly ‘demonstrate’ that he was all set for heralding a new era in Indian Art. His works in large numbers done on canvas, paper and other materials started pouring in, and since then he has created thousands of paintings, murals drawings, graphic-prints, installations, spread all over

the world, in the collection of museums, galleries, institutions, banks, offices and individual collections. The other area, in which Husain has contributed considerably, is the area of cinema. He has made short films, documentaries, and even innovative feature films; writing their scripts, directing them and even handling the camera. His very first film ‘Through the Eyes of a Painter’, won a Golden

has done ‘instant’ paintings. At one time he used to spread large canvases in front of the assembled art lovers and young students, and would draw and paint with a certain speed demonstrating the very process of ‘making’ an art work. His brush work is considered spontaneous, and his lines have

Bear Award in the Berlin Film Festival and films like ‘Gaja Gamini’ and ‘Meenakshi: A Tale of Three Cities’, featuring well known actresses Madhuri Dixit and Tabu from Bollywood (the Indian film industry), are a testimony to the fact that whatever he does, has an indelible mark of an artist, who dares to explore in a variety of media and modes. During the concerts of some well known classical musicians, he

Left: Maqbool Fida Husain. Below: ‘Paris Suite’, 2003. Oil on canvas, 91.5 x 73.7 cm. Collection: Vadehra Art Gallery.

‘Mother Teresa’, 1988. Oil on canvas, 233 x 128 cm.





verve and energy. Husain likes to sketch places and people, and at a very young age started making sketches of monuments replete with traditional Indian sculptures which had a lasting impact, and the graceful deities and their postures, like Tribhanga Mudra and Hasta Mudra (the sensuous gestural quality of the feet and hands) acquired an emotive presence in the pictorial language of Husain. He has painted a series based on the Ramayana and Mahabharata, taking significant scenes from these epics. He likes to do portraits and figures of popular personalities, and draws or paints them candidly. His series of paintings on Mother Teresa, with a blue bordered white saree, and a graceful, gentle and compassionate face, are truly a tribute to a noble soul like her. His subjects and themes are many and varied, and his powerful drawings appear to attract the attention of the viewers instantly.

‘Cage Seven’. Oil on canvas, 112 x 111 cm

and internationally, including Tokyo, Venice and Sao Paulo Biennial. Husain was also nominated to the Rajya Sabha in 1986 by the Government of India and bestowed with the Padma Vibhushan in 1989. One of the most charismatic artists, he is known for ‘his emphatic understanding of the human situation and his speedy evocation of it in paint.’

Husain has won many accolades and awards, including his first National award from the Lalit Kala Akademi for the painting ‘Zameen’, in the 1950s. Now this painting is with the National Gallery of Modern Art, that also houses some of his other works. He has participated in major art events, nationally

Husain writes poetry and has written his autobiography in Urdu titled ‘Husain ki Kahani Apni Zubaani’ (the story of Husain in his own words), and has written occasional

‘Between the spider and the lamp’, 1956. Oil on board, 96 x 48". Collection: Vadehra Art Gallery. INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 6/2010


notes and thoughts on art and artists. A number of articles and books are available on his art in English, Hindi and other languages. In his long career as an artist, and a public figure, he has humbly and relentlessly kept himself devoted to art. He has been dividing his time between London and Dubai for the last decade or so, and now has become a citizen of Qatar, yet according to him his Indian roots and connections, would never change.

◆ The author is a poet, fiction writer, essayist and translator.



Paramjit Singh PRAYAG SHUKLA


aramjit Singh (1935) is best known for his imaginatively painted images of grassy lands, trees, winding paths in the woods, and water bodies with a rare textural quality. Each time he constructs a landscape with these elements, one finds that he has explored something new and fresh. Thus the oeuvre he has created is full of variations, and one never fails to recognize his sensitivity, and closeness to nature, where he finds solace.

Using thick pigment and applying colours with ‘rushing’ brush strokes; he builds up landscapes, which do not necessarily represent any ‘real’ place and its objects, but are born out of memory and imagined visual delights, suggestively relating to the Left: Paramjit Singh. Below: Untitled 22, 2009. Oil on canvas, 29.5 x 19.5". Courtesy: Vadehra Art Gallery.

woods. The vibrancy of colour, light, and the captivating textures, lead the viewer to rejoice in their emotive intent. He prefers oils, and also works on paper with charcoal crayons and pastels. His works in black crayons have a mystery of their own, and are cherished by many. Paramjit studied in Delhi Polytechnic and since the 1960’s has been exhibiting in India and abroad. He has visited a number of countries in Europe, Asia and America, and has spent considerable time in Norway, in the beginning of his career. Few years ago on a visit to London he did some etchings, using

innovative methods, which were highly appreciated.

ridge still transmits to his eyes and mind.

Paramjit’s ancestors made their home in the holy city of Amritsar, and since his childhood, he had a very special relationship with nature. This relationship was strengthened further in Delhi as well, and he started visiting the Delhi ridge in his youth. The keeker trees of the ridge would fascinate him no end. Very recently also, during the Commonwealth Games in Delhi, he exhibited a large diptych of the ridge and its trees. Again, not painting the place realistically, he has painted the impression; the

The play of colour-light, and the impressions and visions of natural light created through pigments, is truly enchanting in his paintings. The recent – ridge painting, done in oils, in the size of 48 x 144", has a group of trees, spread all over the canvas, starting from the foreground to the receeding background. The darkish trunks of the trees, and the branches and leaves painted in ‘hazy’ green, with the sunlight falling on them, and also travelling to the spaces in between, creates an unforgettable joyous experience. Seeking bliss and solace, in nature, becomes significant not only in environmental terms, but in terms of the very relationship of man with nature. Just after finishing his studies in Art College, Paramjit and fellow artists founded a group called ‘The unknowns’. Discussing art, reading literature, listening to music, and exploring new ideas for their work, became a habit. Paramjit likes to visit the hill stations of Himachal Pradesh, and has devoted considerable time in observing the ‘mysteries’ of nature. How a tree dances in the wind, leaves fall on the ground, and accumulate, and how the sun or the moon shine on a water body, and the blue sky merges with the trees on the

Untitled, 2006; oil on canvas, 42 x 42". Collection: Vadehra Art Gallery. INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 6/2010




Untitled; oil on canvas, 36 x 54". Collection: Vadehra Art Gallery

horizon – have a most delightful presence in his imaginative and innovative works.

Top: Untitled, 2007; oil on canvas, 36 x 96". Above: Untitled, 2007; oil on canvas, 84 x 144". Collection: Vadehra Art Gallery.



Once in his youth he visited the hill station, Kullu-Manali and there he was quite fascinated by rocks and boulders. The impression of the visit was deep, and he started painting certain cityscapes/ landscapes with the images of stones, placing them on a table, or fence. These painting, done in a somewhat surrealistic manner were admired; yet Paramjit soon realized that this was the area

or theme, which would not interest him much any more; and the cherished series by the art-lovers came to an end. Since then Paramjit’s interest has been the landscapes to which we have referred, and in a ceaseless manner he has continued to explore the ‘theme’, to his own satisfaction, and to the satisfaction of the admirers of his works.

helping them in their creative pursuits. He himself remembers his teachers, especially artist Sailoz Mukherjee, who helped in opening up new grounds for him.

Paramjit has also taught at the Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi, where he became quite popular with the students,

◆ The author is a poet, fiction writer, essayist and translator.



Paramjit has exhibited in many countries, and has held several group shows, winning many awards. A book on him titled ‘A walk in the woods’ by Ella Datta is available in English.



he presence of Ram Kumar (1924) in the contemporary Indian art scene has acquired a very special place, in the last six decades or so. He has created works with an unmatched consistency and integrity, and they are full of grace, intent and verve. Ramkumar does his works in abstract mode, with the traces of forms from ruins, city houses, hills, trees, water-bodies, boats etc. and builds up wondrous landscapes or ‘inscapes’, as once referred by his friend and art critic Richard Bartholomew. These landscapes or ‘inscapes’ are done both in somber and ‘glowing’ colours, which generate a certain warm and intimate dialogue with the viewer. A certain aesthetic feel pervades all his works. Some of the forms seem to float in the air; some seem to be firmly rooted to the earth. Open skies and vistas, always provide a pictorial space, which is full of movement, and sweeping strokes, created by brush or palette knife seem to ‘swim’ across the canvas. Some of the forms seem to dissolve or merge with the background, some keep their angularity and grid, both resonate in the mind of the viewer with certain memories and impressions, seen and felt, at a given point of time. His drawings and sketches also bear a very subtle, pure, and resonating quality of line.

also well received for their ‘modernistic’ and contemporary approach, yet the phase did not last very long.

Ram Kumar started his career as a figurative artist in the late forties, and the phase lasted about a decade. In this phase he painted figures of unemployed youth, migrant labourers, and faces and figures of men and women, located somewhere in the lanes or by lanes of the city. The stark reality of their appearance, background, and mood, created a sense of urban melancholy and took us into the deep psyche of these figures.

Ram Kumar got a scholarship in 1949 to visit Paris, and to pursue his studies in art. From 1949 to 1952 he studied painting under Andre Lhote, and in 1950 he joined Atelier Fernand Leger. This period in Paris also gave him an opportunity to mingle Left: Ram Kumar. Below: Untitled (Benares series), 2007. Oil on canvas, 36 x 48". Collection: Vadehra Art Gallery.

The paintings and drawings done in this phase were

‘Vagabond’, 1956, Oil on board, 48 x 24". Collection: Vadehra Art Gallery. INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 6/2010




and discuss art and literature, with French artists, and other artists staying in Paris from foreign countries, including India. He also came in contact with well known poets like Paul Eluard and Louis Aragon. Ram Kumar himself used to write short stories in Hindi, rather regularly at that time, and also wrote a book titled ‘Europe ke Sketch’ (Sketches of Europe), in which his reminiscences of his European sojourn of that phase, are included. His trip to European countries widened his perception. Visiting museums and galleries, and reading world literature became a passion. On a Rockefeller III Fund Foundation’s Fellowship he visited USA in 1970, and also worked and exhibited there. Ram Kumar is a widely travelled artist. The number of exhibitions he has held in western and eastern Europe, Middle East, Australia, New Zealand, and in Asian countries, seems endless. Within India, he has naturally visited many places, and shown his works. In this context it should be noted, that each of his sojourns has given the works certain ‘new’ colours and tonal variations, and an intent to enrich his oeuvre. Once in 1960, the impression left by the place, and surroundings had such an impact, that his work had to change completely. This happened during his first visit to Varanasi with celebrated

Padmabhushan by the Government of India and prestigious Kalidas Samman by the Government of Madhya Pradesh. Along with many catalogues, and articles on him published in various languages, a sizeable book in English on him is available titled ‘Ram Kumar: Journey within’; and a book of his short stories in English translation titled ‘Face and other stories’ is also available, both have been published by Vadehera Art Gallery, New Delhi. A retrospective of his works was held by National Gallery of Modern Art in New Delhi and Mumbai in 1994. He has held many solo shows and has participated in major art events, internationally as well. Untitled, 2005. Oil on canvas, 36 x 36". Collection: Vadehra Art Gallery

‘Hidden troubles’, 1956. Oil on canvas, 46 x 27.5". Collection: Vadehra Art Gallery.



artist and friend M.F. Husain. During this visit he did sketches of Ghats without any figure, using wax and Japanese ink. Slowly and gradually the figures disappeared from his works, and since then he has not returned to the figurative mode. In 1962 during his visit to Kashmir, the usual grey and somber colors disappeared, and green and blue made their appearance. Such an impact can also be discerned in his Ladakh and New Zealand series of paintings. This is not to suggest though, that his works have

to do a lot with ‘outer reality’. As in the final analysis, it is the inner world which matters most to him, and critics and art lovers have not failed to notice a certain spiritual quality in his works. Ram Kumar has spent his childhood and youth in Simla, which is also the place of his birth, and has made Delhi his home, where he has been living for more than sixty years. He has been bestowed with many honours, including a Padmashree and a



In a very perceptive comment, fellow artist and art thinker J. Swaminathan (1928-1994) commented: “Contemporary for Ram Kumar was never a problem of adapting mannerisms from the west, just as he was not plagued by ‘tradition’ in a false search for continuity. A product of his times, he became a true modern by simply remaining himself. It is in this sense that Ram Kumar becomes one of the most important contemporary Indian painters.”

◆ The author is a poet, fiction writer, essayist and translator.

Riyas Komu ULLEKH N.P.


ombay-based painter-sculptor Riyas Komu is one of India’s most-watched young contemporary artists. The 38-year-old is widely recognised for delving into subjects as complex as death and human displacement to those as down-to-earth as soccer in his works. In fact, what is most striking about him and his practice is that he has put discipline in place of anarchism to nurture his individualistic development. While it is anarchism that helps many creative minds stay active in their pursuit for personal liberation, for Komu, the driving force is, very decidedly, his faith in inherited values rooted in discipline. ‘Watching the Other World Spirits from the Gardens of Babylon’, 2007. Wood, concrete, metal and automotive paint, 175 x 312 x 99 cm.



installation is a tribute to his father. In first look, it exudes warmth, but a climb of the steps that are part of the work reveals what seems like a worst-case scenario: of cultures being overrun by other cultures.

Born in Kerala in 1972 to a businessman father and a pious mother, Komu was exposed to the essence of his faith very early in life. At home he learnt from his father what he considers the basics of life such as respect for the individual and organisational skills. From outside of his home, from the politically aware home-state, he picked up his by-nowwell-known fascination for international politics, humanism, gender issues and Marxism.

The objects that you see strewn around as you stand atop the sculpture, sickle and crescent-shaped structures, offer a glimpse of his mammoth concerns over how beliefs could Left: Riyas Komu. Below: ‘Ballad of the Distracted vs Cult of the Dead and Memory Loss’, 2009. Recycled wood, Fiat-taxi engine, fuel (petrol), plastic, rubber, rice sack, car battery, automotive paint, 13.5 x 5 x 4.5' (approx).

While there are other works to name, his ‘My Father’s Balcony’, (2005) stands out in exploring the theme, faith. The Noah’s Ark-shaped sculpture-



make or break individuals. Similar worries on inequilibrium that surrounds us could be seen in his earlier works such as ‘Third Day’, (2005) and later ones such as ‘Undertakers’ and ‘Other’, (2007). He remains proud of the path he has chosen, the highlight of which is to put the spotlight on issues of faith and conflicts, especially the geopolitical and psychological ones. Interestingly, Komu adopts a radical autonomy while handling such subjects. And it is this subdued portrayal of hidden metaphors and unlimited enquiries into long-held beliefs that make a survey of his works – from portraits to photographs to sculptures to documentaries – quite interesting. It is from this context that one must review Komu’s works such as ‘Systematic Citizens’ which portray the plight of migrant workers to cities, ‘Ballad of the Distracted vs Cult of the Dead and Memory Loss’ which captures, unmistakably, the melancholic stagnation of urban Bombay, and ‘PetroAngel’ which was exhibited at the prestigious Venice Biennale of 2007. Besides the question of faith, another preoccupation with Komu is soccer, a game he began playing as a pre-teen.

‘Left legs VI & VII’, 2008. Recycled wood, concrete, archival print on linen, metal, 101 x 48 x 24". INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 6/2010




Shilpa Gupta Nancy Adajania


‘My Father’s Balcony’, 2006. Recycled wood, metal and automotive paint, 96.5 x 288 x 168".

Even those who dismissed his call to pay attention to a crumbling Indian soccer as mere posturing earlier when he came out with ‘Mark Him’, (2007) took him seriously following his solo show ‘Subrato to Cesar’ (2010) which displayed anger and angst at the country’s absence in world cup soccer. Komu, who left Kerala to study art at Bombay’s JJ School of Art in 1991 and soon witnessed the bloody riots of 1992-93, is perpetually intrigued by death, its causes and consequences. Death is a motif in many of his works right from the 1998 one, ‘A Worthy Product Damaged By Their Brain’ through ‘Karachi Series’ to ‘Undertakers’ and

many more. And another recurring theme in most of his works is entrapment. He addresses the issue exclusively in ‘Mr Panopticon’, (2009), a three-layered painting that was part of an art therapy project to rehabilitate the inmates of Delhi’s Tihar Jail. Besides being an artist of repute, one of Komu’s astuteness is in being an organizer. From getting Indian soccer players to appreciate art to making whirlwind tours to meet football stars to documenting World Cup matches abroad and launching BRICK, a newspaper that occasionally comes out with incisive analyses on certain hot topics, he has shown INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 6/2010


astounding skills in taking numerous tasks in his stride. It is he who came up with the idea of organizing an international art biennale in Kochi, a first-of-its-kind which is expected to be held some time in 2011. Currently, he is working on a show related to French soccer at the Pompidou Centre in Paris. Like emotions such as angst and compassion, organizing, too, comes naturally to Komu. The truth is that his evolution as an artist handling newer and pertinent issues happened alongside his growth as a leader, and a highly disciplined one at that.

hilpa Gupta’s art is transcultural in its address, even when inflected with a regional specificity. Her work has been presented in numerous biennales and triennales over the last decade, as well as through several international solo exhibitions and collaborations. Gupta’s projects and productions occupy multiple contexts: those of post-feminist art, new media art, artistic anthropology, the biennale condition, and trans-disciplinary collaboration across the arts, sciences, psychology and activism. She

employs interactive video, found objects, photography, sound and public performance to probe and dramatise the themes of desire, belief, terror, and the tenuousness of the human condition in the epoch of surveillance and militarisation.

Above: Shilpa Gupta. Photo: Shruti Garg. Below: ‘Singing Cloud’, 2008-09. Object built with thousands of microphones with 48 multi channel audio. Audio: 9mins 30seconds 180 x 24 x 60".

◆ The author is a senior journalist.



A child of the complex process of globalisation, Gupta (1976) came of age in an India that had already renounced its dirigiste State-dominated mechanisms of economic and cultural development, and committed itself to a

around it, and breached the conventions of viewership by exposing and confronting the implicit wiring of social and political prejudice (‘Your Kidney Supermarket’, 20022003, on the geo-politics of bio-piracy and ‘Untitled’, 2001, on taboos related to menstruation). More than any other artist of her generation, Gupta has negotiated the porous and fraught boundary between the sacred and the secular, mapping the coordinates of the artist-self over those of the citizenself (‘Blame’, 2002-2004, concerning religious prejudice and ‘Blessed Bandwidth’, 2003, on new-age religiosity).

liberalisation of its economy and culture. Her trajectory exemplifies how postcolonial societies, consigned to the margins in the colonial centre/periphery model, have emerged as centres in their own right: sites where cultural production is manifested in vibrant artistic and rigorous intellectual activity. If one of the historical markers for Gupta’s art was the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, another was the destruction of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya, 1991. Yet another such marker was the availability, from the mid1990s onward, of advanced imaging and communication technology in India, and the stimulus this provided to new media art. Powered by all these starting-points, Gupta’s art expresses what the philosopher J Krishnamurti described as a fluid and creative “freedom towards”, as against the reactive, reflex-bound “freedom from” that characterised earlier generations of Indian artists battling the spectres of colonialism, modernity and Western condescension towards non-Western political and cultural aspirations.

Gupta deploys the strategy of masquerade to develop a series of performative avatars which reveal the psychic discontents of a society. We may spot her in camouflage, a ninja of the mind-field, circling the colonial buildings of Bombay on a reconnaissance mission; or see her in the compartment of a Bombay local train, peddling bottles of simulated blood labelled ‘Blame’ to women commuters. In this context, we must also reflect on Gupta’s interactive video projections, ‘Untitled (War on Terror)’, (2004/05) and ‘Half Widows’, (2005/06). In ‘Untitled (War on Terror), the artist appears in

From its inception, Gupta’s practice has insisted on blurring the border between artwork and viewing consciousness. It has scrutinised the ontology of the artwork, critically engaged with the cultural ecology

‘Shadow 1’, 2006. Interactive video projection incorporating the viewers simulated shadow. 236.2". INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 6/2010


into a convulsive madness. Her empathy and sense of horror at injustice escalates to the point of near-hysterical identification with Kashmiri women whose husbands have disappeared without a trace or are languishing in prison, during the continuing low-intensity conflict between Indian forces and Kashmiri militants. Gupta’s art ranges across the domains of psyche, society, polity and nation to articulate their repressed contents. The repressed contents of Gupta’s work manifested themselves in spectral form – spectral yet strangely substantial – as a play of shadows and certainties in the interactive video projection ‘Untitled (Shadows I, II & III)’, 2006-2007.

‘Blind Stars Stars Blind’, 2008 (below). Animated Light Installation, 192 in | 487.6 cm diameter.

seven avatars, from a boy-girl to a woman at forty, exercising in cool camouflage costumes to the instructions of a NewAge fitness video. The signals that this work sends out are deliberately mixed: it doubles as a call for militarisation and an appeal for accelerated consumption, inviting us to arm till we die or shop till

we drop. Under the multiple camouflage of new-age religiosity, militarisation and the market, terror becomes a second skin. In ‘Half Widows’, Gupta renounces the tight-lipped discipline of a ninja spyassassin and lets various psychic discontents spill over INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 6/2010


I would contend that Shilpa Gupta’s real medium is audience perception itself, and that her works function more as props for her disclosures. This observation holds especially true of her series on singing microphones (‘Singing Cloud’, 2008-2009): her artistic quest has been directed towards the manifestation of the audible but immaterial surplus of experience, a surplus of affect and reason that eludes easy consumption. ◆ The author is a cultural theorist, art critic, writer and independent curator.

but that their meaning and reception in either locale emphasizes this crisis of identity India is now experiencing, both for itself and how it is perceived by the rest of the world.

Subodh Gupta in the backdrop of one of his creations

Subodh Gupta

The sheer diversity of forms Subodh has created from the stainless steel kitchen goods, and the multiple references they have engendered, is prodigious. From gigantic stacks of buckets and amplified dish racks hung in multiples, he has also created spaceships, atomic bomb mushroom clouds, spills that resemble the flow of lava, and giant human skulls. His

earliest artistic training came from participating in a travelling Hindi-language theatre in his native Bihar and this sense of drama and performance are still palpable in his works today. Among the most striking uses of the stainless steel kitchen goods are his elaborate constructions made from the simple conveyor belts used in sushi restaurants. From these he constructs tables of various forms which then carry a slow-moving parade of tiffin containers in an undulating path. Akin to the catwalk of a fashion show, the glacial pace of the reflective forms becomes a Zen ballet, confusing the


of entrepreneurship, these steel objects look to be magical and revelatory, as they certainly are in their superb encapsulation of form, function, materiality and economic rationality. Inside of India, these objects may appear as unsophisticated, old-fashioned, awkward and, to many, embarrassing and indicative of the inherited weight of the past (including poverty, the caste system, rampant corruption and a lugubrious Socialist State). The success of Subodh’s sculptures using these objects is not this either/or situation (not that the objects appear so different in the two respective contexts)



While continuing to use these steel kitchen goods in his sculptures (which have become increasingly architectonic in scale), Subodh has explored a number of other materials in recent years, most notably bronze and marble. These materials, associated with commemorative monuments of the elite classes, have been used to create replicas of common, humble objects:

‘Cow’. Bronze, aluminum chrome; life size, variable dimension. Exhibition: Nature Morte, New Delhi (2004-05).


or more than ten years, Subodh Gupta (1964) has been using the common steel goods of Indian kitchens as one of the primary materials for his art. Store bought and available in mass quantities and an infinite number of forms, these plates, bowls, cups, containers, utensils, vessels, pots and pans are some of the most widely available objects in the country, intensely common and loaded with connotations of class distinctions. Outside of India, in the first world capitals of New York, London, Paris and Tokyo, where culture is capital and artistic expression is the highest form

eye and beguiling the mind as one attempts to hold on to the individual performers, only to lose them as they slip in and out of register.



a tiffin container, a box of mangoes, doors, trolley carts, bicycles, a barrel, a teapot. In so doing, Subodh has grappled with the multiple histories of sculpture in the 20th Century: the Duchampian Readymade, the Surrealists’ manipulated found object, the contextual transferences of Pop Art, and the ironic displacements of Jeff Koons and Robert Gober. All the while, reconfiguring these maneuvers of a Western cultural pedigree on to the stage of an Indian theatre, discovering the relevance of such strategies within his own life and experiences. A Maximalist in sensibility, Subodh has also flirted with the extreme reductions of Minimalism, employing both poles as a flirtation with Spectacle. Superficially, Subodh’s art has taken the experience of India away from the dirty, crowded and noisy to the clean, sparse and sedate. While he has done so metaphorically, his choice of icons and materials and his strategy of approach have been anything but simplistic. The convolution of his logic may be precisely what has hit the exposed nerve. While sharp and resolute, his works still feel organic and haphazard; while cold and clinical they still resemble an overbearing crush of humanity. Sequestered ‘Leap of Faith’, 2006. Stainless steel buckets (700 x 180 x 180 cm). Courtesy: Nature Morte, New Delhi. INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 6/2010


in the air-conditioned confines of an art gallery, his works acknowledge the near impossibility of their existence, their own chimerical metamorphosis. Artifice as the basic tenet of all social interaction and all cultural production seems to be one of Subodh’s primary concerns.

◆ The author is an American artist and curator based in New Delhi since 1992.

Top: ‘UFO’ - Brass utensils, stainless steel structure, 114 x 305 x 305 cms. Exhibited: Bodhi Art Gallery, Mumbai (2007). Above: ‘Alibaba’, 2009. Oil on canvas 198 x 364 cm.



Sudarshan Shetty VYJAYANTHI RAO


udarshan Shetty (1961) is best known for his large-scale sculptural installations and multimedia works. Graduating from the J.J. School of Fine Arts with a focus on painting, Shetty switched to installation very early on in his exhibition career. He was amongst the first artists to make this innovative shift of producing new, hybrid visual forms that crossed sculpture, painting and user

interaction, which later became a generational shift in art practices. In a career spanning nearly two decades, Shetty has shown his work in seventeen solo exhibitions and numerous Left: Sudarshan Shetty. Below: Untitled (from Saving Skin), 2008. Cast aluminum dog skeletons, red acrylic casing, surveillance cameras, flat screen TVs connected to the surveillance camera fixed inside the dog skeletons. Variable dimensions. Courtesy: Galleryske.



group shows as well as through commissioned public art works. In his first major solo exhibition titled Paper Moon (1995), which was shown in a large, colonial era exhibition space in Mumbai, Shetty showed a series of works concerned with scale, balance and perspective with an underlying, whimsical preoccupation with the mythic. These interests have continued into his most recent show, this too shall pass (2010) which was exhibited at the Bhau Daji Lad Museum in Mumbai, a colonial era museum with

an ethnographic collection that Shetty’s exhibition played with in an erudite way. Here I specifically explore some of the ways that Shetty’s work continues with his earliest interests whilst inventing new means of addressing these ideas. In so doing, he also continually uses aesthetic practices to push these concerns into new zones. A second important feature of Shetty’s work has been his experiments with the mechanical animation of objects. He has been interested

in the philosophical implications of such automata for understandings of our selves in a world marked by a profusion and abundance of objects that are not human yet not inert. His solo exhibitions For Here or To Go (2001) and Consanguinity (2003) are exemplary in their experiments with mechanical life and the haunting space of actions performed by objects that are enlivened by artistic sleight. While the works in For Here or To Go are principally concerned with the aesthetics of repetition and its consequences for spectatorial experience,

Untitled (from Leaving Home), 2008. Stainless steel, aluminum, sunglasses, motor mechanical device, 112 x 128 x 128". Courtesy: Galleryske.



in Consanguinity, the artist explores experience through an elegiac dispersal of the body’s various forces of movement – voice, vision and limbs – across a suite of objects. The spectator is actively engaged and emotionally challenged, confronting his/her own absence and objectification. Shetty’s focus on this kind of mechanical and materialist experimentation raises the larger metaphysical question of whether or not the specificity of human presence and gesture can be represented through interactional objects. Later solo shows, including Shift (2004), Statics (2004) and

Eight Corners of the World (2006) concentrate on the architectonics of domestic, interior and public spaces and the ways in which objects and their effects define these spaces as architecture. Common to each of these exhibitions is a focus on objects, particularly those associated with domestic aesthetic choices – sofa sets, kitsch display items, display cases, clocks, globes, shoes – that connect the inhabitant with the wider world both through a declaration of taste and by providing the home with an orientating anchor within a wider world. In these and later shows, Shetty’s work continues



to explore and question the standardization and fetishisation of objects as commodities in a world drowning in things and enlivened matter, that is uncanny precisely because it pulsates with social life. Such concerns emerge from Shetty’s deep aesthetic attachment to and rootedness in everyday urban life. In various conversations, the artist has described the city as his studio – both source and space of making. However, Shetty’s work is never directly referential or narrative. Instead, the city as studio signifies a particular set

of processes that are captured aesthetically – whether the abundance of commodities and things, the presentation of urban selves through objects or the gestures and performances of witnessing that are staged in public and private. One of the strongest political gestures of Shetty’s work is to explore and explode the distinction between the gallery/museum and the street/everyday by staging the contradictions between these spaces within the exhibitionary space itself. The artist’s visual grammar does not exploit any self-evident political complicities between artist and viewer.

Instead, his practice is to drive a wedge between maker, object and viewer, necessitating an experiential mode of interpretation in the interaction between viewer and work of art thereby turning a political gesture into an ethical one of confronting the otherness of the object. In his most recent shows, including Love (2006), Saving Skin (2008), Leaving Home (2008), Six Drops (2010), From Here to There and Back Again (2010), The more I die the lighter I get (2010) and this too shall pass (2010) Shetty has been

Untitled (from Saving Skin), 2008. Mixed media installation, rotating matka (earthen pot) and motorized rotational mechanism, 20 x 10 x 12". Courtesy: Galleryske.



Above: Untitled (from Love), 2006. Stainless steel, fiberglass, automated paint, motor and mechanical device, Dino-202 x 106 x 85.5", Jaguar-172 x 60 x 50". Facing page: Untitled (from this too shall pass), 2010. Carved wood, electro magnetic mechanism, steel sword, mild steel, 136 x 110 x 42". Courtesy: Galleryske.

engaged with a related but different set of metaphysical questions. In the assemblages he has created for these shows, he is concerned with giving ontological weight to absence. Here, he explores the ‘being’ of absence through works that investigate the formal qualities of negative and inner space. These investigations actively involve life-giving circulations – blood, semen, milk – as flows that give substance while remaining elusive to pin down. These works are most illustrative of the artist’s interest INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 6/2010


in creating a ‘community of sense’ around metaphysical and mythological concerns that arise from Asian theological traditions but situate these in entire new aesthetic realms. The outward forms of appearance become an experimental site for following an inner trajectory of artistic self-formation in a world that is at once rich and abundant with meaning and empty and alienated from tradition. As difficult as it is to summarize an entire career, a thread of progression can be pulled INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 6/2010


through the ways in which Shetty’s work has consistently addressed a particular set of questions around objects, worldly absence and the destabilization of the spectator and his invention of ever new and increasingly complex aesthetic forms for exploring these themes. The drama of Shetty’s work revolves around drawing the viewer into a world that is at once familiar but fundamentally disorienting.

◆ The author is Assistant Professor of Anthropology, New School of Social Research, New York and a writer.



ne of the most significant of the master artists Tyeb Mehta (1925-2009) devised an eminently modernist painterly image which reflected reality while remaining independent of it. In the progression of his work from the early years to the present, the arch modernist created critical intersections which became a vortex for personal, societal and international events.

Mehta was part of a strong movement which thrust towards a forceful, cohesive and international modern art. He came into contact with many of them while still a student at the J.J.School of Art which was pivotal for art practises in

Left: Tyeb Mehta. Below: ‘Human Landscape’, 1976. 175 x 105 cm. Facing page: ‘Falling Figures’, 1965. 77 x 105 cm.

As a close associate of the Progressive Artists’ Group,



the forties. The school of Art despite its belief in the Royal Academy mode of teaching was for Mehta a source of liberating and diverse influences. He interacted with the erudite and committed teacher and artist Palsikar who opened his mind to artists like Kandinsky and Klee. Other major associations were with the artists Husain



layer the surface with a heavy patina of disquiet and the figure and the space surrounding it would coalesce to form an independent relationship creating a new interpretative reality. The three images which became the hallmark of his oeuvre were to emerge during this period. The trussed bull, the falling figure and the women on the rickshaw were those which mutated, transformed were to remain with him for the rest of his life and they derived from a gut level experience of reality. The bull and the falling figure are part of the same emotional source and convey a strong sense of life nipped in the bud. The dual struggle of beast and man, of rational and the animal, the restrained and the wild, would emerge later in his work in an even more forceful manner.

‘The Gesture No. 3’, 1976-77. Oil on canvas, 90 x 115 cm.

‘Diagonals’, 1973, 175 x 175 cm.



and Raza who had along with F.N. Souza, in 1947 formed the Progressive Artists’ Group which claimed allegiance with an international modernism and critiqued the retrograde practices of the British founded art schools as well as the Bengal School and made him aware of the discoveries of the School of Paris. During his frequent interactions with this group,

Tyeb manifested his inner angst and the turbulence around him with his chosen vocabulary. In the late forties and fifties his paintings were a direct rendering of experiences on the surface, in sombre tones, and articulated the fate of individuals who were in some way cornered by fate. The thickly stroked paint would INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 6/2010


If we are to trace the trajectory of the figure, the introduction of the diagonal marks a watershed. The fragmented and fractured figure while lunging downwards would be splintered and yet come together again. The diagonal facilitated the fragmentation but a whole host of subsidiary figures also projected a fractured sense of being. Perhaps the stage was set for a major breakthrough and this came about while doing a residency at Santiniketan. Mehta happened to watch the Charak spring festival observed by the



ivan Sundaram (1943) belongs to the first generation of postindependence Indian artists who witnessed the debates around Western modernism and indigenism; and opened aspects of Third-world’s multiple modernity for further interrogation. Mostly responding to topical subjects, Sundaram’s engagement over the years has been with the archival,

‘Santiniketan Triptych’, 1985, 444 x 209 cm

Santhal tribals and moved by the event he made a triptych. A magnificent saga of life and death Mehta’s ‘Santiniketan Triptych’, (1985) is an enervated reflection of the tribal festival with the life impetus animating the figures. It is a painting however, which celebrates the survival of the individual who is at great odds with himself and the world and struggles to overcome it. His monumental painting ‘Celebration’, (1995) which followed is a bacchanial feast which at the same time is a memorial to the ordinary man and his struggle to survive.

goddess Kali. In her powerful and virile form which is at the same time compassionate, Mehta was to make an epic image of the woman battling with brute force. In the subsequent series of paintings on Mahishasura he showed the goddess Durga both interlocked in battle and also engaged with the buffalo demon. This was to lead to a series of powerful works where the buffalo is honed in at the very moment of his defeat and emergence as a demon thereby revealing his combat with his own internal conflicts.

It is during this period that the artist while rooting himself in Indian mythology and yet divesting it of any religious connotation made a suite of powerful paintings of the

If a life times work can be perceived in one sweep we could say that he was attempting to achieve on the one hand a depiction of pain and struggle and a saga of INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 6/2010


documentary evidence, simultaneity between real and fake, and constructing mythologies out of it. Born in Shimla to an artist family lineage of Amrita SherGil, Vivan Sundaram completed his education from the Faculty of Fine Arts, Baroda and later Left: Vivan Sundaram. Photo: Gottfried Junker, NADA-FILM 2005. Below: ‘Re-Take of Amrita’, Archival Print, 2001-06.

survival while at the same time achieving an autonomy of image which paralleled this reality. His canvases consistently retained a tension as he continued to struggle to articulate his experiences. Mehta’s paintings while paralleling life always reflect its epochal moments and thereby retain that fine balance between brute reality and its transcendence which he continuously strove for.

◆ The author is an art historian and independent curator.



development of the arts. His initiative Kasauli Art Centre in Shimla became the platform for bringing together artists from different regions for camps, workshops, and public lectures. As founding member of SAHMAT and artist-activist, Sundaram curated many art exhibitions such as ‘Images and Words’ (1991), ‘Ways of Resisting’ (2002), while experimenting with the notion of public-display, and smallformats like postcards. He was also the founding editor of Journal of Art & Ideas that energised the field of cultural studies in India. As part of the Baroda narrative school, he also participated in a phenomenal exhibition ‘Place for People’ (1981), conceptualised by Geeta Kapur, which became a point of departure in many ways.

Above: ‘Box Two – Mother’, The Sher-Gil Archive, 1995. Facing page: ‘Prospect’, Archival Print, 2008.

from Slade School of Arts, London under the guidance of R.B. Kitaj. He joined radical politics of the 1960s European Students movement, and also enrolled for a film course in London. He continued his political commitment even after his return to India in 1970, and joined the Communist Party. After a detour of full-time activism, Sundaram had a solo exhibition of his series ‘The Heights of Macchu and Picchu’ INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 6/2010


(1972), and ‘The Discreet Charm of Bourgeoisie’ (1976). His series on Indian Emergency was a sharp political critique of the ruling regime. Sundaram was one of the six artists who boycotted the Indian Triennale and Lalit Kala Exhibition, and organised an alternative exhibition at Kumar Gallery. Vivan Sundaram has played a pivotal role in consolidating the art fraternity, and infrastructure INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 6/2010


Sundaram started experimenting in different mediums in the early 1990s. His Engine oil drawings called ‘Gulf War’ series (1991) is a critique of territorial claims. By breaking the two-dimensionality of painting, and extending it to the third axis, the ground, Sundaram manages to create deceptive vanishing points that lead to blurring vision of a unified land, and allows misreadings of the landscape and cartographs. He was one of the first artists in post-liberalisation India, who gave up painting and started inscribing his work with negation of authoritative authorship, inserting the idea of

collaborations. Sundaram moved towards making installations and working with site-specific contexts. For example, in his exhibition ‘Journey Towards Freedom’, commemorating 50 years of Indian independence, he engaged with the notion of memorialisation through different processes of archiving, digging and archaeological sub-textuality, by delving into colonial archives of Victoria Memorial, Calcutta. In response to Babri Masjid demolition in Ayodhya, his earlier installation work ‘Memorial’ (1993) uses nails, newspaper photographs; his act of involving the viewer to mourn the death of ‘someone’ triggers different forms of association and engagement with the dead. Violence is ritualised through this memorialisation. Re-contextualizing forms an important part of Sundaram’s artistic process. His installation ‘The Sher-Gil Archive’ (1995) has been a project of digging into personal history, and re-arranging with a proposal of creating new content. ‘Re-take of Amrita’ (2001-06) is a series of photo-montages that delve into Umrao Singh’s (Amrita Sher-Gil’s father and an amateur photographer) photograph archive. He juxtaposes father with the daughter in Freudian anxiety, and freezes moments of narcissist pleasure of becoming

a subject of one’s own gaze through mediation of a camera. With his re-constructions, he is able to build tension between past, present and future moments. Sundaram has recently edited a two-volume book of Amrita Sher-Gil’s letters and diaries. His work ‘The Great Indian Bazaar’ (1999) is a mound of colour photographs of the Sunday market of Red Fort, Delhi, mounted in small cheap metallic frames. The mound becomes the site of consumption, fantasy, and mobility, pronounced by the imposed red metallic frames. He further extends this metaphor of consumption and urban to another level in his installation ‘Living.it.out.in.Delhi’ (2005) where he constructs a city with waste material. Culmination of this process of accumulation of garbage was a photography exhibition ‘Trash’ (2008). He did this work in collaboration with an NGO ‘Chintan’ that works with rag-pickers. A work from this series titled ‘Master Plan’ shows the perspective view of the constructed alternate city that duplicates and yet subverts all the functions of the real one. The city is performed with the leftovers. Sundaram’s interventionist artistic practice is layered with grids of references and associations.

◆ The author is a writer on Indian contemporary art.

Facing page: ‘Gateway Fallen Mortal’, Installation, 1993. INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 6/2010






hen a familiar visitor returns to the artists studio, the usual question is, “So, what’s new?” And the encounter between the unfamiliar visitor and the artist begins inevitably too within the frame of the sign for ‘newness’. The artist endures being the ‘latest discovery’ of the nth excitable unfamiliar visitor. What is the new? Any discussion of contemporary art usually has to deal with or skirt around this question. Its as if we can get on with the necessities of life and art and practice only once we make peace with the incessant demands of the unprecedented, of inhabiting the paradox of persisting without precedence or provenance – ex nihilo in perpetuity, forever and ever. Amen.

Left: The K.D. Vyas Correspondence, Vol. I, 2006. Installation with 18 video screens, 9 soundscapes, sculpture, narrative. Dimensions variable. Architecture in collaboration with Hirsch-Muellar, Architects. Installation view: Museum of Kommunication, Frankfurt. Photo: Norbert Thigulety. Following page: The Surface of Each Day is a Different Planet, 2009. Single screen video, 38 minutes. Scenario constructed with furniture, illumination and projected video with archival photographs, animation, sound, and spoken text. Installation view: Tate Britain, London. INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 6/2010




Above & right: Reverse Engineering the Euphoria Machine, 2008. Furniture, 2 videos, objects, drawings, photographs. Dimensions variable. Installation view: Mori Museum, Tokyo.

New art, new media art, art made new, art in the news, art that makes news – being new can sometimes feel like a habit. Some habits can begin to feel like addictions. The highs they deliver start wearing off sooner, leaving one suspended, mainlining between hangovers until the new stops feeling novel.

quicker than the latest claim to futurity.

The novel ages. Consequently, sometimes the misnomer called new media art can feel as old as the novel. This is the curse of having grown older while remaining new. As if there was no yesterday. As if even yesterday had no yesterday. And yet, nothing grows stale

As of now, there are no ‘antiaging’ cosmetic preparations known to artists and curators that can help firm the texture of practice or act as a defence against the inevitable onslaught of sagging thoughts and wrinkling methods. Consequently, instead of asking

So, how do we keep things fresh? How do we guard against the premature senility that strikes all pretenders to novelty? How do we forestall middleage spread, and postpone the eventual onset of both rigor and rictus mortis?



the apothecary what needs doing, we could begin by thinking about what needs to be undone. First things first: discard the claim to novelty. The rest might follow. Results will vary, but at least, the painful pressure of being forever ahead in a mad race against time may give way to the consolations and comforts of the renewal of consideration. As the body of our work in the Raqs Media Collective threatens to enter its second decade, as it straddles both the end of the last century and the beginning of the current one, we realize how liberating it feels to no longer bear the burden of being forever the bearers of new

media news. That baton has passed on, and on. Once, we were thought of as being purveyors of the last instant, now we deal in time itself. Why obsess with surfing just the edge of a breaking wave when you can sail a whole ocean? The surface of each day is a different planet. And there is a lot of exploring to be done, one patient day at a time. Our recent work and thinking begs the question – what exactly do we mean when we say something is ‘new’ in the context of art making? Are we speaking of things said in new ways, in a new language, or are we speaking of new things? INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 6/2010


Or of new ways of looking at things that have a habit of persisting without permission? Is it not better to think of renewal than to be obsessed by the new? After all, the crucial thing is not a matter of figuring out how to ‘break into’ contemporary art, but of working out what needs doing to stay the course. This means renewing, every day, the reasons for making art. Committing a practice to the sustenance of thoughts and questions over decades, through years of conversation. Sometimes it may take twenty years for three people working together to get to an image or a thought that holds the key to the making of a work

The Moderns UMA NAIR

The NGMA Collection is one that boasts of an epicurean eye,it heralds the vision of collecting the ‘Moderns’ when the world hadn’t yet woken up to the brilliance of Indian contemporary art.There are a number of works that fuel intrigue and provide a catalyst for creativity.

D ‘Revoltage’, 2010. Text sculpture with light bulbs and electricity, 36 x 25 x 4, 72 x 25 x 4, 60 x 25 x 4". Installation view: Project 88, Mumbai. Photo courtesy Project 88.

of art. That might mean sixty man years. When that image or thought breaks into consciousness, is it new, the monarch of the moment of its emergence, or, is it the patient companion of a meandering journey, sixty years in the making in the combined minds of three people like ourselves? In our renewals, we have lost and found our reasons in shipyards and in deserts. We have watched airplanes sink into the sand and examined the mechanisms of emotions stretched across hours and

straddling longitudes. We have gossiped with immortals and played games with children. We have entered factories, prisons and mortuaries in search of old secrets and new rumours. We have looked into the eyes of angels and madmen and found both eternity and the moment in what we saw. Sometimes, we have touched down on an asteroid. In each of these instances, we have been renewed by what we have experienced. But is it new? Is it old? Does it matter, or should we be asking another set INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 6/2010


of questions - like - Is it familiar or uncanny, or uncannily familiar? Is it rich and strange? Does it work? Does it take us, and the visitors to our work, to the places we all really need to get to? We could now come back to the old question. What’s new? And now, in the light of all our renewals, begin to wonder aloud, “Really, what isn’t?”

◆ Raqs Media Collective, 1992 (Monica Narula, Jeebesh Bagchi, Shuddhabrata Sengupta) has been variously described as artists, media practitioners, curators, editors and catalysts of cultural processes.

uring his early years, known as his Kerala period (because he painted landscapes of the state extensively), K.K. Hebbar was highly influenced by Paul Gauguin and Amrita Sher Gil. The body of work he created during this period, covering more or less a decade starting from 1946, is considered extremely influential in the development of modern Indian art and occupies an important place in Indian art history. Hebbar’s idiom is a unique combination of impressionistic and expressionistic techniques. A strong social concern made him focus on subjects like poverty, hunger and the destruction wrought by nuclear weapons. At the other end of the spectrum lie his drawings and paintings that capture the grace of dance performances, influenced by his study of the classical Indian dance form, Kathak. Throughout his career, Hebbar never ceased to experiment, and enriched his artistic vocabulary through

layers of inner perception but also has within the sinuous lines of a snake that harks back to mythic references. While the line worms its way through the darkness it is the textural terrain of the layers that creates a resonance of the stream of experience. The snake is the line of life, it grasps and slithers and slides as it is lit by flares of perception and breathes from its own ferment of life.

‘Through the Darkness’ by K.K. Hebbar. Oil on canvas, 152.5 x 91.5 cm.

several trips around the country, including those to important historical sites like the ancient caves at Karla, in Maharashtra. One of the sketches that resulted from this particular trip won him a gold medal from the Bombay Art Society. Through the Darkness is a landscape which reflects the INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 6/2010


Jehangir Sabavala creates a world and a mythology of his own, so much like poets. He presents us with nearly barren landscapes, cloud formations above them that admit a white sear of light; in this light, dunes, serrated by wind, spread out towards unclear horizons or mountains that look as though they have never been visited. Somewhere in these landscapes are human figures, hooded and in shroud-like cloaks, who embody the beautiful biblical phrase, “men like trees walking.” One cannot really judge whether they are moving at all, and if they are, whether

balancing of the image on the canvas, as if it were floating on water. “The painter is at the controls, he decides when the painting has arrived at its capacity to articulate. Like music, I know when it is at an end.” (As told to Pria Karunakar, ‘V.S. Gaitonde’, Lalit Kala Contemporary 19 & 20, April and September 1975, p. 16)

or elongated, which are recognisably human. Gentleness and bereavement appear in their movements, in their expressions. They seem, in some way, to be on a mission, to be healers or carriers of important information. Akbar Padamsee’s Metascapes, begun in 1970, represent his long involvement with the landscape theme. As the word Metascape suggests, Padamsee is concerned with the mythic or archetypal landscape which is expressed visually by a stringent ordering of timeless elements, such as the earth, the sun, and the moon, in a temporal space.

Above: ‘Trapped Lakes’, 1990 by Jehangir Sabavala. Oil on canvas, 150 x 100 cm. Right top: Painting I, 1985 by Vasudeo S. Gaitonde. Oil on canvas, 102 x 153 cm. Right: ‘Metascape-III’, 1977 by Akbar Padamsee. Oil on canvas, 137 x 137 cm.

they have a destination, or a reason for their movement. Many of his landscapes – even they are devoid of human figures and, with austere emptiness, deny any human existence – are mysterious in that they become alive under his brush: rock becomes flesh, veined with water, eyes open in petrified wood. Sabavala’s imagination in recent years has also been inhabited by robed, alopecic figures, squat INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 6/2010


The use of a bold palette complements his choice of landscape as subject with earthy tones and vibrant reds and yellows. The colours evoke a sense of movement in an unmoving space. Padamsee states, “...colours expand and contract, colours travel on the surface of the static painting... colour trajectory is strategy... A colourist needs to master the art of silencing some colours, so as to render others eloquent.” (Akbar Padamsee, India Myth and Reality, Aspects of Modern Indian Art, Oxford, 1982, p. 17) The reclusive Vasudeo S. Gaitonde disdained popular attempts to classify his work as abstractionist. Initially exposed to reproductions of Paul Klee, Joan Miró, Wassily Kandinsky and Georges Rouault, Gaitonde borrowed various elements

‘Eros Killing Thanatos’ 1984 by Francis Newton Souza. Oil on canvas, 180 x 131 cm.

from this diverse group with Klee becoming the dominant artistic influence in the paintings of his 50s era. This work exemplifies the break down of representation seen in his use of symbols, calligraphic elements and hieroglyphs, which served as a bridge into Gaitonde’s later fully abstracted paintings, as his concurrent study of Zen Buddhism began to further influence his thought processes and his art. Using both a roller and a palette knife, he scrupulously manipulated and mixed different media on the canvas, coordinating spontaneous reactions with such precision that they seem to deny the notion of accidental elements. His subsequent work was multilayered, filled with complexity that in essence is

an experimentation with the genre of painting itself. The work seems to straddle the duality between density and weightlessness and between form and formlessness producing a tension between the translucent surface and almost primordial background. In the late 1950’s, Gaitonde began exploring the possibilities that oil paint as a medium offered, an interest he has pursued throughout his career. He became interested in the creative process of the formation of texture, the application of pigment, stripping it off, dissolving and overlaying; the evocation of light and balancing the compositional weight of the canvas through the subtle INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 6/2010


The maverick of Indian art, the artist, writer and thinker Francis Newton Souza was a class part. You could always marvel at the mastery and facility of his line. This work on canvas has a freshness and immediacy about it that is so pristine - and enthrallingly powerful. The killing and the symbolism of Eros becomes Souza’s powerful imagery from myth. Widely independent and fully realized in his own distinctive idiom and style that Souza created for himself, apart from the market. He wrote on a number of issues and techniques. “Drawing is the school of hard knocks the artist has to go through before he or she can come into the bright sunlight of colour.” Francis Newton Souza, 1983, from Francis Newton Souza: Bridging Western and Indian Modern Art. A closer look at this work exhibits a rawness and a zeal which reveals this Indian artist’s incomparable talent as a draughtsman, which provided what he called “the structure of my iconography” – a

Indian art’s search. The illusion of space, of light and colour in his early water colours, the emotion and pain of his figures and groups he dispels as he searches in these great pictures for the “word” that can inwardly assure and give peace. Ambadas Khobragade is an abstractionist of a higher order.”Art to me is a happening and performance, an instant plunging, flirting and merging, with life, with it’s being and becoming it. All that is there on the canvas is but a charge in celebration.” says he. His works are influenced by the constant and innate movement in nature, which leads to a crescendo of optimal expression. He is preoccupied with getting beyond the surface into a formless, abstract reality, where the artist’s intentions play no part. Ambadas has held several solo and group exhibitions in India as well as internationally.

Painting, 1976 by Syed Haider Raza. Oil on canvas, 183 x 91.5 cm.

structure present in all his work, whatever the medium.

of both the Indian landscape and its people.

There is some justification in calling Souza the “Picasso of India” and the NGMA’s decision to acquire a piece by Souza’s hand, as well as a piece of history, holds it in good stead.

The format of this work is just beginning to show this slightly ordered ‘architectural foundation’ (Daniel Herwitz, ‘Indian Art from a Contemporary Perspective’, Indian Art Today, Washington, 1986, p. 20.) at the upper and lower edge of the canvas. As these paintings develop, the canvas becomes more structured and is arranged loosely into diagrams reminiscent of Tantric art.

Syed Haider Raza’s early work encompasses a range of associations and moments in time. Images from nature and specifically the forests of Madhya Pradesh retain a prominent place in Raza’s mind long after he left India in 1950. His frequent visits back starting from the 1960’s contributed to a vast compilation of memories that would manifest themselves in various forms over the next two decades. He maintains an intense and powerful bond with the forests, rivers and parched earth of India. Although this painting is non-representational, the combination of bright scorching colours and powerful brushstrokes succeed in invoking the vibrancy and spirit

Here, the majority of the painting still has the ‘crowded pattern of lines, semi-abstract forms, and rich red, black and orange colour fields which reverberate with musical motion and mood. Everything inside the edge is alive with counterpoint and dramatic cadence. It is as if the edge functions not unlike the repeating cycle of beats in a Raga - as an architectural basis’ upon which further development is generated. (Daniel Herwitz, ibid.)



Above: ‘Words and Symbols’, 1971 by K.C.S. Panicker. Oil on canvas 88 x 60 cm. Right: ‘Roop Bhed’ by Ambadas Khobragade. Oil on canvas, 120 x 160 cm.

One of India’s first metaphysical abstract artists, “Words and Symbols” is an in depth conception by the great guru of the Madras Metaphor, K.C.S. Panicker. Painters have, of course, used symbols and in ancient times the script, but none has conceived anything so full, complete and contemporary entirely in terms of words and symbols. His colour gets disembodied or denatured in these pictures, but much of its life, as found in his early water colours, issues out in the spirited passages in line. With these, Panicker, visualised immense arrays of forms of life coming together in a design of great grandeur and mystery. With a vision as large as that,

minutely strict and yet so sensitive in its comprehension, Panicker makes the symbols and words an uncommon beauty. “That was the time when a few Indian artists were trying to break out of this Western influence and establish an idiom and identity of their own,” he once said of early times in INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 6/2010


Two colours with gradations that seep into your sensesVelu Viswanadhan’s works have had about them a grain of abstract trajectory. The playfulness and mutations of geometric shapes mark the identity of Viswanadhan’s abstract world. His “representational” language is the interface of his body as yantra to which he lays emphasis. Art to him is not extraneous but correlates with his physical being where the body takes on a relational

Fluid images with sharp edges mark the enchanting work of artist Jeram Patel. The colours such as yellow, burnt brown etc. also appear in-between or penetrate through the dark masses only to heighten our perception further.

activity. In his light filled canvases, the play of colour and geometry is centrifugal. Colour in its essence is shape and form and synergy and hence the painting. Particularly interesting is his handling of white, which he treats as an independent entity or to frame other colours and viceversa. The symbiotic energies conflating traditional Indian thought and experiences connect to the episteme of his native region, which engender a cultural space in identifying his works in Paris recognised with an alien sensibility (read Indian) with warm colours but not abstract in the Euro-centric sense.

Since he started his career in the early sixties with blowtorch on wood works, and drawings in sharp and contrasting lines, he has painted on canvas, and ply-board successfully as well, but perhaps it is the medium of drawing to which he identifies himself most. Jeram’s art is not of skill, yet the ‘control’ he has on the materials he uses for expression is exemplary in itself. He transmits the images felt and seen on paper, with a certain ease and this ease is also celebrated by the viewer unfolding an aesthetically absorbing resonance.

Shanti Dave blends the matrix of mythic symbols with his ceramic little figures and architectural nuances even as he creates an amalgam of the momentary ethos of evocations reaching out into primeval permutations in time. His is a searching vision that transcended time and the tenor of being to reflect a dichotomy of sorts which leans and leaps into its own vortex of ideated energy and the inimitable third eye which captures the cohesion of creative curvature and the linearity of the strain of thought that opens out like a Top: Untitled, 1974 by Velu Viswanadhan. Acrylic on canvas, 184 x 152.5 cm. Middle: Painting II, 1988 by Shanti Dave. Oil on canvas, 100 x 156 cm. Below: Untitled IV by Jeram Patel. Blow torch on wood, 60.5 x 60.5 cm.

In his work the masses give us such a sensory and tactile jolt, that one becomes aware of the reality of these images, wondrously. The images or forms in his works are non-figurative and they do not adhere to any particular object or norm. His is a unique pictorial language.

lotus even as it searches for that quest to infinitude. INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 6/2010


Biren De began his career as a portrait painter before moving on to figurative works. This phase lasted until the late 1950s when figures began to be substituted for freely floating shapes. This painting was

G.R. Santosh’s paintings are widely acknowledged as prime examples of Neo-Tantrism, an artistic movement originated by the artist, K.C.S. Panicker in the 1960’s. The artists were inspired by Hindu, Buddhist and Jain concepts of dualities between male and female and between macro- and microcosm. Santosh’s painting is neither abstract nor representational but highly reminiscent of Indian religious imagery involving yantras, mandalas, chakras, and the lokapurusha (cosmic man). Santosh was a poet and a painter. One of his most charming works was a sonnet called ‘Night.’ This work is a transcendental triumph, blending the Shiv Shakti leitmotif and creating zones of meditative moorings.

Above: ‘Genesis I’, 1978 by Biren De. Oil on canvas, 152.6 x 121 cm. Right: ‘Self and the Elements’ by G.R. Santosh. Oil on canvas, 61 x 75.5 cm.

executed in 1978, when he was fully absorbed in Neo-Tantric ideologies. The scholars of Tantric art were of the opinion that art is ‘sadhana’ meaning that the act of creation is in fact a spiritual practice. Biren De used geometric forms and the juxtaposition of colour and light to embody notions of ‘shakti’, or the pure energies of a universal life force. His technique of applying colour to the canvas brings the canvas alive with its translucency and near transparency, providing the viewer with a sense of immense tranquillity and a mood of meditation. Genesis-I is concerned with uniting the “male” and the “female” principles. He explores the various ways the two can

be combined, sometimes adding other fundamental shapes such as the circle or the square to complete the equation. He is very influenced by Tantric principles, which state that the “ultimate truth” is the union of Purusha and Prakriti - the male and female principles respectively. One cannot survive without the other, which is why the “ultimate reality” requires that the two should come together. INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 6/2010


A visit to the Amar Nath Cave in 1964 proved another turning point for the artist and he stopped painting to study Tantra (mysticism) and Kashmir Shaivism (a sect of Shiva followers). Later, inspired by the Tantra philosophy, he combined the male and female form and finally worked round to paint a pure image of the human form, leaving out the face, hands, and feet. “For a while, therefore, his subjects came to be dominated by the Shiv-Shakti. “Indian tradition is based on the universal concept of the ultimate reality manifesting itself in myriad shapes and

forms in time and space. My own self is preoccupied with the same universal concept. My paintings are based on the male-and-female concept of Siva and Sakti and, therefore, construed as Tantra. It is not just the man and woman concept. Any semblances in my paintings in this respect is symbolical, but my stress is on the more fundamental male-female principle with its infinite connotation with all the pervasive light emanating from the objective reality”. (Artist Statement, Obeisance to Sharika Santosh, exhibition catalogue, New Delhi, 1978) Bhupen Khakhar is one of the most provocative, and important, artists on the contemporary Indian scene, achieving widespread popularity and respect throughout the world. His sometimes absurd, always affecting works ask questions of significance, role, and relationship. Working in Baroda during the 1960’s, Khakhar quietly rejected the lofty themes that were pervasive in contemporary Indian art and exposed, instead, the irreverent subject matter of everyday lives of the common middle class, creating a new iconography for Indian art. His naïve style further underscored his rejection of lofty ideals and techniques. In the 1980’s, his voyeuristic glimpses into the interiors of modest homes gradually peeled back more layers of the social fabric exploring overtly

of the facial features and clothes stand out, it is evident that the smaller flanking pictures within the single frame have figures that are men. Khakhar draws our attention to the central figure, as he glows in soft tones of pink, perhaps alluding to himself.

‘Man with a Bouquet of Plastic Flowers’, 1975 by Bhupen Khakhar. Oil on canvas, 140 x 175 cm.

homosexual themes – a daring occupation in modern India. His exposure of this previously shrouded subject catapulted him into the realm of social critic and saboteur. Enrique Juncosa in his essay, ‘The Integrative Art of Bhupen Khakhar’, identified two key factors adopted by Khakhar in his paintings. The first being that most figures painted by him were men and the second was to point out Khakhar’s preference to paint scenes in open air. Through his paintings, Khakhar wanted his viewers to see him as he was. His bias towards depicting men came from him addressing his own homosexuality in his works while often portraying himself naked, alone or in erotic positions with other men. In this painting, Man with a ‘Bouquet of Plastic Flowers’ we find a central figure holding a bouquet in what appears to be a routine activity. While details INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 6/2010


This painting by Bikash Bhattacharjee is from the ‘Doll’ series, it has been lauded as Bikash Bhattacharjee’s most important work. Often juxtaposing dark subjects with the purity of children’s toys, his works covey both a sense of the fragility of life and a loss of innocence. In this work, Bhattacharjee paints a forgotten and forlorn doll discarded as cruelly as the crumpled paper next to her. The doll is framed by the ominous dark mass of the drawer and room into which its absent owner has disappeared. His style seems to capitalize on the idiosyncrasies of photography and cinema, incorporating dramatic cropping and collapsed depth of field. In this work, the doll is literally the same size as the brooding books in the background, an incidence which gives the work both a disquieting and distinctly photographic quality. While many of Bhattacharjee’s compositional elements quote more modern technological media, his technical skill as a painter is impressive. Bikash Bhattacharjee’s meticulous handling of paint and colour finds examples in archetypal

‘The Doll’, 1972 by Bikash Bhattacharjee. Oil on canvas, 121 x 121.5 cm.

painters like Jan Van Eyck, as he imbues his works with a naturalistic perfection that is remarkably realist and surreal. In his Cholamandal years, Vasudev lived close to the sea. There was the continual ebb and flow of the sound of the waves beating against sands, the hush of the Casuarina trees, filtering the strong winds through their needle-like leaves, and the scratch of crab-like forms moving across the hard dry crust of the beach. The house was filled with the deep bull-frog like voices of Carnatic maestros, just as the hammers and chisels pounded on the surfaces of the various metal plates and round brass vessels, trays and copper murals that Vasudev and Arnawaz, his artist wife at that time, created as part of the craft making activities that were an integral part of the Cholamandal Artists Village scheme. The idea was to produce an attractive, and at

‘Kalpanika-II’, 1976 by Vasudev. Oil on canvas, 122 x 121.5 cm.

that time, innovative range of crafts, that would free the artists to experiment with their artistic vision, without fear of economic constraints. It was a time, when there was little or no support at all, from the tradition bound public at Madras, for contemporary art. The importance of being part of a vibrant artistic community that Cholamandal used to be in the 60s cannot be emphasized enough. It was a meeting place for artists, dramatists, dancers, drop-outs, poets, photographers, architects, anarchists and thinkers. Some of them have remained lifelong friends and partners in Vasudev’s artistic journey. Whether it was designing a set for a film, like ‘Samskara’, or ‘Vamsa Vriksha’, or much later the masks for a production of ‘Hayavadana’, written by Girish Karnad, or a series of line drawings inspired by the poems of A.K. Ramanujan, Vasudev’s



‘Window’, 1970 by Gieve Patel. Oil on canvas, 147 x 107 cm.

links with the intellectual world, outside that of painting, or the visual arts, has remained a constant source of inspiration. Gieve Patel has long been preoccupied with the manner in which the rural and the urban ways of living encounter, interpenetrate and modify each other in the backdrop of the post-colonial Indian experience. The preoccupation is there to see in his exhibit of Window a 1970 work. Gieve Patel, a man of many shades, was born in Mumbai in 1946. Apart from being a practicing general physician, he is a self-taught artist, a poet and a playwright - all rolled in one. Since holding his inaugural show in Mumbai in 1966, he has held several shows in India apart from exhibiting his work internationally. There are paintings depicting the

common people engaged in their day-to-day activities; often they are in the open street, which is a second home to most of us in Mumbai. A madman by a BEST bus, and a migrant labourer getting a letter written are human scenes he picks and depicts. He admits here to his ‘preoccupation with the city’s street life’. This poet-painter-doctor draws his inspiration from various human situations. He sees a sense of poetry even in the tough and the tricky situations that ordinary people have to face and his paintings are a manifestation of this, his works regularly feature the common man doing everyday things. One can trace some recurring themes: the City, the human body, violence, Nature and spiritual aspiration in his collections of verse including



‘Accident on May day’, 1981 by Sudhir Patwardhan. Oil on canvas, 183 x 122 cm.

‘Poems’ (1966), ‘How Do You Withstand Body’ (1976), and ‘Mirrored, Mirroring’ (1991). His paintings revolve around the same theme, and reveal that he is a keen observer; the clothes, the postures, and the stances that he encounters everyday are faithfully reproduced in his work. The people depicted are presented without any pretensions or idolizations. Their bodies and physiognomies have been sharply observed with affection and sympathy. Sudhir Patwardhan’s Accident on May Day, 1981 is a passionate reflection of the painted figure who is always a bearer of mystery, because it will not put its presence into words. But, wordless as they are, Sudhir Patwardhan’s painted figures activate a response in the viewer, extend an invitation to converse. In

that invitation lies the hope of communication and community, the hope that we may yet defeat the claustrophobic and isolated self-definitions into which a linear history has thrust us.The critic Kamala Kapoor says: ‘In any discussion of contemporary Indian art the significant contribution of Sudhir Patwardhan is undeniable. He belongs to the openly eclectic generation of artists born in the 40’s whose socio-political commitments seem to have been best realized in their work through figuration.’ As a young painter Rameshwar Broota’s anguish at the suffering he saw in society was forcefully expressed in early works like ‘Transplantation’, via colourful and humorous depictions of anthropomorphic apes representing the pillars of society. Broota’s imagery



later shifted from the ‘Gorilla Man’ to the ‘Primordial Man’. In the 1980s the artist embarked on the existential “Man” series, exploring an almost Darwinian study through the ages which charts the struggle for survival.The male figure has played a central role throughout the artist’s career, becoming a site for conflict and its resolution in Broota’s themes. ‘Face’ produced in 1993, is one of the last from his “Man” series which plays tribute to an injured man, perhaps a warrior, whose brooding stance and statuesque quality appears fossilized; frozen in time and space. The figure exudes strength against the odds and looms from its dark surroundings with a translucence of dignity. Rameshwar Broota’s reverse technique of ‘extracting’ forms and imagery from the canvas began in the late 1970s. This unique, subtractive process involves scraping away painted layers of monochromatic hues by nicking the blade across the canvas to create nuanced tones and textures. Krishna Reddy’s technique and style have distinguished him as one of the best printmakers of the world. Reddy’s prints are abstract. This intaglio at best personifies Left top: ‘Winners Posthumous II’, 1982 by Rameshwar Broota. Oil on canvas, 203 x 203cm. Left: ‘Tree Trunk’ by Krishna Reddy. Intaglio on paper, 46.5 x 37 cm. INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 6/2010


to Bahrain, Turkey, and Iran. The photographs she took during these travels reflect an interest in architectural spaces, urban streets, and modern technological inventions. Throughout her work, there is an exchange between her abstract drawing and the subtle sentencing of space. In the creation between paper and pen, Mohamedi reduces structures and spaces to patterns of diagonals and planes. Although Mohamedi’s drawings may suggest visual similarities to Constructivist compositions, Futurist diagrams, and the grids of Agnes Martin, her works are part of an inspired visual language that emerged from an alternative modernity in India.

his genius and the sleight of his hand that distinguishes the idea of tactility and touch in creating intangible connections in the curious creation of the printmaker. He creates subtle grid-like designs on his plates with intricate texturisations. The myriad complex colours that he introduces in prints are marked by a contemplative approach to the infinite mysteries of nature. Laxma Goud derives inspiration from his childhood in rural Andhra Pradesh, India. The flora and fauna is typically lush and wild and his tribal men and women are clad in colourful lungis (un-stitched lower garment, traditionally worn by men) and saris (unstitched garment traditionally draped by Indian women) and bejewelled with traditional tribal ornaments. Though he portrays scenes from daily life with common folk his works are highly stylised to reflect a sort of fantasy world. Goud has experimented with various types of media, from traditional oils, to watercolour, pen, ink, coloured pencil and etchings. This particular work pays supreme attention to detail. The artist does not leave a single space uncovered. The young girl gazing demurely yet seductively is executed with meticulous deliberation against a background in a multitude of colours. The division of her face, the bindi (a forehead ornamentation used by Indian

Top: Untitled by Laxma Goud. Mixed Media on Glass, 20.3 x 30.4 cm. Above: Untitled, 1986 by Nasreen Mohamedi. Ink and pen on paper, 35 x 27 cm.

women) which festoons her forehead, everything becomes a context of cultural synthesis. Nasreen Mohamedi’s fineline geometric drawings, for which she is best known, are complex and spare. These drawings, created between the early 1960s and the late 1980s, are informed by ideas of modernity and by the geometry of Islamic architecture. In the mid 1960s, Mohamedi travelled INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 6/2010


Anupam Sud’s deft mastery of the figure is displayed. Her compositions focus heavily on the body, thrust into unusual and difficult settings. They show a figure unnerved and comforted both, brought to a place of unending tension. The choice becomes clear, the subject asks, “what shall I become?” This is the function of intimacy/isolation. It is a question and an answer. The solutions veer between grotesque and delicate, dark and light, strange and familiar. The artist searches the canvas for contrast and the subject bears the weight of what is found. The burden is a heavy one, and the figures seem weary at the constant exploration to which they are exposed. The

‘The Ceremony of Unmasking’ by Anupam Sud. Etching on Paper, 65 x 95 cm.

viewer’s eye becomes a surgical instrument, dissecting the layers of meaning. Along with being a painter, Sud is an accomplished printmaker. Her prints function like unfinished maps, charting an unseen course into the reaches of the subject’s psyche. Ghostly apparitions share the paper with strange machines, their interaction on both the surface plane and thematically, a disparate foreground/ background contrast. P.V. Janakiram’s bronzed brilliance of the `King’ made from a single sheet, is a profound reflection and metaphysical distillation, of a cerebral and aesthetic connectivity, it engages in an artistic iota of inclusiveness, and visual construction. He rendered the formal frontal aspect and

the entire surface of sculpture on to a free standing figuration in flat sheet metal. That led immediately to another folk instinct the instinct for pattern... The next advance was in the drastic reduction of sculpture into just a surface – actually into a formal frontal plane – the instinct for pattern. Pilloo Pochkhanawala’s body of work, ranging from intricate theatrical sets to monumental public sculptures, explores and applies various materials, textures and techniques innovatively to engage with the concepts of time, space and nature, in a “rare marriage between form and content”, as Anahite Contractor notes “This work ‘Ophelia’ is an expressionist entendre, it embraces the inchoate perceptions of Greek tragedy”.



Left: ‘Christ’, 1986 by P.V. Janakiram. Metal Sheet (Copper), 46 x 13 x 52 (H) cm. Right: ‘Ophelia’ by Pilloo Pochkhanawala. Alluminium and Alloy ceramic steel, 22 x 20 x 53.5(h) cm.

Since Pochkhanawala first began to sculpt in 1951 at the relatively late age of twentyeight, her obsession was to unscramble the tight boundaries of space which were available to her through the time she existed in. Her arrangement of motifs, the strategic use of negative space around them, the aesthetic disproportions and, occasionally, her violent distortions even within the abstract mode she chose to work with, render to Pochkhanawala’s sculpture a keen dynamism even today” (“Pilloo Pochkhanawala: Disharmony and Inner Mechanics”, Expressions & Evocations: Contemporary Women Artists of India, Marg Publications, Mumbai, 1996). Balan Nambiar’s ‘Sculpture II’ is a resonance of harmony

weaving into a brilliant sense of contour – it enhances our sensation of movement and establishes a no-man’s-land between the spiritual and the abstract. What is the nature of the conversation between humanity and this meditative study? We may consider the picture a critique of spiritual fervour, but the work transcends any such interpretation. In many ways, this work in its vertical height and sense of balance opens into possibilities in spiritual fervour and the idea of the open spirit - it reflects artistic imperatives. Made of mild steel and 165 x 146 x 332 (ht) it is a marvel of insight and intensity. Individual plates are first created. These plates would be assembled with equal space between layers to give



a proportion of the golden ratio. Accentuating and creating equiangular motifs used at various points’ sets the balance. The sculptor sets up solid arches to encompass the central form. These arches, with legs firmly anchoring the entire structure, add to the sculpture’s compactness while maintaining its elegance and lightness. Though the arches look delicate and graceful, they are made of solid and firm plates. Gujarati artist Himmat Shah believes that form often evolves with the accumulation of technical expertise. In a series of nearly identical heads executed in a range of materials, Shah experiments with medium, painstakingly manipulating the clay, paper or bronze. His geometric aesthetic, aroused in part by Modernists such as Brancusi, Picasso and Modigliani, lend Shah’s Head series both the spare and decorative qualities of tribal art and the sophisticated simplicity of minimalism. This Head by Himmat speaks of tradition, transition and the history of the past. “Himmat Shah’s suite of large heads comes at the apex of his investigation of the human condition…In his construction of the head, ancient presences are suggested, like atavistic shadows…Here, as the artist perceives it, the head, the phallus and the pillar are all the same; the sculpture gains

Top: ‘Sculpture II’, 1980 by Balan Nambiar. Mild steel, 165 x 146 x 332 (h) cm. Above: ‘Head-82’, by Himmat Shah. Ceramic, 17 x 25 x33(h) cm.

its vitality not in its definition, but in the process of arriving at a form. These works appear INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 6/2010


to re-echo the passage of civilizations, recalling early migrations between Africa and India, to ancient seaports like Lothal, perhaps…Stubborn and unrelenting, these heads become expressive of a state of resistance, one that bears the marks of isolation perhaps, but also of a commitment to life and endurance…The heads also bear the marks and grooves of an experiential mapping of tentative tracks and journeys. In the surface of his forms, Himmat recalls the craft techniques of his native Saurashtra, its strong linear pictorial/pictogramic style, and the exposed stitched embroidery of its womenfolk. These striated marks appear like a domestic activity as much as a cartographic plotting of vast journeys across the surface of the earth…The patina, furrows and the sharp cleavages of long years of human experience are visible, as Himmat invites us to share in a monumental quietude and the fraternity of being human. At the same time, the stillness of the images offers a sense of its perpetual entrapment and silence” (Gayatri Sinha, An Unreasoned Act of Being: New Sculptures by Himmat Shah, Mapin Publishing Pvt. Ltd., Ahmedabad, 2007, p. 45, 51). S. Nandagopal, son of K.C.S.Panicker is a narrative sculptor. He has long been part of the Madras movement of frontal sculpture. His work may

‘Krishna with Cows’, 1988 by S. Nandagopal. Copper, brass and enamel, 104 x 23 x 88 (H) cm.

also be described as anecdotal sculpture, as it recalls motifs and moments rather than narrativise whole tales. His sculptures have a wide range of references from Kangra miniatures, Tibetan scrolls and Jain inscriptions, ancient Tamil Nadukkal war memorials to his daughter’s violin lessons. There are no straightforward transpositions. His Krishna’s flute ends in a fisherman’s tackle, pulling a writhing fish out of the river. The cat mimicking Arjuna’s penance metaphorises the magnificent Mamallapuram panel for contemporary times. A bull springs on the warrior from a bridge of ladles. A tree of spoons supports a monkey’s

somersault. “Haven’t you seen ladles with concentric rings and a naga handle (snake handle), burning camphor before the temple deity?” he asks. Nandagopal has worked steadily to realize his own vision of sculpture, often at variance with established ideas and techniques. Sheet metal was his chosen medium, and frontality (as against three-dimensionality) the idiom. “When a temple deity is taken in procession what you see is a frontal image,” he explains. Seeking to infuse that power into modern metaphors became a passion, so strong that it withstood criticism and the initial dismissal of his work as more craft than art, decorative, even iconic.



To create stone works that enshrined the harmony of the material and also hold on to his roots, the senior sculptor Nagji’s works amply draw from the motifs of the rustic village life where spirituality and religion are at the very core of one’s existence. They thus resurface as restructured images of his myriad experiences and perceptions along with visions of local deities, acknowledging the part they play in his culture.

Influenced by Madras sculptors V. Janakiram and Dhanraj Bhagat, Nandagopal wanted to merge their stylistics, “the tension rising from the contrast between the figure and the abstract shape. Mine is not junk or found sculpture. It is orderly, designed, planned.” Mrinalini Mukherjee’s work created from hemp revels in sensual cadences. The artist is reluctant to reveal her inspiration for her works or the references that inspire her as she feels each work should speak for itself. Yet she admits that she starts with an idea and then ‘lets it grow.’ ‘I think they all have a relationship with the human form. I think the earlier works maybe started with the idea of a plant or some form of nature, but they sort of took on a human scale and gradually became more human.’ (Mukherjee in conversation with Marjorie Allthorpe-Guyton and William Furlong, Audio Arts Magazine, Volume 13, Number 4, 1993). The knotted sculptures grow from a metal armature and a vague notion of what she would like to create; this slowly evolving, the creative process is inspired by the natural world and usually incorporates elements that are associated with the Indian female principle, revealing strong undertones of the erotic that manifest themselves in her luscious undulating forms and orifices.

‘Basanti’ by Mrinalini Mukherjee. Hemp 95 x 75 x 215 (H) cm.

Deepak Ananth notes that the choice of a natural fibre for the sculptures reflects the influence of her professor K G Subramanyan who encouraged his students to be inspired by the richly varied forms produced by a long and continuous tradition of Indian artisans working within the loosely termed ‘craft’ movement. The inspiration to use a material more closely associated with these varied craft traditions rather than ‘High Art’ reflects her teacher’s conscious attempts to overcome the ‘stale polarity of Modernism in India’. (Deepak Ananth, Mrinalini Mukherjee, The Knots are many but the thread is one, Art Asia Pacific, Vol 3, No 4, 1996). INDIA PERSPECTIVES VOL 24 NO. 6/2010


Building on the orientations of the late fifties, the modernism prevalent in India during the sixties has remained the sculptor’s artistic mooring. He is known for his singular, simple motifs that imbue his sculpture with a subtle erotic grace. His pleasures, in his creation as in life around him, have been rather simple: those of an ingénue whereas the strength of his works mostly lie in his ability to use the conventional format and impregnate it with a transforming sensibility. His creations mostly comprise simple textures and forms, reflecting his persona and perception. We would have desired to incorporate many more artists but due to various constraints were unable to make this article more inclusive.

◆ The author is an art critic for Economic Times and Asian Age. Facing page: ‘Seed’ (Pink) by Nagji Patel. Marble, 32 x 52 x 62 (h) cm.

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India Perspectives-Special Issue of Indian Contemporary Art  

India Perspectives is a very rich and informative magazine published in 17 languages by the Ministry of External Affairs combining the best...

India Perspectives-Special Issue of Indian Contemporary Art  

India Perspectives is a very rich and informative magazine published in 17 languages by the Ministry of External Affairs combining the best...