Published in conjunction with the exhibition Seeing the Elephant, curated by Lisa Tung, Director, Bakalar & Paine Galleries, Massachusetts College of Art and Design. This catalog is made possible through a grant by the Elizabeth Firestone Graham Foundation, Massachusetts Cultural Council, and additional individual support. © Massachusetts College of Art and Design All rights reserved. No part of the catalog may be reproduced whole or in part in any way without permission from the publisher. LCCN: 2018911007 ISBN: 978-0-9708357-1-0 EDITORS
Darci Hanna, Carolina Rossetti de Toledo ESSAY
“Tangled Roots: Art, Culture, and Contemporary India” © Avantika Shankar DESIGN
Opus Design PRINTING
Westwood Graphics IMAGE CREDITS
All images courtesy of the artist and gallery unless otherwise noted. Installation images courtesy Dan Boardman (pp. 18-19, 26-27, 34-35, 42-43). Bakalar & Paine Galleries Massachusetts College of Art and Design 621 Huntington Avenue | Boston, MA 02115 www.massart.edu
SEPTEMBER 28 — DECEMBER 5, 2015 SANDRA AND DAVID BAKALAR GALLERY MASSACHUSETTS COLLEGE OF ART AND DESIGN
Curator's Foreword LISA TUNG
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The Indian story of the blind men and the elephant tells of earnest, observant individuals trying to describe something. Each of them probes one part of an elephant and gives his description. The result is a wildly diverse range of properties from the ear to the legs, tail, and tusk. All are true yet they hardly coalesce and often conflict. This is an apt parable for those documenting and drawing inspiration from India, a country that has long been a subject for artists, writers, and scholars fascinated by the nation's colors, complexities, and contrasts. It is ancient and modern, agrarian and industrial, connected and self-contained. Seeing the Elephant features international contemporary artists whose work explores a wide range of topics facing India today. The structure of the exhibition is to approach the region from within and without, from positions of intimacy and expertise as well as from a more aesthetic distance.
Table of Contents 4
Avantika Shankar “Tangled Roots: Art, Culture, and Contemporary India”
10 Güler Ates 14 Michael Bühler-Rose 20 Edward Burtynsky 22 Neha Choksi 26 Khush Kali 30 Tara Kelton 32 Karen Knorr 34 Laura Letinsky & John Paul Morabito 36 Laura McPhee 40 Fazal Sheikh 44 Gregory Thielker 48 Corinne Vionnet 50 Exhibition Checklist
The Blind Men and the Elephant Long ago there lived six old blind men in a village in India. Since they could not see, the men had to imagine many of the worldâ€™s wonders. They listened carefully to stories told by travelers to learn what they could about life outside the village.
The men were curious about many of the stories they heard, but they were most curious about elephants. They were told that these animals could trample forests, carry huge burdens, and frighten people with their loud trumpet calls. But they also were told that the Rajahâ€™s daughter rode an elephant when she traveled in her fatherâ€™s kingdom. The old blind men argued night and day about the elephants, so a visit to the palace was arranged to learn the truth. When the men reached the palace they were greeted by the gardener who led them to the courtyard where there was an elephant. The men stepped forward to touch the creature that was the subject of their arguments.
The first blind man reached out and touched the side. “An elephant is smooth and solid like a wall,” he declared. The second blind man put his hand on the trunk. “An elephant is like a snake,” he announced. The third blind man felt the tusk. “This creature is as sharp and deadly as a spear.” The fourth blind man touched one of the legs. “It is a pillar.” The fifth blind man patted the ear. “I believe the elephant is like a huge fan.” The sixth blind man tugged on the tail. “It is a rope and not dangerous.”
The blind men started to argue again: “Wall!” “Snake!” “Spear!” “Pillar!” “Fan!” “Rope!” Their voices grew louder and louder. “Stop shouting! How can each of you be so certain you are right?” said the Rajah, who overheard them. The old men considered the question and knowing the ruler to be wise, said nothing. “The elephant is a very large animal,” said the Rajah. “Each of you only touched one part. Perhaps if you put the parts together, you will see the truth.” To understand fully we must consider all the different parts together.
Tangled Roots: Art, Culture, and Contemporary India AVANTIKA SHANKAR
One of the more unique aspects of my experience growing up in India is constantly being asked, “Where are you from?” or, more bluntly, “What are you?” The question does not carry the same threat of “othering” as it might have done, had my social or economic circumstances been different. As an urban, English-speaking Indian woman I am granted certain privileges that far too many people are denied — most blatantly, a sense of belonging in almost any space I choose to enter. The question is asked not from a place of judgment, but from simple curiosity. My features are ethnically ambiguous, as is my name, and people are intrigued. What am I?
My paternal grandfather came from the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu, and it is from him that I get my last name. No other aspect of my appearance, accent, or mannerisms aligns with my south Indian heritage, so this confuses people — can I really be south Indian? My paternal grandmother is Maharashtrian, and having grown up in the state capital, Mumbai, it is the ethnicity I most strongly align with. I am a fluent Marathi speaker — though some might say my accent leaves much to be desired — and even my English speech betrays inflections of Maharashtrian mannerisms and conversational customs. My mother comes from a small community of Kutchi Bhatias. The Bhatias were a mercantile community that settled in Sind, Punjab, and the Kutch region of Gujarat. Kutchi Bhatias bear a stronger resemblance — both in language and in their physical characteristics — to Sindhis and Punjabis than they do to Gujaratis, though it is with the latter that they share most of their cultural, religious, and dietary customs.
When I respond to inquiries about my ancestry with this rather complicated breakdown of my familial heritage, people are often surprised. Many people of my generation have mixed-ancestry, but very few people have parents who are also mixed. In a country where arranged marriages that ensure caste, class, and ethnic purity are still a norm — even in the more supposedly progressive spaces of society — it is surprising for people to learn that I have grandparents who, as far back as 1950, fell in love and defied societal and familial traditions in order to marry outside of their communities. A friend once jokingly commented, “So basically, you’re India,” and that stuck with me for a while. One, for the fact that I did indeed stand as living, breathing proof of India’s ethnic and cultural diversity. And yet, the question that I have to answer almost every day, “What are you?” — that singular focus on my identity — is a reminder that in many ways, India still holds its distinctions very precious. It is a tendency of human nature, and not Indian-ness alone, to find safety within identifiable communities, yet it is in India that I believe this tendency has reached its climax. To understand a country as diverse as India — if one can even begin to do that — one must first contend with its turbulent history of colonization. India as a single political unit — the India we know today — did not come to exist until after it gained Independence from British rule, which was as recently as 1947. When the British East India Company first began its steady campaign into the Indian subcontinent, they were not contending with a unified territory, but with distinct political entities. The most prominent of these was the Mughal Empire, although around the 18th century, right before the arrival of the European colonizers, the Empire began to suffer a steady decline at the hands of the Marathas. At its peak, the Maratha Empire would expand from Tamil Nadu in the south to Peshawar in the northwest and Bengal in the northeast. The Wodeyar Dynasty, an enemy state of the Maratha Empire, ruled in Mysore. Under the leadership of Tipu Sultan, the Kingdom of Mysore would later contest the conquest of the British. The Vijayanagara Empire, which in its heyday presided over the Deccan, had dissolved into a number of princely states. The Marathas had subjugated the Rajput rulers of the north, but
the latter would reclaim their ornamental titles under the British occupation, in exchange for political allegiance. History textbooks will ascribe the term “divide and rule” to British colonial policy, and it is true that the East India Company played upon the enmity between neighboring kingdoms in order to ingratiate itself with their respective rulers and ultimately seize political power. The fact remains, however, that before they were united under British rule, the territories that made up the Indian subcontinent were utterly distinct. It is no wonder, then, that the term “diversity” is so inextricable from any attempted descriptions of Indian society, religion, culture, or language. Today, the country may function as a single political unit, but culturally it is a panoply. The parable of the blind men and the elephant is an apt analogy for this uncontainable complexity. But where the complexity of India exceeds the analogous capacities of the parable is here: India, unlike the elephant, will evolve to accommodate the beliefs of the people that attempt to define it. India is changing constantly, but its ineffability does not come merely from its vastness or from the tenacity of its traditions; it comes from its uncanny tendency to assimilate any perceptions of itself into its truth. When we consider the past, it is erroneous to consider only the facts as we know them. We must critically dissect the lens through which we view those facts, and we must consider that the facts that have filtered down to us have been mutated and diffused by various other sociopolitical lenses throughout history. The artists in Seeing the Elephant, with their own diverse backgrounds and relationships to India, explore these histories and can help us see the country from fresh perspectives and interrogate our assumptions.
Let us consider, for example, the linguistic cues that state that the gods Krishna and Rama were both dark-skinned. Every color has its symbolic meaning in India; for example, blue is the color of infinity (the sky) and black signifies the black hole in the cosmic space where all
physical matter disappears. This is the reason that the fearsome goddess K l is depicted black, as she is a visual representation of energy at its highest frequency in space, and not because the word k l in Hindi means “black-skinned woman.” Therefore, classical references of color in India have had little to do with literal representations of skin, and are more metaphorical in meaning. However, most contemporary visual representations are of these deities with blue skin — a stylistic choice that seems to have developed as a result of the perceived inferiority of dark skin in post-colonial India. Conquests of India by light-skinned races date as far back as 1500 BCE, when, according to some historians, the Aryans first came to the area. It may well be that these invasions and the perceived superiority of the invaders resulted in native traits, such as darkness of skin, being equated with inferiority or even evil. Another example is the prolific prevalence of queer characters in Vedic mythology — including overt visual representations of the gods Vishnu and Shiva as transgender, as well as feminine symbolism ascribed to the creator god, Brahma. However, in the contemporary cultural narrative, the gods are almost always considered to be male. Queerness is entirely erased, and has only recently resurfaced as a result of deliberate, progressive interpretations. The proof of queerness exists — in art and sculpture, in literature and poetry, and more ephemerally, in folklore. Yet these cultural tropes of ancient India appear to have been skewed by the shifting sensibilities of subsequent eras. One of the reasons may well be the advent of monasticism, which emerged in India through the dissemination of Christian, Islamic, Buddhist, and Jain philosophies, and gave precedence to austerity. Queerness and femininity, which were considered to be temptations, eventually came to be viewed as sinful. Today, artists and scholars are reinstating femininity and queerness as the focal point of cultural narratives — in some ways, allowing already existing narratives to break free from generations of subjugation, and in others, examining existing tropes through contemporary lenses. Güler Ates, whose photographs cleverly straddle both of these interpretations of history, is one of many artists whose work can help create a more gender-balanced view of Indian history.
Possibly the least changeable, but most layered, of all cultural aspects of India is its architecture, which is explored from many angles in the work of Edward Burtynsky, Karen Knorr, and Laura McPhee. Architecture can be broken, restored, rebuilt, and reinterpreted by scholars or guides, but it cannot be denied. Spaces are very difficult to ignore — they are living, tangible reminders of the people that walked the world before you. Corinne Vionnet’s work is an excellent example of this exact idea — that people from all walks of life may come and go, but within spaces, their movements are contained within patterns that are unlikely to change. We may not be kings or queens when we walk through the grounds of Fatehpur Sikhri or the palaces of the Red Fort, but we walk the same floors, we feel the same breeze sift through carefully-planned lattice windows, we hear the same echoes. The views that the kings admired from their throne rooms and their living quarters are not dissimilar to the sorts of views that homeowners are willing to pay millions of dollars for. Tara Kelton’s work with Google Maps photographs carefully considers this layering of past and present, with the added question of what technology can do to preserve — but in some ways, erase — this complexity.
In many ways this evolution and mutation of Indian culture may be the reason it has managed to maintain its primacy through the years. What the advent of monastic religions did to polytheistic religions in other parts of the world — push them to the side-lines or erase them from common practice completely — was not to be done in India. The traditions are still as alive as they once were, although they are probably very different from their original form. Both Michael Bühler-Rose and Khush Kali work in collages, in their own way — and both have expressed how ‘Indianness,’ as seen in color, light, movement, textile, pop culture, nature, and geography, is both an evolving idea and yet strongly identifiable. In a related vein, Neha Choksi, Laura Letinsky, and John Paul Morabito explore aspects of long-held yet adaptable customs — from burial practices to marriage celebrations — shown through a contemporary lens and incorporating modern technologies.
With the prevalence of digital technology today, users are offered the opportunity to record their stories, and their truths, to an extent that has never been seen before. Oral narratives — the stories of “real people” whose perspectives may have been erased, if they were even recorded in the first place — are now being considered more important than ever before. Fazal Sheikh and Gregory Thielker both work with people whose stories would ordinarily never be represented in history textbooks, but who can now have their stories be disseminated around the globe. Through their narratives, we unravel more contradictions and paradoxes, more personal truths that defy the state-mandated ones, more realities that exist within, around, or even despite, the primary ones. As India continues to evolve into the 21st century, it must contest with its strident sense of nationalism — one that may have served it well during the freedom movement against British rule, but which is now evolving into something far more sinister. In addition, it must also grapple with its emergence as a major contender in the global market, its unique position as one of the world’s youngest countries, and its drastically dichotomous socioeconomic conditions. As more people, including artists, attempt to decipher the various aspects of India’s political, social, and economic conditions, the more we unravel the cultural ideals upon which those conditions have been based. It is through a reconsideration of the past that one is reminded of the immediacy of the present. The present is layered with histories and stories — and in many ways, with futures. Some traditions may well stand the test of time while others are broken down, questioned, reconsidered. Some may well lie forgotten for centuries before they are unearthed and repurposed, but one thing they will not be, is left behind. They will all continue to exist, in some form or another, until the end of time. Avantika Shankar is a writer based in Mumbai, India. After graduating from New York University, she has worked extensively as a travel and lifestyle reporter, contributing regularly to Architectural Digest India and JetWings International. Shankar has also written three professionally produced plays, which have been performed In the United States and India. Much of Shankar’s work deals with the study of ancient art and tradition, and the relevance it holds in contemporary cultural spaces. She hopes her work will champion a deeper understanding of, and respect for, native cultures around the world.
London-based Güler Ates is fascinated by the hidden pasts of architectural spaces and the cross-pollination of cultures, especially the history of the veil throughout Mesopotamian, Early Christian, and Eastern societies. Through meticulously researched performative and site-specific projects, she enlivens long-uninhabited rooms with female figures enrobed in local fabrics. With their identities obscured, they become representatives of the centuries of diverse women who lived in the rooms. For this series, which was completed during an artist residency in Rajasthan, she worked with an Indian classical dancer and photographed her as she traversed the rooms of a 16th-century palace. Ates found many historical and cultural connections and felt a personal affinity between Northern India and her homeland in Eastern Turkey, but she is also interested in broader colonial history and how Orientalist artists have traditionally portrayed images of “The East.” Depictions of women in Eastern cultures were typically limited to invented and hypersexualized harem scenes made for Western male consumption, but Ates’ stately figures, with their defining characteristics hidden, deny the viewers’ ability to objectify, label, or judge them. Her work encourages a critical reexamination of Orientalist tropes while emphasizing the performative aspects of supposedly fixed characteristics
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such as gender, cultural identity, and nationality.
Eternal Maharana and She (II) (detail), 2013 Archival digital print Private collection
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Mirrors, 2013 Archival digital print Collection AruĂąa Chong Quiroga and Alejandro Quiroga
The Window of Purple, 2013 Archival digital print Courtesy of the artist
Magic Lights, 2013 Archival digital print Courtesy of the artist
Brooklyn-based Michael Bühler-Rose unravels our ideas of authenticity, place, culture, exoticism, and spirituality in his Little Indian Still-lifes series. Converting to Hinduism in his teens, Bühler-Rose's religious and artistic practices intertwined and his life as a Hindu priest informs his artwork. With a foot in both the U.S. and India, BühlerRose explores the fluidity and elasticity of culture through these photographs. Referencing the composition and lighting of traditional Dutch still-lifes, the works offer a familiar aesthetic experience while interrogating colonial and postcolonial power dynamics. Unlike the conventional paintings, which emphasized the wealth of the Dutch East India Company and their ability to import exotic goods from faraway lands, Bühler-Rose’s images point to a reversal of this exchange, of India settling the West. The featured items are a mix of contemporary and traditional objects purchased in “Little Indias” in New York and New Jersey, from films, magazines, and foods to things necessary for performing Hindu rituals. These imports come directly from India, are now made in the U.S. for Indian consumers, or are acceptable substitutes for familiar items, such as South American rather than Indian mangos. Such intercultural mingling, a hallmark of globalization, reveals more than a simple East-West dichotomy. Instead, Bühler-Rose’s work highlights what he calls a “new geography,” where traditions
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blend and old global hierarchies begin to fade.
Maps (detail), 2008 C-print Courtesy of the artist and Carroll and Sons, Boston
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Mangoes, DVDs, Calendar & Honey, 2009 C-print Courtesy of the artist and Carroll and Sons, Boston
Lychees, Ginger & Bengali Newspaper, 2010 C-print Collection Nagesh Mahanthappa and Valentine Talland
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Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky has spent the last three decades documenting the impact of large-scale human industrial systems on natural landscapes around the world, from mines and quarries to oil fields and water dams. His richly detailed photographs reveal places that are generally beyond our normal experience, yet which affect our daily lives and the future of our planet in profound ways. Burtynsky is fascinated by the dilemmas of contemporary life and how we weigh our desires for creature comforts and new technologies against our awareness of the environmental and social costs. For his recent project about water use around the world, Burtynsky traveled to India and photographed historic stepwells — huge utilitarian wells that also served social and religious functions for the surrounding communities. Without the luxury of indoor plumbing, women and children regularly gathered at the wells to collect their families’ water, socialize, and perform rituals. The beautiful and ingeniously designed stairs provided access as the water levels fluctuated during monsoon or dry seasons while the elaborately decorated subterranean passageways and chambers provided relief from the heat. Intentionally open-ended, Burtynsky’s images of these sites leave room for contemplation as we ponder our communal use of the planet’s resources around the globe, both in the past and future.
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Stepwell #5, Nagar, Kund Baori, Bundi, Rajasthan, India 2010 C-print Courtesy of the artist and Von Lintel Gallery, Los Angeles
Neha Choksiâ€™s poetic works, ranging from film and photography to performance and sculpture, frequently explore notions of time, transformation, absence, and loss. Born in New Jersey but moving to India at age four, Choksi returned to the States for college and graduate school and splits her time between Los Angeles and Mumbai. She filmed the sundown shown in this piece at a Hindu and Jain crematorium on the southernmost tip of Mumbai (formerly Bombay), a location that is personally significant as the site where many of her family members have been cremated. The work is displayed on obsolete CRT televisions, accompanied by a video of clouds and a single photograph. Although the horizon line remains constant, Choksi manipulates the speed of the sunset for each television. The same scene, color-shifted by the aging TVs, repeats between one and eight times from left to right during the loop, creating an unpredictable yet synchronized cosmic dance. Adding a performative and recursive element, reflective of both the ritual that changes flesh to ash as well as the sunâ€™s fiery attributes, Choksi printed a single film still and took a photograph as she burned it in her hand. The ninth video shows the lingering light of dusk, like the last embers dying in a hearth. Here the sun, a symbol for the endless cycles of life and death, is unseen yet
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still provides emotive force in its poignant absence.
The Weather Inside Me (Bombay Sunset), 2007-2010 Mixed media Courtesy of the artist and Artist Pension Trust Los Angeles Collection
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The Weather Inside Me (Bombay Sunset), 2007-2010 Mixed media Courtesy of the artist and Artist Pension Trust Los Angeles Collection
In her series Baroda, Baroda, Khush Kali creates multilayered digital collages using photographs taken while she was an artist in residence at the Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda in India. Exploring the unfamiliar locale, she was captivated by the colors, patterns, and textures of the street stalls filled with fruits, sari fabrics, and bandhani-style (tie-dyed) printed papers. During her stay, she also documented the cityâ€™s architectural details and brightly colored tile and pavement, transforming these images into collage and assemblage pieces using local paper and craft materials. Upon her return to England, Kali created further iterations of the work by replicating patterns she found on the park benches and using them as a template to cut and combine her photographs into new compositions. In addition to her aesthetic interests, the work is also personally significant since both of her parents lived in the Indian state of Gujarat, where Baroda is located, before relocating to the United Kingdom before her birth. Kali writes that she rejected this cultural background as an adolescent and the opportunity to visit India and forge her own connections and reconnections was quite meaningful, especially as she pursues her
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interest in cultural identity and the Indian diaspora in her artistic work.
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Sayaji Baug Paving (from the series Baroda, Baroda), 2015 Digital image on paper Courtesy of the artist
Sari and Fruit (from the series Baroda, Baroda), 2015 Digital image on paper Courtesy of the artist
Khanderao Market (from the series Baroda, Baroda), 2015 Digital image on paper Courtesy of the artist
Nawa Bazaar (from the series Baroda, Baroda), 2015 Digital image on paper Courtesy of the artist
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Title, XXXX Medium Materials XX x XX measurement
Tara Kelton, who lives in Brooklyn and Bangalore, makes video and web-based works that investigate moments when technology shifts how the tangible world is perceived. While using Google Maps, she found that she could follow a single security guard leading the camera through their virtual rendering of the Taj Mahal. Altering the images to draw attention to the guard, she calls into question Google’s rigid and standardized system for documenting famous monuments and iconic tourist sites. With 360° panoramic cameras, Google’s mapped version of the grounds is supposed to replicate the experience of physically being there and walking through the space in the present. By discovering and highlighting the security guard in the images, however, Kelton is able to challenge the ruse of timelessness and detached observation to reveal a human narrative within Google's cold, mechanized system of representation. As we increasingly consume art and visual culture online, the documentation of art objects and historic sites can sometimes accumulate more weight than the original objects or places themselves. Kelton’s work explores how our access to such immaterial experiences is shaping our lives today and how our perceptions of time, memory, place, and presence are evolving with new and ever-changing technologies.
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Time Lapse (still), 2014 HD video Courtesy of the artist and Gallery SKE, Bangalore
Born in Germany and raised in Puerto Rico, London-based American artist Karen Knorr is fascinated by the meaning of place, especially within cultural heritage sites around the world. Her work frequently explores tensions between presumed dichotomies: old and new; human and animal; male and female; artificial and natural. After traveling to Rajasthan, India in 2008, she began photographing the opulent interiors of Rajput and Mughal palaces, mausoleums, and other holy sites with a large-format analog camera and natural light. Then, using a digital camera, she documented animals in nearby reserves, parks, and zoos and fused the two images digitally to create her surreal compilations. In this series, Knorr draws inspiration in part from the Panchatantra, an ancient collection of interrelated animal fables and one of India's most influential contributions to world literature. Although the tigers, elephants, monkeys, peacocks and other birds in the photographs often refer to local parables, they also become symbols of residents and histories past (or perhaps of an otherworldly future). For Knorr, the animals reflect broader social and political issues as well, as she explores the constructs of gender, human interventions within the natural world, post-colonialism, and
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the aesthetics of power within these fragile historical sites.
Bhakti, Path of Saints, Shiva Temple, Hampi (detail), 2012 Archival pigment print Courtesy Danziger Gallery, New York
LAURA LETINSKY & JOHN PAUL MORABITO
Known for her still-life tableaux featuring foods post-meal, Canadian photographer Laura Letinsky creates atmospheric images that embrace the stains, wrinkles, and imperfections of daily life. She engages the photograph’s transformative abilities, changing “something that is typically overlooked into something splendid in its resilience.” While traveling in India, she found a visual richness even on the ground beneath her feet: from wedding celebration remnants in a meadow to the aftermath of the Bangalore flower market, where the road was strewn with orchids, dahlias, lilies, daisies, and roses in every shade. After digitally stitching the photographs together, she experimented with printing them on fabric. Knowing that looms play a central role in the origin of computers, she began exploring the relationship between the 1s and 0s of her image files and the warp and weft of weaving. Her collaborator, American textile artist John Paul Morabito, translated her photographs to weave files. Although made on a digital jacquard loom, the textiles are handwoven by Morabito, who switches the colors of the bobbins to create stripes and areas of subtle shifting color. His intervention leads to abstracted and one-of-a-kind designs that defy the infinite reproducibility typical of photographs and textiles today. Their fruitful collaboration draws attention to the beauty in the margins, even after the celebrants have departed, as well as the legacy
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of ancient tools in contemporary technology.
ta'ilsandthemuptosapaidar, 2015 Cotton and wool Courtesy of the artists and Yancey Richardson Gallery, New York
Using an antique Deardorff 8”x10” view camera, Boston-based Laura McPhee creates highly detailed portrait, landscape, and interior photographs in the United States and abroad. Her large-scale images often explore environmental, geographical, and cultural themes and the layering of human history on a given place. McPhee first visited eastern India on a Fulbright Scholarship in 1998 and has made regular trips to explore Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) and the surrounding areas in the years since. Part of her work there has focused on documenting houses built by 18th and 19th-century aristocratic zamindars, ruling caste landowners who built elaborate palace-like homes. These structures, built by Indians for Indians, blend domestic and foreign architectural styles of the time and reflect the country’s evolution through colonial rule into independence. They display the complicated material and political interactions between India and the west while responding to the unique domestic and religious needs of the families. McPhee’s photographs of the buildings’ interiors also offer a quieter view of life in a crowded metropolis, one normally unseen by foreign travelers. Her images of Kolkata step away from stereotypical western notions of impoverished masses struggling for subsistence to focus on layers of history and offer more nuanced views into quiet havens within the bustling megacity.
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Family Gathering During Durga Puja, Dwarika House, North Kolkata, 2009 Archival pigment print Courtesy of the artist and Carroll and Sons, Boston
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Boys Playing Carom in the Courtyard of a Rest House for Pilgrims, Seth Ram Kumar Bangur Dharamshala, North Kolkata, 2009 Archival pigment print Collection JĂŠrĂ´me Urvoy and Marc-Andre Wurbel
Wig Stall, New Market, Dharmatala, Kolkata, 1998 Archival pigment print Courtesy of the artist and Carroll and Sons, Boston
Fazal Sheikh is dedicated to furthering the world’s understanding of complex human rights issues through his art. Growing up in the United States and his father’s native Kenya, he was exposed to differing worldviews that helped shape his mission. Sheikh’s captivating photographs often document displaced and marginalized communities around the globe. He works closely with the sitters to create portraits that honor their dignity and counter the prejudice they endure. Using Polaroid film enables him to give a copy to the sitters, most of whom have never been photographed before. He strives to disseminate the work as widely as possible in forms that are useful to the represented communities — a number of free books and projects are available at his website fazalsheikh.org — and profits from the print editions go to a human rights fund. These photographs come from three series, Moksha, Ladli, and The Circle, which examine the subjugation of women in India. Sheikh, whose grandfather came from Northern India (now Pakistan), was drawn to give voice to the widows, orphans, and homeless girls he met during his extensive travels in the region. Although many women’s rights groups are fighting for change, female infanticide, forced marriage and the dowry system, male-biased inheritance laws, and physical and sexual abuse are lingering problems. Sheikh hopes to
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call attention to these issues through his poetic and touching images.
Simran, homeless shelter, Delhi, India (detail), 2007 Carbon inkjet print Courtesy of the artist and Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York
Gregory Thielker creates meticulously detailed and hyper-realistic paintings and drawings inspired by locations as diverse as Norway, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, and El Salvador. His works serve as portraits of regions, which call into question perceptions and representations of unfamiliar places. After being awarded a Fulbright Fellowship for the project, Thielker traveled to India to document the modernization of the Grand Trunk Road, which was originally designed by a 16th-century Mughal conqueror. Stopping to create graphite drawings at predetermined intervals along the newly improved superhighway, Thielker captured images from one of Asia’s oldest trade routes, which connects some of India’s richest and poorest districts. He carried art supplies, an easel, and a voice recorder and made the 918-mile car trip in segments from the Old Iron Bridge over the Yamuna River in Delhi (depicted in 0 km) all the way to the highway’s end near the Ganga River in Kolkata. His presence drawing alongside the roadway piqued the curiosity of people along the way and, with the help of interpreters, he interviewed them about how the project was affecting their communities. He notes that their responses often defied his preconceived expectations and their oral histories offer a cross-section of lived experiences and add layers of meaning to the imagery.
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0 km, 2012 Graphite on paper Courtesy of the artist
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690 km, 2012 Graphite on paper Courtesy of the artist
While visiting the Leaning Tower of Pisa a decade ago, the Swiss artist Corinne Vionnet noticed how everyone seemed to be taking the same pictures. Returning home, she began doing keyword searches for tourist images of famous landmarks from around the world for a series she calls Photo Opportunities. From the thousands of images that pop up, she looks for the most varied conditions possible: photographs taken at night or during the day, from different angles and viewing distances, during different seasons, and with and without tourists. She collates around a hundred images to create a digital composite for each destination. The result is a crowd-sourced, iconic — but blurred — scene of the Colosseum, the Pyramids at Giza, Big Ben, Machu Picchu, or the Taj Mahal (shown here). The impressionistic works are unique in their production, yet the results are as familiar as a stereotypical postcard image. In the series, she explores the dynamic between our individual versus collective memories, as well as how the travel industry’s advertising shapes our views of foreign lands. Her works reveal our communal notions about these must-see places and probe what it means for the image of a Mughal-era mausoleum
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to become contemporary global shorthand for an entire civilization.
Agra (detail, from the series Photo Opportunities), 2005-2014 Archival pigment print Courtesy Danziger Gallery, New York
GÜLER ATES Eternal Maharana and She (II), 2013 Archival digital print 31.5” x 21.5” Private collection Magic Lights, 2013 Archival digital print 42” x 27.5” Courtesy of the artist Mirrors, 2013 Archival digital print 29.5” x 42” Collection Aruña Chong Quiroga and Alejandro Quiroga Ruins of Eternal Maharana (III), 2013 Archival digital print 12” x 8” Courtesy of the artist
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The Window of Purple, 2013 Archival digital print 35.5” x 25.5” Courtesy of the artist
MICHAEL BÜHLER-ROSE The Hindu Woman, 2008 C-print 20” x 16” Courtesy of the artist and Carroll and Sons, Boston Lychees, Ginger & Bengali Newspaper, 2010 C-print 20” x 25” Collection Nagesh Mahanthappa and Valentine Talland Mangoes, DVDS, Calendar & Honey, 2009 C-print 11” x 13” Courtesy of the artist and Carroll and Sons, Boston
EDWARD BURTYNSKY Stepwell #5, Nagar, Kund Baori, Bundi, Rajasthan, India, 2010 C-print 39” x 52” Courtesy of the artist and Von Lintel Gallery, Los Angeles
NEHA CHOKSI The Weather Inside Me (Bombay Sunset), 2007-2010 Mixed media Dimensions variable Courtesy of the artist and Artist Pension Trust Los Angeles Collection
Maps, 2008 C-print 25” x 31” Courtesy of the artist and Carroll and Sons, Boston
Fruit Stalls (from the series Baroda, Baroda), 2015 Digital image on paper 20” x 20” Courtesy of the artist
Radha-Damodaraji, 2009 C-print 11” x 13.75” Courtesy of the artist and Carroll and Sons, Boston
Khanderao Market (from the series Baroda, Baroda), 2015 Digital image on paper 20” x 20” Courtesy of the artist
Nawa Bazaar (from the series Baroda, Baroda), 2015 Digital image on paper 20” x 20” Courtesy of the artist Sari and Fruit (from the series Baroda, Baroda), 2015 Digital image on paper 20” x 20” Courtesy of the artist
KAREN KNORR Bhakti, Path of Saints, Shiva Temple, Hampi, 2012 Archival pigment print 48” x 60” Courtesy Danziger Gallery, NY
LAURA LETINSKY AND JOHN PAUL MORABITO
Sayaji Baug Paving (from the series Baroda, Baroda), 2015 Digital image on paper 20” x 20” Courtesy of the artist
Indiapilehamletmemajamina, 2015 Cotton and wool 52” x 41” Courtesy of the artists and Yancey Richardson Gallery, NY
Street Stalls (from the series Baroda, Baroda), 2015 Digital image on paper 20” x 20” Courtesy of the artist
ta'ilsandthemuptosapaidar, 2015 Cotton and wool 41” x 68” Courtesy of the artists and Yancey Richardson Gallery, NY
TARA KELTON Time Lapse, 2014 HD video 1m 33s (looped) Courtesy of the artist and Gallery SKE, Bangalore
LAURA MCPHEE Boys Playing Carom in the Courtyard of a Rest House for Pilgrims, Seth Ram Kumar Bangur Dharamshala, North Kolkata, 2009 Archival pigment print
50” x 60” Collection Jérôme Urvoy and Marc-Andre Wurbel Colonnade of the Five-Arched Thakur Dalam at Basubati, Baghbazar, North Kolkata, 2005 Archival pigment print 72” x 96” Courtesy of the artist and Carroll and Sons, Boston Construction of the Mudiali Pandal for Worship of the Goddess Durga, South Kolkata, 2009 Archival pigment print 50” x 60” Courtesy of the artist and Carroll and Sons, Boston Family Gathering During Durga Puja, Dwarika House, North Kolkata, 2009 Archival pigment print 50” x 60” Courtesy of the artist and Carroll and Sons, Boston Wig Stall, New Market, Dharmatala, Kolkata, 1998 Archival pigment print 50” x 60” Courtesy of the artist and Carroll and Sons, Boston
FAZAL SHEIKH Sanjeeta, Palna orphanage, Delhi, India, 2007 Carbon inkjet print 21.5” x 25.75” Courtesy of the artist and Pace/MacGill Gallery, NY Malikh, Jai Hind squatter settlement, Delhi, India, 2007 Carbon inkjet print 21.5” x 25.75” Courtesy of the artist and Pace/MacGill Gallery, NY Labhuben, child bride, outskirts of Chandigarh, India, 2007 Carbon inkjet print 21.5” x 25.75” Courtesy of the artist and Pace/MacGill Gallery, NY Simran, homeless shelter, Delhi, India, 2007 Carbon inkjet print 21.5” x 25.75” Courtesy of the artist and Pace/MacGill Gallery, NY
Pramila Satar (“Lover”), Vrindavan, India, 2003 Carbon inkjet print
21.5” x 25.75” Courtesy of the artist and Pace/MacGill Gallery, NY
GREGORY THIELKER 0 km, 2012 Graphite on paper 9.25” x 14” Courtesy of the artist 306 km, 2012 Graphite on paper 9.25” x 14” Courtesy of the artist 690 km, 2012 Graphite on paper 9.25” x 14” Courtesy of the artist 1073 km, 2013 Graphite on paper 9.25” x 14” Courtesy of the artist “comprehending the countries lying between Delhi and the BengalProvinces,” 2011 Graphite on paper 17” x 32” Courtesy of the artist
Highway (translated interviews), 2015 Sound recording (7:58 minutes) Courtesy of the artist Interview with Mazar, 2011 Graphite on paper 11” x 17” Courtesy of the artist
CORINNE VIONNET Agra (from the series Photo Opportunities), 2005-2014 Archival pigment print 14.75” x 19.75” Courtesy Danziger Gallery, NY
Acknowledgments This exhibition was inspired, in part, by MassArt’s international travel programs and by Professor Lois Hetland’s inaugural foray into India in particular. Professor Hetland and her students were captivated by by the country’s vibrancy, diversity, and scale. Their enthusiasm helped move me to curate an exhibition that would draw upon the timelessness and variety that characterizes India in the popular imagination and has stirred people from around the world. The artists selected for Seeing the Elephant share their experiences with India and create work of depth and beauty that can be appreciated broadly. We are a small dedicated team at the Bakalar & Paine Galleries; the following staff and fellows, interns, students, and alumni all contributed greatly to this exhibition: Curatorial Associate Darci Hanna penned thoughtful artist labels as well as oversaw registrarial needs, with the help of Curatorial Fellows Zoe Silverman, Madison Treece, and Emily Watlington, who contributed valuable research and exhibition assistance. Chief Preparator Rob Gainfort assembled and directed a specialized crew of alumni and student art handlers and installers for a transformative installation. Gallery educators are invaluable in the interpretation, understanding, and enjoyment of the contemporary art on view. Thank you to our Curator of Gallery Education Mesma Belsaré, Gallery Education Associate Michael Reback, Looking to Learn Educator Lynn Brown, Gallery Education Interns Nick Goodhue and Anna Stabler, and our trained student Gallery Attendants for their inspired teaching and ongoing conversations.
This evocative catalog design is the brainchild of Julia Frenkle ’04, Ellery Curran ’12, Emily Knapp ’12, and Casey McGee ’14 of Opus Design. My appreciation goes to Westwood Graphics for producing a beautiful catalog. Deftly highlighting Indian history and culture, Avantika Shankar’s informative catalog essay — Tangled Roots: Art, Culture, and Contemporary India — gives the uninitiated another lens through which to understand this complex country. I would like to gratefully acknowledge and thank the following individuals, foundations, and organizations for their generous support of this catalog: Katherine Collins, Elizabeth Firestone Graham Foundation, Joseph Persky Foundation, Martin and Deborah Hale Foundation, Massachusetts Cultural Council, and Lori and David Sprows. Lastly, my heartfelt appreciation goes to the following artists and their galleries: Güler Ates; Michael Bühler-Rose | Carroll and Sons, Boston; Edward Burtynsky | Von Lintel Gallery, LA; Neha Choksi | Artist Pension Trust Los Angeles Collection; Khush Kali; Tara Kelton | Gallery SKE, Bangalore; Karen Knorr | Danziger Gallery, NY; Laura Letinsky and John Paul Morabito | Yancey Richardson Gallery, NY; Laura McPhee | Carroll and Sons, Boston; Fazal Sheikh | Pace/MacGill Gallery, NY; Gregory Thielker; and Corinne Vionnet | Danziger Gallery, NY. Without their support and belief this project could not have been realized. — LT
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Catalog design for the Massachusetts College of Art and Design for the Exhibition Seeing the Elephant featuring international contemporary a...
Published on Jun 3, 2019
Catalog design for the Massachusetts College of Art and Design for the Exhibition Seeing the Elephant featuring international contemporary a...