Subramanyan was one of the leading artists who was part of India’s post-Independence search for identity through art. A writer, scholar, teacher and art historian, he was prolific in his art, spanning the spectrum of mediums from painting to pottery, weaving, and glass painting. He believed in the value of Indian traditions and incorporated folklore, myth and local techniques and stories into his work.
Vidhita Raina reports on Krishen Khanna’s lecture on “The Progressives” at London’s Courtauld Institute
Krishen Khanna (centre), Prof. Deborah Swallow (right) and Zehra Jumabhoy (left). Credits: Grosvenor Gallery, London.
“Is the artist only interested in being a unique individual? If I had considered my work to be unique, then I would have continued trying to be unique… and that is not what art is about,” said Krishen Khanna at a talk held at the Courtauld Institute of Art in London on June 8, 2015. This sagacious insight into his artistic motivations was one of the many gemstones that Khanna—a leading Indian Modernist painter—showered upon a rapt audience, eager in attendance to witness one of the stalwarts of Indian art reminiscing about its heydays.
With Deborah Swallow and Zehra Jumabhoy from the Courtauld Institute, and Conor Macklin from Grosvenor Gallery also on the panel, this debate was conducted as part of the “Contemporaneity in South Asian Art” seminar series.
The symposium was full of anecdotes as Khanna brought out his personal archive of letters exchanged between him and his many associates. Khanna’s nostalgic stories about his Bombay Progressive peers were unequivocally the highlights; particularly those involving his erstwhile roommate and one of the most celebrated Indian artists, the late Maqbool Fida Husain. It is common knowledge that Husain introduced Khanna into the Bombay Progressive Artists’ Group (or “PAG”, as they were generally called). But the evening revealed one more nugget of information—Husain, during one of his visits to Khanna’s then home in Churchgate, Mumbai, borrowed his copy of the English art critic Clive Bell’s 1914 seminal text Art, only to eventually lose it. This incident, according to Khanna, was a result of “certain forces which operate at the right time”.
Khanna’s association with the PAG, which was formed right on the heels of India’s independence in 1947, led to several accomplishments in his trajectory as an artist. He held major exhibitions in Mumbai and New Delhi in the late ’50s. The Tata Institute of Fundamental Research showed great interest in his work, and its founding director—the esteemed nuclear physicist Dr. Homi Bhabha—bought his very first painting. In 1960, Khanna had his first solo show with Leicester Galleries of London. Here Khanna drew upon a letter written by renowned British art historian, Sir Kenneth Clark, gloriously calling one of his major abstract artworks a “masterpiece”.
Khanna spoke at length about Francis Newton Souza’s role as the driving force behind the PAG, including calling the group as “Progressives”. However, the term was subsequently dropped as many of its members—which also included artists like S.H. Raza, Akbar Padamsee, Tyeb Mehta, V.S. Gaitonde, Ram Kumar, K.H. Ara, among others—felt that it had political connotations. It was a suggestion that rankled with Khanna, as the PAG never saw itself as a political group.
But even as the PAG was beginning to emerge as a new wave of artists in post-independent India unfettered by their political climate—and dissociating themselves from the nationalist spirit of the preceding Bengal School artists in the process—their art, Khanna’s in particular, couldn’t avoid resonating with social, economic and political undertones of a changing nation state.
Born in the city of Lyallpur (now Faisalabad of modern day Pakistan) in 1925, Khanna was, and is, no stranger to political turmoil. Following the Partition of India in 1947, his family moved to Shimla in northern India. Khanna himself accepted a job at Grindlays Bank in Bombay, a position he would hold for 14 years, before finally resigning to focus on his art completely.
Krishen Khanna on the ‘Progressives’ at the Kenneth Clark Lecture Theatre, The Courtauld Institute of Art. Credits: Grosvenor Gallery, London.
A self-taught artist, Khanna created works that showed a strong preoccupation with the historical background of his time. For him, the humanistic element in a painting was a paramount. Khanna was deeply concerned with the condition of the individual. It’s an artistic anxiety highly evident in his paintings of tired workers piled in trucks, dhaba owners in twilight moments, and the uniformed “bandwallas”—the last vestiges of long-dead British imperial legacy. In her biography Krishen Khanna: The Embrace of Love, critic Gayatri Sinha has said: “the paintings constitute a powerful psychological engagement, one that also serves as a document of the passage of time in modern India.”
Another aspect of the debate, raised by Conor Macklin and Zehra Jumabhoy, was India’s relationship with Britain, and the impact of the European Avant-garde Movement on the PAG. Just as the modern art of Europe rose from the trenches of the World War I, the trauma resulting from the Partition of India also stimulated a new language of art production in its wake. In an effort to locate a new identity and language for Indian art, many of the modern artists such as Souza, Raza, and Padamsee—having studied or spent time in Paris—inevitably found themselves looking towards Western styles of art.
Khanna himself was a well-travelled and worldly artist: he was the first Indian painter to be awarded the Rockefeller Fellowship by New York’s prestigious Rockefeller Foundation in1962. As part of this fellowship, Khanna spent time in Japan where he found inspiration in the Sumi-e (Suibokuga) calligraphic style of paintings, practiced by Zen Buddhists during the 14th century. This led to a number of experiments in abstraction during the ’60s and ’70s, which Khanna reflected upon as “a series of events which formulate or assist in formulating the kind of action you have to take”. In the following year, he was invited as the artist-in-residence at the American University, Washington D.C., and exhibited at various museums and galleries throughout the United States.
Besides being a riveting trip down memory lane, the symposium was mainly a precursor to Krishen Khanna’s ongoing retrospective at the Grosvenor Gallery titled “when the band began to play he packed up his troubles and marched away”. A certain homage was paid to the presence of the seminar being held at the Kenneth Clark lecture theatre, named after the eponymous art historian and an old associate of the artist.
Khanna’s talk was one for the history books—significant moments during the early Indian Modernist phase were brought up, including when artist Bal Chhabda opened Gallery 59. It was Mumbai’s first, short-lived art gallery to showcase artworks by the PAG members in 1959. The group may be long gone, but they left an undeniable legacy for India and the world to treasure.
The symposium has been conceptualized by Geeta Kapur and focuses on dOCUMENTA (13) (June – September 2012). Speakers are invited to address the curatorial concept of this edition. And to address, as well, a peculiar call on dOCUMENTA curators to offer, in the very form of the exhibition, a virtual world-view.
In the second part of the symposium, there will be a discussion on Biennales that are placed within more precarious circumstances. The risks and gains of working with a meager infrastructure, social taboos, uncharted aesthetics, will be brought forward. A substantial debate on the newest, most proximate Kochi-Muziris Biennale (December 2012 – March 2013) is expected. Participants will be invited to discuss, for instance, how this Biennale offered ‘site imaginaries’ in lieu of a predetermined concept; and an exhibitory poetics largely activated by participating artists. Also the role of the State (with reference to India) in supporting large-scale, audience-friendly and ground-breaking exhibition projects such as the Kochi-Muziris Biennale will be put up for scrutiny.
Friday, April 19 2013, 11.00 am – 5.30 pm
Auditorium, School of Arts & Aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru University
Session I (11 am to 1 pm)
Chair: Kavita Singh: Introduction and Sum-up
Referring to earlier editions, but focusing on dOCUMENTA (13) (June – September 2012), speakers are invited to address the curatorial concept of this edition; and to address, as well, a peculiar call on dOCUMENTA curators to offer, in the very form of the exhibition, a virtual world-view.
• Geeta Kapur: dOCUMENTA aesthetics in the 21st century
• Vidya Shivdas: Brief introduction to the dOCUMENTA project
• Panel: Jeebesh Bagchi, Sonia Khurana, Shuddhabrata Sengupta
Session II (1.45 pm to 3.15 pm)
Chair: Pooja Sood: Introduction and Sum-up
Ideological Readings: from Documenta to Sharjah
A reflection on Biennales placed within newer, more precarious circumstances; the risks and gains of working through untested locations, meager infrastructures, social taboos, uncharted aesthetics.
• Amar Kanwar
• Ravi Agarwal
Session III (3.30 pm to 5.30 pm)
Chair: Geeta Kapur
The Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2012-2013
More than a ‘debate’ or even a measure of success and failure, understanding the conditions of production of the newest, most proximate Kochi-Muziris Biennale (December 2012 – March 2013) is important. Once staged, what are the meanings that accrue from the democratic mix of international and local viewers; with diverse spectatorship, is there a better case for state support of contemporary art? Can publics in relation to large-scale, ground-breaking projects (such as this), incite the art community into a discursive engagement with avantgarde art as a form of contextual combustion?
• Riyas Komu: ‘Against All Odds’; a presentation on the Kochi-Muziris Biennale (with visual documentation)
• Panel: Vivan Sundaram, Sheela Gowda, Subodh Gupta, Gayatri Sinha, Sheba Chhachhi
• Summing Up: Parul Dave Mukherji
Manjari Sihare shares details of some must-attend exhibitions and symposia in New Delhi coinciding with the India Art Fair
New Delhi: If you are in India right now, Delhi is the place to be. The art world is gearing up for the country’s biggest annual art extravaganza, the India Art Fair starting on Friday, February 1 (with a preview the day before). Each year since its inception in 2008, the fair has grown larger. The 5th edition is bringing together 105 exhibiting galleries from 24 countries, presenting over 1000 works by some of the most exciting artists from across the world. But the action is not just limited to just the Fair. Outside of the Fair, there are some collateral exhibitions and events that I believe are MUST ATTENDS. Here is my list:
A private museum for modern and contemporary Indian art, the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art (KNMA) is known to line up an ambitious program each year to mark its birthday (three years ago in January 2010, KNMA opened its first location in the HCL campus in Noida, on the outskirts of Delhi). The museum lives up to its reputation once again this year by unveiling an ambitious series of events. The first in line to open on January 18th was Zones of Contact an exhibition curated by three young and dynamic curators, Deeksha Nath, Vidya Shivadas and Akansha Rastogi. The curatorial note for the show notes that it is an attempt “to envision the museum as a site and an idea in flux, as a catalyst that by undergoing redefinition allows for concretized notions and experiences of modernity and post-modernity to be revisited and rethought.” In a country where there is really no state owned museum of contemporary art, an exhibition such as this one speaks volumes of the mission this private museum has set for itself to showcase and re-define contemporary art in the region.
On view from today is Difficult Loves , a trilogy of exhibitions curated by the Director and Chief Curator of KNMA, Roobina Karode. This includes the largest retrospective ever of the late Nasreen Mohamedi, an artist whose minimal works leave an unforgettable impression on the viewer, a tribute to India’s Frida Kahlo, Amrita Sher-Gil, and a group exhibition featuring iconic installation works of seven leading contemporary women artists – Ranjani Shettar, Anita Dube,Sheba Chhachhi, Bharti Kher, Dayanita Singh, Sheela Gowda and Sonia Khurana. My personal favorite is Sheba Chhachhi’s Water Diviner, a version of which I first saw at the National Museum of Natural History in 48’c public. art.ecology curated by Pooja Sood and organized by the South Asian Network of Goethe Institutes in 2008. This series of shows promises to be spectacular. Not to miss at all!
Tomorrow, the museum will be hosting two talks under the Critical Collective Symposia conceptualized and organized by veteran Delhi based critic and curator, Gayatri Sinha. The first of these is panel discussion between renowned South African contemporary artist, William Kentridge and Indian veterans, Vivan Sundaram and Nalini Malani. The second one is a talk by UK based art historian, TJ Demos, who is best known for his published work on the conjunction of art and politics.
The India Art Fair always ends with the opening of an exhibition at the Devi Art Foundation. This time, it will the third and last edition of the Sarai Reader, an exhibition conceptualized by the Devi Art Foundation and Raqs Media Collective. Sarai Reader 9 is a nine month long project envisaged to draw on ‘exhibition’ as an evolving process, introducing new forms of creative thinking and methodologies. Invitations were open to anyone and everyone with an interesting idea and an engaging means of presentation, limited to a fixed duration and applicable within a space. The first episode opened for viewing on 13 October, 2012, followed by another on 15 December last year. Read more about these episodes. This current episode will be on view until April 16, 2013. For more information, click here.
All the activity is not limited to Delhi only. Mumbai will see the opening of the first ever exhibition of William Kentridge’s work in India hosted by Volte Gallery. Of South African descent, Kentridge has exhibited worldwide in major venues such as the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art and MoMA in New York. His works mostly deal with subjects of apartheid and colonialism. This show featuring Kentridge’s eight multichannel projection installation, sculptures, drawings, tapestries, videos and prints, promises to be a blockbuster. The exhibition will be on view from February 6 to March 20, 2013.
Manjari Sihare shares details of the much awaited Kochi- Muziris Biennale
Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2012 An interactive map of India’s First Biennale celebrating contemporary artists from around the world.
New York: The date 12.12.12 is going to go down in India’s books for more than one reason. The country’s largest contemporary art event, and its first biennale, the Kochi-Muziris Biennale is being inaugurated today across different venues in the Fort Kochi area of Cochin in Kerala, South India. While India has a strong history of hosting triennales, the very first of which was organized in 1968 by the legendary Mulk Raj Anand, the Kochi- Muziris Biennale will be the first biennale in the country.
Typical of the phenomenon of an international art biennale, this one is also centered on the city, in this case, invoking the underlying multi-ethnic spirit of the modern metropolis of Kochi and its mythical past, Muziris, the recently excavated ancient city that was buried under layers of mud and mythology after a massive flood in the 14th century. The biennale is the brain child of eminent contemporary Indian artists, Bose Krishnamachari and Riyas Komu. The first edition will feature approximately 90 Indian and international artists, introducing contemporary international visual art practice to India in manner not done before. Special highlights include newly commissioned works by artists such as Ariel Hassan (Argentina), Amanullah Mojadidi (Afghanistan), Anita Dube (India), Sudarshan Shetty (India), Subodh Gupta (India), Hossein Valamanesh (Iran/Australia), Tallur LN (India), Vivan Sundaram (India), Sheela Gowda (India), Joseph Semah (Netherlands), Nalini Malani (India), Atul Dodiya (India), UBIK (Dubai), Rigo 23 (Portugal), Jonas Staal (Netherlands), Dylan Martorell (Scotland/Australia), Ernesto Neto (Brazil). British singing sensation of Tamil descent, Mathangi Arulpragasam (M.I.A.) has been roped in to perform at the inauguration. Known for her avant-garde music, M.I.A. has previously shared stage space with the likes of Madonna and Rihanna, as well as been a part of the A.R. Rahman’s team for the music of Slumdog Millionaire.
The event is a multi-faceted one including a two-day symposium, ‘Site Imaginaries’, on 15 & 16 December, 2012. From the situated ground point of Kochi, the symposium aims to explore and retrieve memories in the current global context to posit alternatives to political and cultural discourses, and build a platform for dialogue for a new aesthetics and politics rooted in the Indian experience. The panelists include Aman Mojadidi, Amar Kanwar, Ariel Hassan, Ashok Sukumaran , Atul Dodiya, Clifford Charles, Shahidul Alam, Gayatri Sinha, Geeta Kapur, Gulammohammed Sheikh, Jonas Staal, Joseph Semah, Marieke van Hal, Nalini Malani, Nancy Adajania, Paul Domela, Pooja Sood, Ranjit Hoskote, Riyas Komu, Robert Montgomery, Sarat Maharaj, Tasneem Mehta, Vivan Sundaram, Vivek Vilasini.
The biennale will be held across different venues including the Aspinwall House loaned to Kochi-Muziris Biennale by DLF Limited in association with the Gujral Foundation, a restored Dutch bungalow called David Hall, spice warehouses and heritage structures being opened to the public for the first time ever. Characteristic of leading biennales across the world, this one too is expected to give a boost to the State’s economy.