Minal and Dinesh Vazirani remember the legendary Ebrahim Alkazi, who left behind an unparalleled legacy in Indian art and theatreRead more ›
Minal and Dinesh Vazirani remember the legendary Ebrahim Alkazi, who left behind an unparalleled legacy in Indian art and theatreRead more ›
At the Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2014, Saffronart is supporting acclaimed artist Manisha Gera Baswani in her project, Artist Through the Lens, sponsored by the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art. Rashmi Rajgopal speaks with Manisha on her project and its evolution.
On 13 December, Fort Kochi brimmed with activity as participants at the Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2014 scuttled about, preparing for a long but exciting second day. Curated by Jitish Kallat, the second edition of the highly-acclaimed event is titled “Whorled Explorations”. It had kick-started the previous day, with chief minister Oommen Chandy inaugurating the event.
Artists from around the world have rallied to Kochi to display their talents to discerning and enthusiastic spectators, who will flock to the centuries-old port city till the end of the biennale: 29 March 2015. For artist Manisha Gera Baswani, acclaimed for her paintings and her photographs, it had been months since she began preparing for this moment. Her much anticipated project, Artist Through the Lens, had just opened at Rose Bungalow, Fort Kochi. Speaking to Manisha feels like you’re speaking to an old friend: she is warm, open and very honest about her work and herself. Over the phone, juggling between her kids and speaking about the project, she said, “It has been a lot of work. Since the past two weeks, I have been busy installing the project.”
The title, Artist Through the Lens, is self-evident: the seeds for her project were people from the art community she had known and interacted with for decades. As she puts it, “The world knows the artist primarily by his work. However, the intimacy with the work grows once the ‘person’ in the artist becomes known. Somewhere, that person ‘becomes’ the artist, ensconced in a private space and immersed in a personal expression… I decided to pick up the camera along with my paintbrush nine years ago, finding the lens suited to navigating the artistic world.” Artist Through the Lens began with exploring artists for the people they really were. It has since grown to include other members of the art world: gallerists, art critics, curators, and collectors: “Images of the art world,” as Manisha says.
In a casual Q&A session, she spoke openly about her project, her aspirations for it, and how she came to be involved in the biennale.
Your project was showcased at the India Art Fair in 2012 and earlier this year at Art Chennai 2014. Did you feel it evoked the response you were hoping for?
I was not sure what response to anticipate as I was very focussed on the set up. But once I caught my breath, I saw people glued to the images, often returning and sometimes paying a tribute with moist eyes. I could not ask for more.
Were you approached by the organisers of the Kochi Biennale to showcase your project? Was this based on previous responses to your project?
It was a conversation with Riyas Komu at the India Art Fair last year which translated into showing this project at Kochi. Given the audience that visits the biennale, it would be a good venue to share this photographic panorama of the Indian art world with an audience beyond the Indian art community.
Being both a painter and a photographer, do you feel your approach to photography is different from art?
I think of myself as a spontaneous artist: I don’t plan or pre-meditate my paintings. The act of painting still allows a flexibility to pause and calibrate once the process has started.
Photography, on the other hand, requires seizing a moment that feels right. Over time, reviewing my own work has made me more prepared to recognise those moments. For example, I now also scan for shadows or reflections that compose themselves into a ready-to-click frame which I can almost see ahead of time.
What made you decide that you would like to document the art world through these ‘behind-the-scenes’ photographs?
It all started with me consciously capturing time with my teacher, Mr. A. Ramachandran, and that was essentially for myself. While we spoke about how photos of senior artists from their younger days were rare, the importance of what I was doing dawned on me. Since then, the project has acquired a larger significance and purpose for me.
How did this idea strike you? Did you first experiment with it and develop it into what it is now as you progressed?
When I look back, I recall that my camera accompanied me everywhere. It went with me to all art openings, soirees and camps for as long as I can remember. I felt more and more driven to capture ‘behind the scenes’ images of the art world. By the time I felt ready to finally show select images from my project, it was already 8 years old. I was part of a project called Manthan, a platform centred around showcasing art and design practices. It was daunting to showcase in front of a discerning audience, several of whom well-known photographers. As it turned out, they were the most enthusiastic of viewers and motivated me to move forward even more confidently.
How was your idea received by the people you have photographed? How willing or reluctant were they to allow this ‘entry’ into their lives as artists, gallerists, collectors, critics, and as persons?
Since I am a practising artist myself, more often than not my entry into their spaces was that of welcome and openness. I have spent sometimes hours in an artist’s studio quietly capturing them in their surroundings. These sessions have been interspaced with wonderful conversations over lunch and tea.
Some artist friends were shy and needed cajoling. Some others may have found me a bit intrusive but they indulged me nevertheless. It all changed for everyone when Artist Through the Lens was showcased at the Indian Art Fair by Devi Art Foundation in 2012.
I was in parallel contributing to the quarterly art magazine ‘Take on Art’ via my photo essay column titled ‘Fly on the Wall’ which is now in its 14th edition. This brought another dimension for me as I was now also adding prose and poetry to the visual. This is a good example of the appreciation and support, extended by gallerist and publisher Bhavna Kakar.
As you photographed them, did anything surprise you about them or the way they worked? Any revelations?
Entering artist studios has been one of the most humbling experiences for me. These are borderless and often timeless spaces that have helped me widen my own perspective. Seeing their work process, talking to them about their techniques, and conversations about shared passions have all been enriching experiences I am grateful for.
If there was a revelation – it would be the obvious one of realising that if you are still painting, you are still learning…
What were your thoughts while deciding upon the angling and the composition of each shot?
I am not formally trained and not particularly disciplined about reading manuals. I simply take the camera and wait for the moment to come, and come they do.
You mention a closeness with the artists you have photographed, and this is quite apparent in the candidness of your photographs. Yet with some, there appears to be a distance – we see back views, we see the subject through slits and peepholes, we see their shadows and reflections, or we see them partially obstructed by their work. The reverence you bear for these artists is evident, but there appears to be a distance between the viewer and the subject. How would this influence perceptions about the subject?
Often I find an opportunity to create a composition which brings together the artist and their work, or their philosophy expressed via the environment. When I capture such a moment, I may zoom out the subject in perspective, but my closeness to the person remains unchanged. Examples of N. Pushpamala shot through the eye of a mask or Nataraj Sharma standing next to an industrial crane – both need the expanse which may foreshorten their image but amplify the artist in context.
You’ve mentioned that this project is ongoing. You’ve already included gallerists, critics and collectors along with artists. Do you see a possibility of expanding this further?
Yes, the project started with photographing the artists in their creative spaces. The presence of the gallerist while the artist was installing the show, to the entry of the curator or the art collector turned this project to embrace a wider art community. It grew organically and I don’t want to impose any pre-conceived restrictions to image capturing. I know that I may thematically edit it when needed but the magic is in the expansion itself.
You will find that even where artists are concerned, besides traversing generations, it has transgressed boundaries and is beginning to become South Asian rather than just Indian.
As the biennale continues, we will bring more snippets from our ongoing conversation with Manisha. Keep watching this space for more.
The folks at Saffronart have put together a compact list of art events in Mumbai, Delhi, London and New York. All you need is a fully-charged phone to guide you and enough money if you’ve got travel plans.
There’s a lot happening in the South Asian art world that shouldn’t be missed. We’ve got it mapped for you, so head out and start taking it all in, beginning with…
Waswo X. Waswo: Sleeping Through the Museum
Where: Sakshi Art Gallery, Colaba
On View Till: June 21, 2014
Has the title of the show piqued your interest yet? Udaipur based American artist Waswo X. Waswo simulates a museum in this solo show through numerous “artifacts” and photographs arranged to replicate the look and feel of one. On a deeper level, it questions the act of preserving and displaying such pieces as perpetuators of culture and heritage. For folks hanging out at SoBo and looking to do more than just kill time, head to Sakshi Art Gallery between 11am and 6pm, except on Sundays when they’re closed.
Amrita Sher-Gil: The Passionate Quest
Where: National Gallery of Modern Art, Mumbai
On View Till: June 30, 2014
Commemorating the birthday of the well-renowned late artist Amrita Sher-gil, this exhibition curated by art historian Yashodhara Dalmia presents a range of her oeuvre including works depicting her life in Paris, nude studies, still-life studies and portraits of her friends and her fellow students. Sher-gil, who is also recognized as India’s own Frida Kahlo, has been the youngest and only Indian artist to be elected as an Associate of the Grand Salon in Paris. The exhibition also includes her photographs, and original letters. A must-visit show for art enthusiasts in the city.
A Terrible Beauty
Where: Gallery Chemould, Mumbai
On View Till: July 9, 2014
This exhibition includes works by Delhi-based artist Meera Devidayal who has adopted the theme of the dilapidated mills of Mumbai and their future as the subject for her works. Her unique style and extremely sight-specific theme make this a show that is bound to make viewers not just appreciate the aesthetics of the works but also ponder about the future of the mills.
Figures of Speech: Using the Written Word in Contemporary Art
Where: Four Seasons Hotel, Mumbai
On View Till: July 15, 2014
Exploring the relationship between words and images, this exhibition features the works of contemporary artists such as N. Ramachandran, Bhavna Sonawane, Brinda Miller and Rajesh Patil among others. Of course, you can combine a visit to this exhibition with a meal or a coffee at the Four Seasons Hotel to make for a lovely afternoon or evening.
Walk the Line with Sudhir Patwardhan
Where: Jehangir Nicholson Gallery, Kala Ghoda, Mumbai
Walkthrough: Wednesday 11th June, 5 – 6:30 pm
On View Till: August 30, 2014
If the ongoing exhibition, “Taking the Line for a Walk” at the Jehangir Nicholson Gallery already doesn’t sound exciting enough to visit, the idea of being walked through it with contemporary artist Sudhir Patwardhan himself certainly makes it hard to miss. The exhibition showcases 45 drawings by well-acclaimed artists such as Tyeb Mehta, Akbar Padamsee, F.N. Souza, S.H. Raza, Laxman Shreshtha, Manjit Bawa and Sudhir Patwardhan. A message especially for the drawing enthusiasts out there: don’t miss this event!
Kaleidoscope: Group Art Show
Where: Chawla Art Gallery, Delhi
On View Till: June 14, 2014
This group exhibition shows some of the finest works of contemporary artists such Asit Kumar Patnaik, Bharat Bhushan Singh, Farhad Hussain, Jayasri Burman, K.S. Radhakrishnan, Ramesh Gorjala, Satish Gujral, Shipra Bhattacharya, Surya Prakash, Thota Vaikuntam, Tapas Sarkar and Manu Parekh. Having works by so many artists under one roof makes for an interesting variety of styles and themes. There is bound to be something that catches the eye of every individual view!
Raj Rewal: “Memory, Metaphor and Meaning in his Constructed Landscape”
Where: National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi
On View Till: June 15, 2014
This is a retrospective show of the works of Raj Rewal, one of India’s finest architects. Known for several iconic buildings in India and abroad, his works have also been showcased at famous museums abroad such as the Pompidou Centre in Paris. Looking at architecture as a visual art allows for a unique experience for many viewers who may otherwise overlook the artistic element in buildings, which are typically judged by their functionality.
Where: Vadehra Art Gallery, Delhi
On View Till: June 17, 2014
This exhibition features works that deal with “notions of policing, tracking, security, immigration, loss of individuality and rebellion, all of which are issues that affect us in more than one level.” Considering the different perspectives and approaches of leading contemporary artists such as Shilpa Gupta, Jitish Kallat, Karthik KG, Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, Natalia Ludmila, Armando Miguelez, should allow you to gain an extensive view of the complexities surrounding one’s identity.
Where: VadehraArt Gallery, Delhi
On View Till: June 17, 2014
Featuring the works of contemporary artists such as Atul Bhalla, Ruby Chishti, Minal Damani, Jagannath Panda, Ashim Purkayastha and B. Ajay Sharma, this exhibition focuses on the different facets of Indian urban life in contemporary times. Combine a visit to this show with the ‘Identity Control’ exhibition, taking place in the same gallery!
S.H. Raza: Pyaas
Where: Grosvenor Gallery
On View Till: June 14, 2014
What would you say to being in London in summer for an exhibition of paintings by one of India’s most revered Modern artists? If it isn’t a whoop and a jump (or an acknowledging smile for the more poised amongst you), we can only surmise you don’t have a visa to make the trip. The exhibition ‘S.H. Raza: Pyaas’ is just the thing for art enthusiasts—it intends to display the development and range of styles in which Raza has depicted his characteristic subject matter in recent times. The paintings contain a great deal of vigour, vibrancy and a strong connection to India and its religious heritage.
Art Antiques London
Where: Kensington Gardens opposite the Royal Albert Hall
On View: June 12 – 18, 2014, 11am onwards
‘The most important Asian sales of the year will be held in London during this annual event.’ —BBC Homes & Antiques Magazine
‘Asian Art in London is a brilliantly conceived celebration of Asian Art and has made London the undisputed Asian Art capital of the world.’ — Essential London Magazine
Accolades alone won’t do it, so hear it from us. Asian Art London has grown to become a highly prestigious art fair dealing in antiques and art, bringing together renowned dealers, collectors and enthusiasts. It is a one-of-a-kind opportunity to procure beautiful and rare items in antique and contemporary Asian art. Among participating galleries from London and Paris, Galerie Christophe Hioco is one to look out for. Crowning this is its convenient location opposite the Royal Albert Hall, against the backdrop of the verdant Kensington Gardens—you certainly can’t say no to that!
Olivia Fraser: Subtle Bodies Exhibition
Where: Grosvenor Gallery
On View Till: June 21, 2014
India’s art traditions draw the internationally-acclaimed artist Olivia Fraser to reference it in her works, and her latest paintings attest to this. Having lived in India for the last ten years, Fraser’s work reflects a grasp of Indian traditional iconography, but used to express sensations of a meditative process. ‘Subtle Bodies’ displays a mix of paintings on hand-made paper and limited-edition prints prepared during the last few years and the work announces Fraser’s emergence. The incredible blend of east and west, traditional, and contemporary for the new exhibition is a direct reflection of Fraser’s ideology.
M.F. Husain: Master of Modern Indian Painting
Where: Victoria & Albert Museum, South Kensington
On View Till: July 27, 2014
Seems like there’s no end to exhibitions featuring South Asian art in Central London. Head to the V&A for a sumptuous collection of paintings by Maqbool Fida Husain (1915-2011). A member of the Bombay Progressives, he was famed for his freehand drawing and vibrant colours and was among India’s pioneering Modern artists. The eight painted triptychs on display illustrate Indian civilization and were commissioned in 2008 by Mrs Usha Mittal as a tribute to the richness of India’s history. The artist was still working on the project at the time of his death and originally envisaged a series of 96 panels. History and religion feature in a feisty splurge of colours and expression—be sure to not miss out on this one!
Sadequain: A Retrospective
Where: Aicon Gallery, New York
On View: June 12 – July 12, 2014
When the Moderns were earning a name in India, Sadequain Naqqash carved his path to fame and later came to be known as a pioneering Pakistani artist in his country and the world. He came from a family of scribes and the background served him well: Sadequain came to be recognised as Pakistan’s foremost calligrapher and painter and is credited with the renaissance of Islamic calligraphy in Pakistan. His vocabulary developed through a mingling of Eastern and Western artistic traditions, as well as Hindu and Muslim ideology. Aicon Gallery hosts a collection of 24 works from the 1960s to the ’80s that trace the trajectory of his artistic development.
Lost Kingdoms: Hindu-Buddhist Sculpture of Early Southeast Asia, 5th to 8th Century
Where: Metropolitan Museum of Art
On View Till: July 27, 2014
This monumental exhibit is the first of its kind and scale to bring together works on loan from South East Asia’s distinguished national collections, showcasing sculptural art produced in the earliest kingdoms of the Southeast Asian region. The Lost Kingdom features some 160 sculptures representing distinct Hindu and Buddhist cultural groups that flourished in the Southeast Asian region, that has been out of view owing to the shadow of time. Epigraphic efforts of the 20th century brought to the fore the cultural practices and remains of the Pyu, Funan, Zhenla, Champa, Dvāravatī, Kedah, and Śrīvijaya groups, which date back to many centuries. The art works highlight the influence and local amalgamation of Indic culture in regional belief systems and practices. It is interesting to see popular deities from India being depicted in a different avatar by these regional patrons. Many of the works have never travelled outside their source countries before providing visitors an opportunity to view works they may not have access to easily.
SxSE: Selections from the Asia Society Museum Collection
Where: The Asia Society Museum
On View: June 17 – August 3, 2014
Don’t miss out on this selection of video artworks which will be on display at the Asia Society Museum, starting June 17. It features works since 2000 by South and Southeast Asian artists that highlight current artistic trends in the region, with a special focus on disparities between globalisation, modernisation, urbanisation and tradition.
For the insatiable among you, we have an events listing page that is updated each month. Be sure to drop by regularly for updates.
Audrey Bounaix ponders on the evolution of the art form to its contemporary meaning
When one speaks of the ancient tradition of South Indian mural painting, one recalls the majestic murals adorning temple walls. But what about its more contemporary adaptation? The works of famed Modernist A. Ramachandran immediately come to mind. Born in 1935 in Kerala, he wrote his doctoral thesis on Kerala Mural Painting between 1961 and 1964. His paintings—besides showcasing a strong command over line, colour and form and creating an exciting visual drama—invoke the traditional mural paintings of Kerala in their scale. Ramachandran’s famous 1986 work titled Yayati revisited a tale from the Mahabharata and exploited the monumentality of the canvas to narrate this epic tale. Moving into the present, artist Manikandan Punnakkal takes this rich heritage forward with his reinterpretation of mural painting. His innovation lies in rendering two dimensional paintings in plaster, which creates a vibrant effect of light and shade.
My own encounter with Kerala’s heritage was not too long ago. When I visited Kerala for the first time in July 2011 with a couple of friends, I was struck by many things – primarily, the architecture with dramatic roof shapes that bore no comparison with other Indian regions, and secondly, the variety of food my friends and I could eat after three weeks of a Tamil vegetarian regime based on thali meals. In Cochin, we visited the Mattancheri palace built for the Raja of Cochin around 1555. Over there, I stumbled upon its mural paintings—48 earth tone paintings covering the king’s chamber greeted me warmly. The frieze illustrated the epic of the Ramayana. Though a common theme in Hindu temples, here it was painted, rather than carved. The extraordinary detail in these paintings bore a stark difference to those of the Rajasthani and Gujarati schools.
This 16th century work is part of a greater tradition of mural paintings in Kerala. The earliest painting, found in Tiruandikkara (now in Tamil Nadu) is dated to the late 8th-9th century and already shows its attachment to Hindu themes. Royal patronage encouraged this art form in ancient temples, churches and palaces of the region, and these frescoes illustrated the ethereal world of divinities. The specificity of the wall preparation and the use of natural pigments are now being revived by a new genre of artists actively involved in researching and teaching mural art whose reference period corresponds with the Mattancheri palace development from the 16th – 19th centuries.
Indeed, the expressiveness of the face reached in modern paintings should classify them among the finest works in South Asia. They strictly followed sacred texts such as the Puranas and technical ones like the Silparatna written in the 16th century, whose iconographic prescriptions are still in use by practitioners nowadays. According to the tradition, painters should refer to the panchavarna principle by exclusively using five colours -white, yellow, red, green and black which are specific for each divinity. Traditional paintings are sacred in two ways: in their representation of deities and their placement in the inner chambers of the temple. The sacredness of the deity is transposed onto these paintings, lending the two dimensional deities as much spiritual power as the main murti, or idol.
But Indian Contemporary muralists do not stick to the limited palette imposed by tradition. Manikandan Punnakkal, now popular for his mural paintings, adds blue backgrounds to some of his compositions, giving them a touch of sophistication. His central gilded forms are as tantalising as jewellery. Apart from his cool-toned nuances, Punnakkal chooses to get rid of restrictions imposed by the fresco format. He opts for a large canvas size—a support which is more appropriate than frescoes to make a series of voluptuous musicians. He chooses to focus on a central figure, unlike the numerous figures that crowd traditional frescoes. What’s undeniable and evident in its closeness to tradition, is his preference for popular icons such as Ganesha and gopis playing various instruments.
Both A. Ramachandran and Manikandan Punnakkal have adapted traditional Kerala mural paintings to their style, and they sure know how to appeal to their audiences! Besides these works which are a part of StoryLTD’s “Kerala Lyricism”collection, Punnakkal has accomplished much more: he undertook the giant task of painting 80 murals at the Vaikom Mahadeva temple in Kerala—proof to the artist’s talent and perseverance. Punnakkal’s isolated figures in these paintings actually speak to me more than my encounter with those mural paintings from Cochin did. Indeed, it is the lone figure that draws our attention, the one we attach ourselves to and identify with.
Medha Kapur of Saffronart shares a note on Art+Auction’s 2012 Power Collectors List which features Indian collector Kiran Nadar
Every year, Art+Auction publishes its ‘Power’ list, spotlighting those individuals who have stood out in the art world over the year. This year, the nine-part list, which was released last week, includes experts from all corners of the arts: Auction Power, the Power of Tradition, Power Collectors, Design Power, Power Dealers, Power Patrons, Power Players, Power to Watch, and Power Personalities.
Being on Art+Auction’s Power 100 list, an individual shares only one characteristic with the fellow listees: distinction! So,how is who does and doesn’t make the list determined?
ARTINFO, under whose banner Art+Auction is published, canvas widely, soliciting contributions from all over the world to make sure the list is comprehensive. They aim to strike a balance between equally valid yet frequently competing areas of influence —weighing curatorial prominence against the character, agency, and the clout of individuals. Connections, magnetism, and leadership also play a role, especially when it comes to private collectors. A candidate’s future potential or ascendancy is also a quality they try to assess when considering for potential inclusion on the list.
The third of nine installments published by Art+Auction this year includes a list of individuals who are putting together groundbreaking collections: ‘Power Collectors.’ Among the top power collectors of 2012 is one well known name in India – one of the most important collectors of modern and contemporary Indian art – Kiran Nadar. Other collectors on the list include François Pinault, George Economou, Leon Black (who recently acquired Edvard Munch’s 1895 pastel version of The Scream for $120 million, the most expensive work of art sold at auction to date), and Len Blavatnik.
Nadar established the KNMA (Kiran Nadar Museum of Art), India’s first privately owned museum, which has an illustrious collection of about 700 modern and contemporary works. In 2010, Nadar bought S.H. Raza’s 1983 painting Saurashtra for a record-breaking £2,393,250 ($3.5 million) at an auction house in London. In April 2012, Nadar unveiled her most ambitious acquisition yet — Subodh Gupta’s 26-ton, 30-foot-high Line of Control, first displayed at the 2009 Tate Triennial. Line of Control was installed at the central foyer of the DLF South Court Mall in Saket, Delhi. It took 80 man hours, about 3 dozen people, unimaginable logistical effort, and superb execution to erect one of the largest public sculptures in the country.
The KNMA possesses works by other artists including Tyeb Mehta, Nasreen Mohamedi, M.F. Husain, Anish Kapoor, Arpita Singh, F.N. Souza, Jamini Roy, A. Ramachandran , S.H. Raza, Subodh Gupta, Jogen Chowdhury, Krishen Khanna, Manjit Bawa, N. S. Harsha, Ram Kumar, Rameshwar Broota, and V.S. Gaitonde among others. Some of the more noteworthy ones include Bharti Kher’s The Skin Speaks A Language Not Its Own, Rina Banerjee’s The world as burnt fruit and Akbar Padamsee’s Grey Nude.