Mumbai’s Contemporary Art to be featured in the 9th Shanghai Biennale.

Medha Kapur of Saffronart shares a note on the Inter-City Pavilions project at the 9th Shanghai Biennale

Shanghai Art Museum

Shanghai Art Museum

Shanghai: The Shanghai Biennale (October 2 –December 31, 2012) not only showcases contemporary art productions, but also creates forums where artists can meet, challenge their own works and expand their experiences. It offers the opportunity for a truly international exchange of ideas; while bringing together artists, curators, writers, theorists and art supporters from around the world. The Shanghai Biennale highlights the increasingly important role of artistic production in the Asia-Pacific region.

For the first time the exhibition will move beyond exploring national art practices and will begin exploring city art practices with  its Inter-City Pavilions. These focus on the interesting connections and energy exchanges between people and cultures which, in today’s globalized world, are more likely to be identified within local communities rather than in national contexts. India will be represented by Mumbai, one of the nearly 30 cities featured in the inaugural show at the Shanghai Contemporary Art Museum, housed in a building that used to be a thermal power-plant. Some of the cities invited are Istanbul, Tehran, Hong Kong, Taipei, London, Barcelona, Ulaanbaatar and Berlin.

The former Nanshi Power Plant, future venue of the Shanghai Biennale

The former Nanshi Power Plant, venue of the Shanghai Biennale

Venue of the City pavillions

Venue of the City pavillions

Curated by Diana Campbell and Susan Hapgood, the Mumbai pavilion will provide a dynamic evocation of the city’s artistic environment. The ten artists whose diverse art works will be presented in the pavilion include Gyan Panchal, Hemali Bhuta, Kausik Mukhopadhay, Manish Nai, Mansi Bhatt, Neha Choksi, Pablo Bartholomew, Sharmila Samant and Shilpa Gupta.

The pavilion will focus on several themes that ten artists have addressed in their work, and that make the city absolutely unique: its improvisational nature, its intricate collective networks, and its pervasive and re-usage and recycling practices. The works to be exhibited will not suggest any particular aesthetic or stylistic methodology. Rather, the artistic processes and images and meanings will gradually expand upon and suggest the exhibition themes in themselves.

Indian Art at SH Contemporary 2012

Manjari Sihare speaks with Diana Campbell about the India Focus projects at SH Contemporary, the premier Asia Pacific Contemporary Art Fair in Shanghai, China

SH Contemporary is one of the most successful art fairs in China, as it captures the dynamism of the Chinese art market as well as the spirit of Shanghai, a truly creative city that bridges business, culture and innovation. The 6th edition of the fair took place in the spectacular Shanghai Exhibition Center, one of the city’s landmarks, from 7–9 September 2012. SH Contemporary was organized into two main sections: The Art Show with over 100 selected exhibitors, and SH Contemporary Projects. The latter included an exhibition oncontemporary ink and calligraphy-related multimedia works titled Now Ink, and Hot Spots consisting of large scale and site specific projects by various artists. The Indian component of Hot Spots was presented by the Creative India Foundation and curated by Diana Campbell, the founding director and chief curator of the foundation. Campbell shared details of this project with me:

Q: Give us an overview of SH Contemporary’s India Focus?

A: For this rendition of SH Contemporary, the director Massimo Torrigiani wanted to complement the fair by supporting large scale curatorial projects. There are curated exhibitions, such as Now Ink (artists reflecting on the traditional Chinese medium of Ink and calligraphy), Hot Spots (monumental new commissions), and First Issue (curated solo projects by young artists). I was invited to add to the fair’s curatorial programming by contributing my knowledge of Indian art to the fair’s programming. What is great is this is not an ‘India’ show per se, the artists are integrated into the overall exhibition for the quality of the work. The artists included in the India Focus projects do not have galleries with booths at the fair, which shows the commitment of the organizers to showing good works and creating quality exhibitions, not just highlighting the works of their exhibitors’ artists.

Q: How did this project take fruition? Please highlight Creative India Foundation’s role in Focus and the SH Contemporary Fair in general?

A: I met Davide Quadrio, the director of ArtHub Asia, who was in charge of the special projects, because we were both speaking at a public art conference in London. He was interested in the work I have been doing, and he and Massimo Torrigiani invited me to come to China to do a site visit. I was taken with the space and the potential to present Indian creativity to such a wide audience. I also studied Chinese in school, so personally I was interested in revisiting the art of this region. The Creative India Foundation supported new commissions and my curatorial work for the fair. The Foundation is presenting the work of Indian artists, and this way the work that is displayed is not tied to a particular gallery or region. 

Q: Could you talk a little about the significance of India being the inaugural country for SH Contemporary: Focus? With the Indian Highway exhibition at the Ullens Center in Beijing and now the SH Contemporary: Focus, could we say that finally this is the start of a cultural exchange between the two countries which have so far had their buzzing contemporary art scenes restricted to their own fortresses?

A. I certainly hope so! There are many challenges navigating between the ‘fortresses’, but I hope that the growing interest in India will create new opportunities for Indian and Chinese cross-cultural exchange. There is already another exhibition with Indian artists right around the corner. I am co-curating the Mumbai City Pavilion for the Shanghai Biennale (which is exploring city rather than national pavilions) and there will be 9 artists in that exhibition – it opens in a month.

Q: China is known for its censorship rules as we saw in the recent episode at the Ullens Center (removal of Tejal Shah’s work at the behest of the Indian government). Did you encounter problems of this kind with your curation? Were the proposals and final projects vetted by the Chinese authorities before, during and after the works were installed?

A: Everything must be vetted by the censorship board months in advance. None of my works were particularly controversial, so I was fine. However, there were some works that were pulled by the censorship bureau at the opening – and since one was in the catalogue – the catalogue is now banned. Sometimes censorship can create more interest (like Ai Wei Wei). Tejal Shah’s piece ironically was an Indian Embassy instigated censorship situation, they pressured Beijing to pull the video, otherwise it would have been fine. 

Gyan Panchal, pelom 2, 2012
Now Ink
Courtesy: Jhaveri contemporary, Mumbai

Q: You have also co-curated the theme-based exhibition, Now Ink. Please elaborate on the works of artists featured herein: Gyan Panchal, Manish Nai and Rohini Devasher?

 A: Gyan Panchal, Rohini Devasher, and Manish Nai join a group of East Asian artists who explore the very traditional use of ink in new ways. In Gyan Panchal’s work Pelom 2, he transforms a found piece of marble which had been artificially painted green. He subtly removes the green ink trying to get back to the stone’s original color, and the result is quite beautiful. 

Rohini Devasher’s beguiling video Arboreal uses video feedback to produce beautiful tree like forms which resemble ink drawings, but actually do not use ink at all. Manish Nai uses watercolor to transform photographs of cracked walls by adding further dimension to them. This exhibition has been incredibly well received and has been invited to show in Venice during the Biennale as a satellite exhibition. 

Rohini Devasher, Arboreal, 2011
Now Ink
Courtesy: The artist and Project 88, Mumbai

Q: Please tell us about the new projects by Shilpa Gupta, Aaditi Joshi and Raqs Media Collective commissioned by the Creative India Foundation? 

A: Shilpa Gupta was an ArtHub Asia collaboration, and their team searched the country to find a calligrapher who could write the Chinese Arabic script called Xiao er Jing. The piece says “I Live Under Your Sky Too” in English, Chinese, and Xiao er Jing, and with ArtHub’s support will travel to a public place in Shanghai soon. Shilpa is also in the biennale – so she is having quite a China moment. She also designed the costumes for the Paris Opera having to do with China earlier this year. 

Aaditi Joshi, Untitled, 2012 (front and side views)
Commissioned by the Creative India Foundation

Aaditi Joshi, Untitled, 2012
Commissioned by the Creative India Foundation

Aaditi Joshi created and completed works in China. It was her first time out of India, and she had a production based residency and collaborated with Chinese workers. She created a beautiful mountain like sculpture which graces the west wing entrance, and the plastic form is reminiscent of Chinese scholar rocks. Her work has been invited to show in a UNESCO Heritage building called Bund18, so the project will take a longer life. 

Raqs Media Collective, Whenever the heart skips a beat, 2012
Commissioned by the Creative India Foundation
Courtesy: The artists, Project 88, Mumbai and Creative India Foundation
Image courtesy: Diana Campbell

Raqs’ work, Whenever the Heart Skips a Beat, is a work I have a long involvement with since I commissioned the original video for the India Art Fair projects I curated last year. They created stills of the clock work and translated them into Chinese – and these projections were displayed in monumental size in the main hall.

Q: This is actually the second time that SH Contemporary has prioritized India, the first being in 2008 to showcase the Best Discoveries project by Delhi based curator, Deeksha Nath. Would you have any insights from the Fair organizers about the perception and reception towards Indian art in 2008 and now?

A: The fair has had many changes in leadership (which is one of its criticisms) so no one has been discussing the past projects.

Q: SH Contemporary is considered to be the most important art fair in China having preceded ART HK in its inception. How are the two different, if at all? Do the tax free import and English language environment give ART HK an edge over SH Contemporary?

A: I would think the user friendly logistics of Hong Kong would make it a much more internationally friendly for exhibitors. However, for the Chinese market, SH Contemporary brings the best of Asian art domestically and serves this market beautifully, and there are real tax benefits to buying overseas. I was at dinner with directors of Art HK and Art Stage Singapore last night, and I think all three can co-exist and thrive together as they don’t necessarily have the same client base. SH Contemporary’s curatorial projects were a strong addition to navigating the chaos of an art fair. I was intrigued by Pablo Rudolf’s (Lorenzo Rudolf’s son) plans for Art Stage Singapore with an Indonesia Pavilion with completely new commissions. I sponsored a project for Art HK in the past and I think the way the booths were organized wasn’t that friendly to the smaller Asian gallery exhibitors – I think this is going to change now that the leadership is Art Basel, though. I think the India Art Fair is definitely at risk when it comes to Art HK, at least with having international exhibitors.

Q: What has the response been like? China is known to represent the new breed of international art collectors. Have these collectors expressed any interest in Indian art?

A: The response has been great, and there’s been good interest in Indian art, especially Manish Nai. There are many new museums opening in China and they are beginning to have a more pan Asian focus. 

Manish Nai, Untitled works, 2012
Now Ink
Courtesy the artist and Galerie Mirchandani + Steinruecke

Read more about SH Contemporary 2012

Diana Campbell is Founding Director and Chief Curator, Creative India Foundation, Hyderabad, a private foundation which advances Indian contemporary art globally and is developing India’s first international sculpture park. She is a guest contributor on our blog. To read her previous posts, please click here and stay tuned for more. 

Behind the Scenes with the Indian Art World

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.

A. Ramachandran, Manisha’s guru and mentor, with his wife Chameli. Says Manisha, “Introspective scrutiny and deep understanding. This is what Sir and Chameli aunty have given me for the thirty years that I have known them.”

A. Ramachandran, Manisha’s guru and mentor, with his wife Chameli. Says Manisha, “Introspective scrutiny and deep understanding. This is what Sir and Chameli aunty have given me for the thirty years that I have known them.”

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.

“I photographed Anjum at her solo exhibition at Vadehra Art Gallery in 2009. She makes a genie-like appearance from the ‘magic cup’. The background enhances her smoky silhouette, like an emerging apparition.”

“I photographed Anjum at her solo exhibition at Vadehra Art Gallery in 2009. She makes a genie-like appearance from the ‘magic cup’. The background enhances her smoky silhouette, like an emerging apparition.”

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.

“I am reminded of the Wizard of Oz who puppeteered fantastic illusions – here, Bharti Kher keeps a watchful eye on the lifeless, yet lively, mannequin.”

“I am reminded of the Wizard of Oz who puppeteered fantastic illusions – here, Bharti Kher keeps a watchful eye on the lifeless, yet lively, mannequin.”

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…

“I enjoy the pose Probir Gupta strikes - like a conjurer making phantoms appear on the canvas in the background. His smile almost dares the viewer to catch a glimpse of the illusion.”

“I enjoy the pose Probir Gupta strikes – like a conjurer making phantoms appear on the canvas in the background. His smile almost dares the viewer to catch a glimpse of the illusion.”

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.

Nataraj Sharma installing his work at Kala Ghoda in 2009.

Nataraj Sharma installing his work at Kala Ghoda in 2009

“Valsan Kolleri mentally navigates a path through the maze his sculpture creates. To me, it’s an allusion to an immortal contemplating on the pot that has spilt the elixir of life.”

“Valsan Kolleri mentally navigates a path through the maze his sculpture creates. To me, it’s an allusion to an immortal contemplating on the pot that has spilt the elixir of life.”

“I leapt at this composition as Ranbir Kaleka's  signature headgear seemed to appear like a rising sun over the horizon. The drowning fan seems to look up at him, imploring for a rescue.”

“I leapt at this composition as Ranbir Kaleka’s signature headgear seemed to appear like a rising sun over the horizon. The drowning fan seems to look up at him, imploring for a rescue.”

“Neelima Sheikh makes for a forlorn image: a traveller ready to leave, a writer who takes one last look at the manuscript. Somewhere, she is enveloped in the taperstry of her works, merging into all she had to say...”

“Nilima Sheikh makes for a forlorn image: a traveller ready to leave, a writer who takes one last look at the manuscript. Somewhere, she is enveloped in the taperstry of her works, merging into all she had to say…”

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.

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