With the peak of the summer underway in Europe, join us on a unique trip through the continent, guided by eminent Indian artists including Souza, Raza, and more. We’ll take you to England, explore France, and spend a night in Italy before moving east to Greece and Hungary.
NGMA Mumbai’s centenary celebration of Amrita Sher-gil’s birth through an exhibition of her works recreates the life one of the most powerful female voices in Indian art –Rashmi Rajgopal
Yashodhara Dalmia next to Amrita’s 1933 painting, Professional Model
The eve of 2nd June 2014 was a charged-up one at the National Gallery of Modern Art. Noted art historian and curator of the ongoing exhibition Amrita Sher-gil: A Passionate Quest, Yashodhara Dalmia, would be guiding visitors shortly through a carefully curated selection of paintings. This wasn’t an arbitrary crowd of appreciators new to Sher-gil’s art either: artists, art students, gallerists and collectors were present, eyes narrowed probingly (and knowingly). Some were already steeped in private discussions over Sher-gil’s work, and in far more animated discussions about her life.
It’s almost a truism that interest around yesteryear celebrities generates feverish discussions on a scale that those around contemporary celebrities wouldn’t. Amrita was just the kind of person who commanded attention. It wasn’t merely because of whom she was and when she lived—she was sensational. Outspoken and forceful in her beliefs, she had a personality that couldn’t go unnoticed. She was highly individualistic, which is evident in the many letters she exchanged with her family, friends and acquaintances.
Visitors at the NGMA for the walkthrough held on 2nd June 2014
If you’re among those unfamiliar with her as a person, the artworks on display may risk coming across as a set of pretty pictures. This superficial impression is partly deflected by a neat sectioning of her works into specific periods—they show her growth as an artist. Works from the early 1930s reflect an influence of Western academicism in their composition. This would be an unfair dismissal of their potency; Sher-gil showed a unique sensitivity in her approach to her subjects, poignantly capturing their inner turmoil. Among the works on display is one referenced in R. C. Tandan’s ‘The Art of Amrita Sher-gil’: Professional Model, 1933. Quoting art critic Denise Prontaux from the Minerva of Paris,
“The memory of one of her most recent pictures still haunts me. A woman seated in a pose as unaesthetic as possible with dishevelled hair and ravaged breast and in her eye all the misery of besotted humanity! From where has this young girl learnt to see life with such pitiless eyes and this absence of illusions?”
Left: Professional Model, 1933
Another work, part of her model studies, was alluded to colleague and painter Marie Louise Chassany—and a possible sexual relationship with her. Though Amrita was known to have been in relationships with both men and women, she had denied being in one with Chassany in a letter to her mother in 1934:
“…I believe that it is impossible to fully transform one’s sexual desires into art, to idealize it and tranquil it through art for a whole life-time this is only a stupid superstition of the feeble brains…Marie Louise was such an abnormal type of woman…we never had anything sexual between us.”
Her colourfulness deftly transits to poignancy again. This time the viewer notices a marked shift in style. These works aren’t academic—they break away from it. Certain works have an interesting story behind them. Brahmacharis, 1937, shows a group of young South Indian priests—presumably Iyengar—made by Amrita after her return to Simla from the South. Story goes that she got her driver to pose for her as the central character, and servants to model for her. Also part of the exhibition is her last work—an unfinished painting that was, well, unfinished, owing to her untimely death at the age of 29.
Amrita’s Unfinished Work
For all the debate over her approach to painting, one easily overlooks how feisty she was as a person. You might have read about/heard about her famous rejection of a prize awarded to her by the Simla Fine Arts Society for a painting made by her which she considered less superior to some of her other works which the committee had rejected. It isn’t just this. She had strong views on everything: on the prevailing Bengal School trend which she utterly disdained, on people, and on the course her own art would take. This comes through clearly in her letters, only one of which is included in the exhibition. And that’s a drawback for those who don’t have Vivan Sundaram’s exhaustive two-volume monograph on Amrita which has most of her letters—they reveal a strong-willed, highly intelligent and ambitious young woman who could have gone on to achieving much more had she lived.
A letter from Amrita dating to 1932
That said, the exhibition definitely must be attended. These are works to be seen and experienced in person, so head to the NGMA before the end of this month.
Shradha Ramesh shares a note on the new exhibition, Companionable Silences, at Palais de Tokyo, Paris
New York: “Companionable Silences” is a group exhibition of artists from various trajectories on view at the Palais de Tokyo, Paris, from June 21 to September 9, 2013.
The connections between these artists are their encounters with the city, Paris, and its ground breaking approach to art – a break away from western archetypes.
According to the curator, the main focus of the exhibit “…is on artworks and artistic lineages that are worthy of study in their own right, with particular attention drawn to the contexts in which the artists’ ideas were formulated and executed.”
Besides the global artist profiles the exhibition representss a visual congregation and interaction between primitivism, modernism and orientalism. An assorted list, the artists are of divergent geographies, ages and genders. The list is dominated by internationally recognized women artists including Tarsila do Amara (1886 – 1973) Brazilian, Saloua Raouda Choucair (b.1916) Lebanese, Camille Henrot (b.1978) French, and Zarina Hashmi (b. 1937), Anjalika Sagar (b. 1968) and Amrita Sher-Gil (1913-1941), Indian. The male artists included in the exhibitions are Adolf Loos (1870 – 1933), Kodwo Eshun (born 1967) and Umrao Singh Sher-Gil (1870-1954).
Among the works in the exhibition is a film by Anjalika Sagar and Kodwo Eshun of the Otolith group titled “I See Infinite Distance Between Any Point and Another (2012)” which narrates the life of Etel Adnan -a poet, essayist, and painter, from Lebanon.
On the other hand, works by the Indian artists Zarina Hashmi, Amrita Sher-Gil and Umrao Singh Sher-Gil show their different relations and timeline with their art and Paris.
Among the vagarious arrangement, the most striking is the father daughter duo Umrao Singh and Amrita Sher-Gil. Umrao Singh Sher-Gil’s photographic portraits of his family and himself are of complete contrast to his daughter’s works, which are influenced by Ajanta cave paintings, Paul Cezane and Paul Gaugin. Born in Hungary, Amrita Sher Gil is well known in the Indian art circle for her modern and unconventional thinking. Born to a Hungarian mother and Sikh father, she trained at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris where she became influenced by Realism. Her time in Paris was era of experiment and exploration. She was the first Indian woman to be recognized at international art forums.
This exhibition is definitely a must see if you are in Paris. To learn more about the show, click here.