How Do Artists Express Fatherly Love?

Pooja Savansukha looks at the double role taken on by four leading Indian artists of their time 

For many of us, Father’s Day is opportune to express our love and gratitude to our respective fathers. They’re always going out of the way to make us happy. But how about men whose roles have extended beyond their immediate familial duties? We’ve all got fathers who are lawyers, engineers, writers, teachers…the list goes on, and at some level they do assume a double role where their professions seep into their personal lives.  Here, I’ve picked four highly influential Indian artists of their time who have expressed their love for their children through art:

Raja Ravi Varma as an expressive father

Most of us would immediately associate Raja Ravi Varma with the birth of a modern visual culture in India. His works reflect a colonial influence of realism, while portraying distinctly Indian subjects. He was the first Indian artist known to use oil paints, to portray mythological characters in human forms and to become famous and influential. Although his beginnings are traced to Kerala, his fame spread far and wide through the oleographs he printed in his own press in Bombay. Some of his most famous works include depictions of scenes from the mythic stories of Nala and Damayanti, and Dushyanta and Shakuntala. Though we recognise Ravi Varma as the Father of Modern art in India, his fatherhood is also literally displayed in his graceful portrayal of his first daughter Mahaprabha Thampuratti, and grand-daughter in his painting, ‘There Comes Papa’. The painting also reveals Ravi Varma’s depiction of his personal life—an aspect that is not often associated with the subjects of his works. Ravi Varma was the father of five children: two sons and three daughters.

There Comes Papa (1893) Photo Courtesy: http://www.indiancentury.com/varma.htm

There Comes Papa (1893)
Photo Courtesy: http://www.indiancentury.com/varma.htm


Nandalal Bose as his descendants’ student

Nandalal Bose is a renowned artist known for his participation in the Bengal School of Art that arose as an Avant Garde and Nationalist movement in response to the prevailing British Art schools in India. His work is predominantly influenced by nationalist themes, Indian rural life, and Hindu mythology. Most of his paintings are considered to be national treasures and his influence has extended beyond his own time.Along with his paintings, he was also famed for his prints, such as his black and white lino cut of Gandhi during the Dandi March.  However, many may not know that his lino cut, and other printmaking techniques were skills that he honed through his own son, Biswarup Bose, who taught print-making at the Kala Bhavan in Santiniketan. Nandalal Bose as a father had not only encouraged his son to pursue art by sending him to study in Japan, but also actively learnt from him. Nandalal Bose also inspired and drew inspiration from his grandson, architect, Supratik Bose. As for Supratik, he once said in an interview: “There’s one funny thing: He had trouble drawing a bicycle rickshaw. He couldn’t figure out how the structure holds the seat on two wheels. I had to draw and show him the triangular structure. So, in a sort of mechanical sense, he wasn’t as good as I was!”


M.F. Husain and his doting nature

Maqbool Fida Husain is one of the most acclaimed Indian artists. He began to earn recognition upon his active participation in the Bombay Progressives Movement that rejected the nationalist traditions of the Bengal Art School. He is known for portraying subjects such as Mother Teresa, Mahatma Gandhi, as well as characters from Hindu mythology and symbols from Indian life.  His style displays an inspiration from both Indian and Western traditions (particularly Cubism). One of the most distinguishing factors of his artistic achievements is that he is a self-taught artist. Having extremely humble beginnings, he began his career by painting for film hoardings, and later on working at a toy manufacturing factory. As he is more famously known for his paintings, few among you may know that his hand-crafted wooden toys are not only unique and rare to his oeuvre, but they also have a very personal relevance to his life. As theorist Ram Chatterjee expressed, “Making toys has really been an aesthetic adventure for Husain, inspired by the arrival of his first daughter he sat down to create a few things which would please and perhaps amuse her. Fond sentiments of the father combine with the vision of the artist in him to offer the little one a rare reception…” Toy-making that was inspired by his impending fatherhood became yet another testament to Husain’s unique creative process.


Atul Dodiya and his fatherly concerns

Contemporary artist Atul Dodiya is known for creating works that explicitly negotiate between his own personal life, and issues that surround his immediate context, in Mumbai. His 1997 painting ‘Lamentation’ was created in light of the violence in his otherwise peaceful neighbourhood, Ghatkopar in Mumbai, following the demolition of the Babri Masjid. In his painting, one would immediately recognise the figure of Gandhi walking away into the distance that is depicted on one half of the painting. In the other half of the painting, Dodiya portrays an autobiographical element by appropriating an image of his own daughter (who was four at the time) in Picasso’s Cubist style, as if to express his inner-conflict regarding how to raise a child in such a violent setting.

It goes without saying that every father finds a unique way of expressing his love for his child(ren). Perhaps you could relate to some of these sentiments, either as a father or as someone’s child. Love may be expressed differently by everyone, but on some level, the feeling is universal.

Speaking to a 132-year old Artist

If you had something to say to Picasso, what would it be? While you ponder over this, Pooja Savansukha shares Husain and Dodiya’s reactions to Picasso’s works

Over Spring break this April, I travelled to Barcelona with my family to visit the ongoing exhibition at the Museu Picasso, Post-Picasso: Contemporary Reactions. I was enthusiastic to see the show as I had taken a college course about it last year with Professor Michael FitzGerald, a Picasso scholar and the curator of this exhibition, and I must admit that my high expectations from the visit were definitely surpassed. Although the exhibition does not feature a single piece by Picasso himself, one can gain a unique insight into his career through the collection of works by renowned contemporary artists from around the world who have engaged with his art. In my visit, my own Indian background drew me towards works by M.F. Husain and Atul Dodiya that I had the opportunity to see from the context of South Asian art, and with specific regard to Picasso.

Post-Picasso: Contemporary Reactions, curated by Michael FitzGerald at the Museu Picasso Source: http://www.bcn.cat/museupicasso/en/exhibitions/current.html

Post-Picasso: Contemporary Reactions, curated by Michael FitzGerald at the Museu Picasso
Source: http://www.bcn.cat/museupicasso/en/exhibitions/current.html

You don’t need an introduction to Picasso- but if you do, he is arguably one of the most influential figures in 20th century art. His works were pivotal in the initial development of Cubism and modern art. His artistic explorations were not only reflective of his personal and political life in Spain and France, but also set the ground for future art movements. A striking feature of his career is the number of artistic phases that he has been through. These phases also guide the structure of the exhibition. Each work in the exhibition respondsto either a particular work such as the “Guernica” and “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” or a phase in Picasso’s life such as his Blue and Rose periods, Cubist period, and Surrealist period. Viewers get a sense of how every artist in their own style has engaged with a similar type of work by Picasso, reiterating his transnational influence.

A humourous piece by Banksy displayed at the entrance of the exhibition  Source: www.artnews.net

A humourous piece by Banksy displayed at the entrance of the exhibition
Source: http://www.artnews.net

Professor FitzGerald often suggested to us in class that while Picasso greatly influenced art during his own time, contemporary artists tend to engage with him as an equal. Witnessing this trend in the exhibition was definitely one of the highlights of my visit. Husain and Dodiya both addressed issues particular to India and their immediate context, while simultaneously engaging with Picasso.

The first work I encountered was Maqbool Fida Husain’s 1971 painting, ‘Ganga Jamuna’ that was a part of his Mahabharata series. It was one of the art works starting a dialogue with Picasso’s famous ‘Guernica.’ ‘Guernica’ depicts the explosion in the city of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War and is noted for its portrayal of the destruction of innocent people and animals such as horses and bulls. Picasso’s monochromatic palette allows viewers to focus on the forms and figures painted in his synthetic Cubist style.

Picasso’s ‘Guernica’ (1937)   Source: http://http://en.wikipedia.org/

Picasso’s ‘Guernica’ (1937)
Source: en.wikipedia.org

Husain’s ‘Ganga-Jamuna’ that also featured at his debut on the global platform at the Sao Paolo Biennial in 1971, depicts the Indian war epic, the Mahabharata, as a Hindu mythological parallel to Guernica, portraying a scene as Picasso would have. Interestingly as Picasso was also invited to present his work at the Sao Paolo Biennial, Husain consciously undertook the challenge of emulating his style in this painting. In an interview at the time of the Biennial, he claimed, “only Picasso could do it [the Mahabharata] justice; he’d not done it. Let me try.” While retaining his own palette and theme, Husain presents a visual that in focusing on the forms of its subjects, particularly the horse, engages with Picasso’s ‘Guernica’ by attempting to assume the position of its Hindu counterpart. A painting that I may have otherwise appreciated just for its typically Husain-like fascination with Hindu mythology and depiction of horses, now also reveals another unique facet of his style, an engagement with Picasso.

MF Husain’s ‘Ganga Jamuna’ (1971)  Source: Peabody Essex Museum Website

MF Husain’s ‘Ganga Jamuna’ (1971)
Source: Peabody Essex Museum Website

Atul Dodiya’s ‘Land’s End’ and ‘Lamentation’ are also exhibited amongst other paintings engaging with Guernica. In ‘Land’s End,’ which is a part of Dodiya’s shutter series, he appropriates a portion of Picasso’s ‘Dora Meyer’ as well as Guernica onto the shutter, and paints a sculpture by Ravinder Reddy that is seen behind the shutter. The combination of the Indian and Western references confused viewers who were unable to link the two. Though this is typical of Dodiya, it makes his works more interactive. This is what he achieves by engaging with Picasso.

Atul Dodiya’s ‘Lands End’ Source: http://www.vadehraart.com/exhibition/viewDetails/8/24

Atul Dodiya’s ‘Lands End’
Source: http://www.vadehraart.com/exhibition/viewDetails/8/24

‘Lamentation’ responds to the growing violence in India (particularly Mumbai), that goes against Mahatma Gandhi’s peaceful philosophies that the post-colonial nation was founded upon. His painting references Gandhi with his back to the viewer on one side, and juxtaposes a Cubist Picasso-styled painting with a little girl on the other. Around these elements, Dodiya also portrays lamenting angels in the style that Giotto used in his 1305-1306 fresco ‘Mourning the Death of Christ’. The painting references Hindu mythology, Christian mythology, Indian history (reference to Gandhi), contemporary India (in light of wars, crimes and Mumbai riots), artists Picasso and Giotto, as well as his own personal life (the girl depicted represents his daughter). By responding to violence, this painting is already engaging with ‘Guernica,’ and additionally, the rendering of the girl in Picasso’s style goes a step further to place Dodiya into his lineage. While one could otherwise simply accept Dodiya’s appropriations of Picasso’s as just another one of his Western references, looking specifically from the standpoint of Guernica, as the show points out, one can sense a greater dialogue between Dodiya and Picasso.

While Guernica played a significant role in Dodiya’s correspondence with Picasso’s work, he has also responded to Picasso’s Surrealist phase. Atul Dodiya’s ‘Sour Grapes’ also featured in the exhibition depicts an image of Hindu Lord Vishnu, in a typically illustrative calendar style, along with other deities worshipping in the background. Dodiya appropriates Picasso’s Portrait of Jaume Sabartés (1939) – to represent himself as Lord Brahma, the Hindu creator of the universe. While Dodiya’s appropriation of Picasso’s Surrealist portrait makes the work converse with Picasso’s Surrealist works, the humour invoked also adds to his dialogue with Picasso.

Atul Dodiya’s ‘Sour Grapes’ Source: http://www.bcn.cat/museupicasso/en/exhibitions/current.html

Atul Dodiya’s ‘Sour Grapes’
Source: http://www.bcn.cat/museupicasso/en/exhibitions/current.html

Something distinctly common to both Husain and Dodiya in their works at the exhibition is their reference to Hindu mythology or Indian motifs. Despite a similarity in their content based on the Indian background of the two artists, they have extremely unique approaches to engaging with Picasso. I was able to see them as being entirely unique to one another even if they were the two Indian artists represented at an exhibition featuring International artists.

In addition, I enjoyed all the different parallels that I was able to draw between contemporary artists from around the world, and Picasso, himself. Given Picasso’s influence on modern art, many might make the convenient assumption that this exhibition depicts his unsurprising influence on contemporary art. It is the representation of artists who bring themselves to the level of Picasso, engaging with him, making fun of him, or assuming his position that makes this exhibition so much more interesting.  It is safe to say that although Picasso’s career ended in the late 20th century, his legacy still lives on, in a unique and fascinating manner. In addition to Dodiya and Husain, the exhibition also features works by Ibrahim el-Salahi from Sudan, Bedri Baykam from Turkey, Rineke Djikstra from the Netherlands, Chéri Samba from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Vik Muniz from Brazil, George Condo and Jean-Michel Basquiat from the USA.

If you find yourself in Barcelona, or are looking for a reason to travel to this wonderful city, I would strongly urge you to consider visiting this exhibition for a fresh perspective on Picasso’s contemporary influence. The exhibit will run until 29th June.

 

Duplicator’s Dilemma| Atul Dodiya

Elisabetta Marabotto of  Saffronart shares a note on Duplicator’s Dilemma, Atul Dodiya’s solo exhibition in Hong Kong

London: 10 Chancery Lane Gallery in Hong Kong is currently exhibiting Atul Dodiya‘s first solo show in Hong Kong.

The exhibition brings together a selection of works which combine tradition with modern references. On display is a series of works created on shutter doors paying homage to famous international artists such as Roy Lichtenstein.

“The shutter doors bring the commonly seen Bombay shop fronts into the contemporary art genre. Dodiya uses the duplicity of imagery to play with wild contrasts of scenery. This series combines the metal fronts of the pop art work of Lichtenstein with the deeply expressionistic long and stringy figures of his paintings. A man whose bones can be seen through his skin reads a book, a skull lays by his side. When the door is closed, piercing cartoon like eyes peer with the phrase, “What? Why did you ask that? What do you know about my image duplicator?” Highly original, his works physically add layers of meaning to his works. They can be read half-closed or open as well as fully seeing one image or the other.”

This series was inspired by the sight of small business in Mumbai locked down because of the fear of violence and religious persecution following the bombings in 1993.

Also in the exhibition is a series of black and white drawings representing figures almost floating in a phantasmal and fuzzy reality which subtly engage the audience in a curious dialogue.

Dodiya said about his works: “What is better? The fish inside the water, or the fish outside the water? The mirror reflects reality. Is that reflection real? Is the image which an artist depicts on canvas more real than the image which the viewer sees in reality?

Probably, these are some of the philosophical questions, which arose in the process while looking at Lichtenstein’s ‘Mirror’. Inside-outside, above-below, real-unreal, hidden-revealed, single-double, are these opposites? This is the dilemma with which artists begin and arrive at the discovery of the relativity of the real.

The fine line between art and life gets blurred, to the point where art is overpowering the reality of life. It becomes a game of stepping in and stepping out of the creative space.”

The exhibition is on until January 30, for more information click here.

 

Experiments with Truth: Atul Dodiya

Ipshita Sen of Saffronart shares a note on Atul Dodiya’s current exhibition at the National Gallery of Modern Art in New Delhi. 

New York: Atul Dodiya, is one of India’s leading and most significant contemporary artists. His solo exhibition ‘ Experiments with Truth’ at the National Gallery of Modern Art in New Delhi, curated by cultural theorist and poet Ranjit Hoskote, brings together for the first time over 80 works by the artist over his prolific career from 1981-2013. It will also show works made by the artist during his time as a student at the J. J. School of Art in the early 1980’s.

Atul Dodiya at National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi<br />Image Source: http://www.platform-mag.com/art/atul-dodiya.html?para=2#article_title

Atul Dodiya at National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi
Image Source: http://www.platform-mag.com/art/atul-dodiya.html?para=2#article_title

The exhibition highlights Dodiya’s versatile artistic practice as he experiments, embraces and explores with various mediums- oil, acrylic, watercolor, mixed media works, sculpture installations, assemblages and photography. His tendency to work with different media and refusing to stick to a homogenous style is distinctive of Dodiya’s work. It is this ability of working across various mediums and juxtaposing Western art history and popular Indian culture through his work, that marks his oeuvre and makes him one of the most sort after and distinguished contemporary artists in India.

Dadagiri, 1998. Oil, acrylic and marble dust on canvas.<br />Image Source: http://www.gallerychemould.com/news/atul-dodiya-experiments%20with%20truth.html

Dadagiri, 1998. Oil, acrylic and marble dust on canvas.
Image Source: http://www.gallerychemould.com/news/atul-dodiya-experiments%20with%20truth.html

The audience is confronted with a variety of forms and mediums capturing the contrasting nature of change. Dodiya being highly influenced by Mahatma Gandhi and his philosophy puts the exhibition in perspective and forms an invisible string connecting the political, cultural and spiritual contexts in his expansive work. Atul Dodiya’s own artistic journey has been considered as constant experiments with the ‘truth’.

Strong influences of artists such as Nandalal Bose, Benodebehari Mukherjee, Marcel Duchamp, Joseph Beuys, Tyeb Mehta, Gerhard Richter and Bhupen Khakhar can be traced in Atul Dodiya’s art. Works by these masters will also be on display as reference points, enabling the visitor to comprehend Dodiya’s work more effectively.

Atul Dodiya pursued his bachelors of Fine Arts from Sir J. J. School of Art in Mumbai. He furthered his academic training at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris from 1991 to 1992 subsequent to a scholarship awarded by the French Government. He currently lives and works in Mumbai.

Kallat for Kochi

Aaina Bhargava of Saffronart on Jitish Kallat’s appointment as the curator for the second edition of the Kochi-Muziris Biennial in 2014.

 

London: Jitish Kallat, by any standard, is one of the internationally most well established Indian contemporary artists.  Which is perhaps why his appointment as the next curator of the Kochi-Muziris Biennial (KMB) comes as no surprise. Declared by Hon. Mayor of Cochin, Mr. Tony Chammany, as the official curator of Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2014, he was selected by an elite and diverse panel of Indian art professionals put together by the Kochi Biennial Foundation.  Consisting of art historian Geeta Kapur, director of Dr. Bhau Daji Laad Museum, Tasneem Mehta, director of Outset India and the Gujral Foundation, Feroz Gujral, director of Gallery Maskara, Abhay Maskara, artists Sheela Gowda and Balan Nambiar, and the President and General Secretary of the Kochi Biennale Foundation, Bose Krishnamachari and Riyas Komu, they provided the following official statement in support of their choice:

“To continue the unique character of this artist led Biennale we are selecting Jitish Kallat as the new curator for the 2014 edition. Jitish brings immense international experience to the next Biennale. He possesses sound theoretical knowledge about contemporary art along with a diverse yet meticulous approach to his own practice. We are confident that Jitish will curate an innovative and experiential second edition.”

Because the legitimacy of biennials is essentially evaluated based on their constant recurrence,  the successful execution of the second edition biennial becomes imperative to its future continuation and representation of contemporary art in India.  The first edition of the KMB, already having been declared ‘the second largest running biennial in the world after Venice, with almost 400,000 visitors’, has provided the KB Foundation and government of Kerala with motive to not only maintain but progress the standard established in 2012.  Appointing Kallat as curator is clearly an attempt to cement the KMB’s reputation as a legitimate institution.  He has participated in countless biennials, his works have been exhibited at major museums around the world, so given his international exposure, critical acclaim, and commercial success as an artist his representation and endorsement of the biennial certainly adds great value to the entire event.  Even if he does lack curatorial experience, he has extensive experience with biennials, and an understanding of how they function.  Additionally, he also happens have Keralite roots, hailing from Thrissur, although he was born and bought up in Mumbai.

Jitish Kallat for Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2014

Jitish Kallat for Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2014. Image Credit: http://kochimuzirisbiennale.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/announcing-web-poster-04.jpg

From a political perspective, the commitment to promoting Kerala as a cultural center remains a priority, however, for the coming editions, there is a greater responsibility of establishing India as a destination for contemporary art, outside of a commercial context.  Intentions to push this standard and expand the the impact of the biennial have been voiced by the officials and organizers of the biennial:

“The first edition of the Biennale accentuated the tourism and cultural sectors of Kerala,  the biennale requires a permanent venue as it promises to return every two years, and we are searching for such a place to make this possible.” – Mayor of Cochin, Mr. Tony Chammany

“This return is required for the Biennale to develop its unique grammar and vocabulary. ” He also said that the media played a vital role in initiating a dialogue and bringing biennale to people’s home’s.” – Jitish Kallat.

As the contemporary art scene is constantly growing and evolving, the appointment of Jitish Kallat as curator is highly reflective of it’s current situations.  Kallat’s career is representative of a culmination of the academic acclaim and popular or commercial success, much like Subodh Gupta or Atul Dodiya – and since the biennial is an institution that is essentially non commercial, but is trying to navigate itself in a very commercially driven art society, Kallat could be the negotiating factor between both worlds.  He has also managed to achieve his success at a relatively young age (he is just 39) and since the KMB seeks to affect mainly the youth, perhaps a fresher perspective is the next step to progressing the already impactful biennial.  Furthermore, contemporary art is still relatively an unknown field to the general public and one of the goals of the biennial is to expand the reach of contemporary art, it is perhaps more effective to approach it with a more popular manner, rather than an extremely academic one.  Again, the mesh between the academic and the commercial becomes critical.  The notion of recurrence and repetition is essential to the longevity of biennials, and in order to keep occurring, the nature of the biennial must adapt to its current situations, and by attracting as many visitors as possible.

“That’s what art is all about. Sometimes it’s just a shift of vision…Let us hope it will be different but the genetic link will remain and it will be the continuation of the same language…I want to bring a new set of tools to work with the same set of ideas.”- Jitish Kallat

Preparations are clearly underway to ensure the next KMB as impacting as the inaugral edition, until then we just have to wait and see what Kallat’s unique vision will hold.

 

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