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.

Bharti Kher’s New Monumental Exhibition

Elisabetta Marabotto of Saffronart invites you to visit Misdemeanours, Bharti Kher’s largest solo exhibition in Asia

London: Misdemeanours is coming soon at the Rockbound Art Museum in Shanghai. Starting on January 11 the exhibition boasts to be the largest solo exhibition in Asia of the celebrated Indian artist Bharti Kher.

Self Portrait, Bharti Kher

Self Portrait, Bharti Kher. Image Credit: http://www.rockbundartmuseum.org/en/exhibition/overview/457gqs

The show, which occupies all six floors of the museum, features a selection of works created in the last 15 years by the artist as well as some site specific installations.

Kher uses different forms of art to express herself such as painting, photography and sculpture yet most of her works have in common monumental dimensions. The artist in this exhibition discusses the relationship between human beings and animals, hybridity, ethics, gender, politics, globalization and cosmopolitanism. The poetics of the body reveals Kher’s interests in entropy, mutation, and transformation, as witnessed by humans and animals alike.

The Skin Speaks a Language not its Own, Bharti Kher

The Skin Speaks a Language not its Own, Bharti Kher. Image Credit: http://www.rockbundartmuseum.org/en/exhibition/overview/457gqs

“The exhibition also includes two site-specific installations that serve as conceptual and physical “skins” that encase the museum’s monumental façade and conjoin two exhibition spaces on consecutive floors. These architectural interventions serve as mirrors to Kher’s own use of the bindi to serve as a carrier of the other, and an object that revels in both in its ability to decorate and enliven attention, as well as to subsume and obscure the gaze. ”

Kher has stated, “If I could remake my artistic career, I think I would be a minimalist painter. All the art that I love comes from the tradition of reduction—but I can’t because I’m super maximum!”

Misdemeanours, Bharti Kher

Misdemeanours, Bharti Kher. Image Credit: http://www.rockbundartmuseum.org/en/exhibition/overview/457gqs

Misdemeanours has been curated by Sandhini Poddar, Mumbai-based art historian and adjunct curator at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York and the works on display include loans from leading private and public institutions as well as new commissions.

The exhibition will be on until March 20 and it will be accompanied by events and a catalogue. For more information click here.

 

 

Anomalies: Bharti Kher’s first solo show in Korea

Ipshita Sen of Saffronart shares a note on Bharti Kher’s solo exhibition in Seoul

New York: Artist Bharti Kher expands her audience to South Korea for the very first time, through her solo show at the Kukje gallery in Seoul. On view until October, the exhibition showcases selected works of art, all speaking of “anomalies”, the title of the show, exploring an extensive overview of Kher’s artistic practice in the last decade.

Experiencing Bharti Kher’s work is like deciphering a labyrinth of complexities, emotions and cultural displacement. Born and raised in Surrey, London, Kher has established her own aesthetic niche in the international art market in the last two decades. The narrative element of her work, often mythological, overrides the visual aspect, consuming audiences into her oeuvre.

“In terms of the title ‘Anomalies’, I’d use it for every exhibition if I could. I feel that in Asia, people really understand myths, and “Anomalies” is about how things are not always as they appear, how the function and cause are not always the same, and how intentions are not always what you see in the end. I name some of my work after myths, and people think they’re true, but I’ve made it up”.

The exhibition showcases Kher’s multi faceted works, from found objects to traditional South Asian motifs. One of her prominent works is the bindi works, representing the mark that is applied by Indian women on their forehead.  Kher alludes to the concept of a bindi as unorthodox and creates an almost mesmerizing visual reflecting its intrinsic beauty. These works are tedious and labor intensive in production, as each bindi is applied meticulously, creating spectacular patterns of vivid color, posing a challenge to the audience perspective on painting.

“The idea is that they have this object that they can instill faith in,” says Bharti

The exhibition also showcases her well-known series of female hybrid sculptures; half human, half animal figures inverting the natural hierarchy. Through these sculptures, Kher envisions the concept of the “urban goddess” revealing attributes of instability and unease of the feminine. Through her work, she also challenges feminist notions of sexuality, love, power, body and the grotesque.

Bharti Kher, is one of India’s prominent contemporary artists. She studied painting at Newcastle Polytechnic and currently lives and works in New Delhi, India.

The exhibition will be on until October 5, for more information click here.

 

 

“Readymades”: How Ordinary Objects Become Works of Art

Shradha Ramesh explores the art of some of the South Asian artists who continued this tradition initiated by Marcel Duchamp

New York: Ever wondered if stainless steel utensils would be an artwork? Well, for Subodh Gupta (born 1964), they are the medium of self expression. Coming from a modest family of merchants, Subodh’s works are an ode of his surroundings, the surviving lower working class represented by stainless steel tableware. Born in Khagaul, Bihar his repertoire ranges from painting and sculpture to photography, video and installations. According to Nancy Adajania: “Subodh Gupta’s works are littered with references to past and present experiences. Gupta’s art energizes the forms and imageries that we encounter everyday as part of this globalized world and reevaluates the aesthetic parameters of the present. His art questions the very notions of development and progress. He speaks of the local to the global through certain emblems such as stainless steel utensils, bicycle and milk cans, cow dung cakes suitcases, packages and trolley cast in bronze and aluminium.”

Subodh Gupta, Untitled

Subodh Gupta, Untitled. Image Credit: http://www.saffronart.com/auctions/PostWork.aspx?l=8284

Yet another artist who has used the indigenous motif to communicate the subversive emotion is Bharti Kher (born 1969). Bharti Kher’s art reflects on several sets of dualities such as: male-female, human-nature, modern- traditional and local-foreign. She uses ready-made bindi, an ensemble of Indian marriage and feminine beauty, to narrate eerie and repulsive paradoxes of modern life.

Bharti Kher, Indra's Net (6)

Bharti Kher, Indra’s Net (6). Image Credit: http://www.saffronart.com/auctions/PostWork.aspx?l=7257

“Bharti uses bindi as a means of transforming objects and surfaces. Her Bindi is used to cover the resin cast animals or other sculpture and even to decorate the large panels… often plays with everyday scenes and objects where she deals with the mundane.”

Jitish Kallat (Born 1974) says about his art: “My art is more like a researcher’s project who uses quotes rather than an essay, with each painting necessitating a bibliography,.. any visual material relevant to me.” Kallat’s works represent the fraught of urban discontent and turbulence especially through his fiber glass installation “Death of Distance” (2006). According to Deepak Ananth, French art historian and critic, “Kallat’s vision of his native city…is street-wise, slangy, hectic and rapid, impatient to register the myriad contradictory signals that come within the precincts of its scan. “

You can read more about “Readymades” here.

Bharti Kher on India’s Absence at the Venice Biennale

Elisabetta Marabotto of Saffronart shares Bharti Kher’s letter on the absence of India at the Venice Biennale

To Whom It May Concern (if at all)
As I sit these mornings and look at my mailbox something about where I’m from and at bothers me as the news from Venice Biennale filters in:  pavilions from Angola (population 19.6 million, civil wars 1975 to 2002) Azerbaijan (9.173 million) Bangladesh, Tuvalu (population 9,847)  …yes smaller than Lajpat Nagar! Iraq, Kuwait, Maldives, Montenegro, special participations from Palestine, Tibet…. etc. We didn’t bother to make it happen. Again. It’s a catalyst perhaps to move, a truth of other happenings that remain unresolved. Nagging issues that plague us in India.

A country with no art is like a child with no parents. The child grows up unable to love without envy and mistrust. Deprived of affection warmth and care, most likely develops poor and problematic social skills. The orphan will rarely laugh at itself when self depreciation is a fundamental tool of critique and wont know a mother who has stories to share and songs to pass on; an accumulation of associations that are sweet even sublime just pass by. Skin that can be caressed and the smells of those things primal and intrinsic have not been etched or marked on the body. Instead, memories and lessons are hard and practical: survival, power, money, and make friends with those you need.

The fear of the future and possible failures are veiled in arrogance and bravado. Who cares anyway, no one is looking at me, so why bother with how I look, forget outwardly appearances or more poignant perhaps: why bother with my soul, when no one has nourished it? Self-respect or pride isn’t the problem; there is that in abundance, to oblivion. Its indifference and apathy, that runs like a wild rabid dog, frothing and foaming. Insipid bile that rises from an empty stomach, electric envy of green; staining blood red, Judas yellow, Kali’s black teeth, and the whiteness of that albino whale, crashing-crushing like the battle inside the belly of that dog.When we sent our specialists(i heard 35 or so) from the Indian government last year to witness our first participation in 116 years, with their junkets and ice-cream coupons, didn’t they see that Venice
was about the art and sharing of ideas and not fake handbags or
collecting masks? Maybe they forgot, maybe they were busy eating ice cream on a hand carved wooden gondolas. What was I doing?  What can I do now? If we cant play with the stuff of dreams anymore, where will be the invention? If we can’t bear witness, how will there be a memory of the things that should never be forgotten.You can say, “who cares” … nationalist agendas are not relevant anymore. I agree. Art is not relevant because it cannot change the world. I agree. But we can’t escape apathy and indifference and I’m not talking about politics, I’m talking about love.

BHARTI KHER
Boston 28th may 2013

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