Kanika Pruthi of Saffronart discusses Shilpa Gupta’s works and her eventful start to 2013
New York: A contemporary Indian new media artist, Shilpa Gupta’s body of work presents a consistent progression in theory and practice that has rightfully earned her a firm spot in the arena of contemporary Indian art. Alumni of the Sir J. J. School of Fine Arts in Mumbai, the main crux of her artistic practice is to explore the role and purpose of art- this enquiry taking many forms.
The artists has had a packed start to the year, currently exhibiting at Galerie im Taxispalais in Innsbruck, Austria in a show titled Will we ever be able to mark enough?, curated by Renee Baert and which will subsequently travel to Montreal and Bruges.
Gupta is also showing at Art Basel. Her works at the art fair include Stars on flags of the world with the Mumbai based gallery Chemould Prescott Road, Untitled shown by the Parisian gallery Yvon Lambert and 2651-1 by Dvir Gallery from Tel Aviv, Israel.
In the first half of 2013 alone, she has been featured in various group shows at places including the Bristol Museum & Art Gallery in England, the Singapore Art Museum, the Golden Thread Gallery in Belfast, the Guggenheim in New York, the Sharjah Biennial in the United Arab Emirates and a group show at the Faurschou Foundation in Copenhagen.
Gupta is careful in her rhetoric not to delegate categories to identify her work or practice. She prefers to call it ‘everyday art’ given her preoccupation with daily observations and current events. To relegate her works to set categories would be limiting the scope of their discourse and its reception by the viewer. In “Stars on flags of the world” a glass vitrine holds hundreds of steel stars, like those found on national flags from around the world. The piles of stars are reflective of the appropriation of this particular insignia in constructing a national identity and narrative- much like alphabets that are put together to form words. Although seemingly political, her works hold a wider conversation with a willing ear and keen eye.
Regardless of the content and narrative of her works, Gupta is clear that her works are not simply ‘political’- a badge often pinned to works of art that comment on political and social scenarios. Her preoccupation is rather centered on the meaning of language. The multi layered contexts of her works not only point at the different tangents that they traverse, but their reception by the viewer also highlight the gamut of popular perception that a work encounters on its completion- the afterlife of the work. The viewers’ response is an integral part of her practice- sometimes evident and at other times concealed.
Shilpa Gupta’s “Threat”, first created in 2009, depictsa stack of bricks simulating a wall. The bricks are cast soap embossed with the word THREAT. The smell is powerfully soapy; it builds as you near the work. The work is performative- the viewer is encouraged to pick and take back a brick, this action depleting the ‘threat’- physically and symbolically. The degenerative and fleeting tactility of a bar of soap makes the viewer think of the emotional response to threat- sudden and strong, yet impermanent and short-lived.
“2652-1”, being shown by the Tel Aviv gallery Dvir at Art Basel, recounts the number of steps the artist took between Al Aksa Mosque, the Western Wall and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. Gupta assembled small photographs that she took while walking between the three sites, resulting in a thin 42-meter long canvas. The work highlights the physical proximity of these geographical locations juxtaposed with the political, religious and ideological schisms that creates separation between them. The process of globalization over the past decades is traced in varying doses in her works. Narratives of identity, nationhood, borders and boundaries and power relations are implicitly imbedded is the coded discourse of her multivalent works. It is this quality that makes her works relevant to a contemporary international audience of varying sensibilities.
New York: A few weeks ago, I shared an article by Susan Hapgood on performance art in India commissioned for the Guggenheim’s UBS MAP Initiative on South East and South Asian Art. The exhibition, No Country: Contemporary Art for South and Southeast Asia, features works of some of the most compelling artists and collectives in South and South East Asia today. It is on view at the Guggenheim, New York, until May 22nd, after which it will travel to the Asia Society Center in Hong Kong followed by a venue in Singapore, details of which are yet to be confirmed. All the works in this exhibition have been acquired by the Museum for its permanent collection. The exhibition’s title is drawn from the opening line of the William Butler Yeat’s (one of the foremost figures of 20th century literature) poem “Sailing to Byzantium” (1928) that is referenced in the title of American novelist, Cormac McCarthy’s 2005 novel No Country for Old Men. The use of this title brings forth the concept of a culture without borders. The concept has been emulated on the exhibition webpage, which hosts a series of essays on the different facets of art creation from South and South East Asia. June Yap, Guggenheim UBS MAP Curator, South and Southeast Asia, introduces the project in this video. We are thankful to the Guggenheim Museum for sharing this content on our blog.
Here is an article by Mumbai based cultural theorist and curator, Nancy Adajania, discussing two Indian institutions who have largely facilitated the creation of cultural knowledge in post-colonial India, Gallery Chemould in Bombay (now Mumbai) and the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), New Delhi. In the coming weeks, we will be re-posting more essays from this series, and also a review. Stay tuned.
Nikolaus Hirsch and Michel Müller with Cybermohalla Ensemble, Bureau of Contemporary Jobs in the Cybermohalla Hub at Sarai Reader 09: The Exhibition, Devi Art Foundation, Gurgaon, 2012–2013. Photo: Shamsher Ali . Image credit: Guggenheim Museum
Rather than conduct a general survey of contemporary Indian art, I would like to draw attention to two major and formative histories of artistic production and the creation of an infrastructure of cultural knowledge in postcolonial India. These histories, which have not so far received the appropriate degree of critical attention in the Indian art world, were brought dramatically to light by two recent events: first, the death of Kekoo Gandhy, founder of Gallery Chemould, Bombay, one of India’s earliest commercial art galleries; and second, by the fiftieth-anniversary celebrations of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), New Delhi, a transdisciplinary research institute devoted to the social sciences and humanities.
The Progressive Artists Group surrounded by supporters at the Bombay Art Society Salon. Photo: Courtesy Chemould Prescott Road, Mumbai. Image credit: Guggenheim Museum
Why link two institutions—Chemould and CSDS—that, at first glance, appear to have little in common? Both were founded in 1963 and embodied the impulses of a late Nehruvian modernity, with its simultaneous emphasis on a self-critical national renaissance and an internationalist expansion of horizons. Both institutions have made important contributions to the production and sustenance of a lively public sphere, building coherent communities around themselves: while Chemould was active in mobilizing both the art world and civil society, CSDS has worked in a hybrid space between scholarship and activism.
Khorshed, Shireen and Kekoo Gandhy outside Gallery Chemould, Mumbai. Photo: Courtesy Chemould Prescott Road, Mumbai. Image credit: Guggenheim Museum
Kekoo Gandhy (1920–2012) was a visionary and cultural catalyst who shaped the contours of Indian modernism by generating cultural infrastructure. His tenacious lobbying for private and state patronage resulted in the foundation of the Jehangir Art Gallery and the Bombay branch of the National Gallery of Modern Art. A cultural entrepreneur of great foresight, Gandhy first brought visibility to the works of modernists such as K. K. Hebbar, S. H. Raza, K. H. Ara, and M. F. Husain, exhibiting them at his framing shop, Chemould Frames, in the 1940s and ’50s. From the early ’60s onward, Gallery Chemould, which he cofounded with his wife Khorshed, was housed on the first floor of the Jehangir Art Gallery, Bombay’s first public gallery. Chemould’s small space, which hosted exhibitions of work by significant artists including Tyeb Mehta, Bhupen Khakhar, Nalini Malani, Vivan Sundaram, Atul and Anju Dodiya, and Jitish and Reena Saini Kallat, greeted the visitor with a table for conversation before curving away toward a wall of paintings. At this table, Gandhy shared his dreams of political and cultural freedom with artists, cultural producers, lawyers, and activists.
Gallery Chemould does not fit into a classical gallery ecology because Gandhy did not see the production of art as separate from larger political and cultural questions. During the Emergency (1975–77), when an authoritarian regime muzzled dissent and imprisoned those in opposition, the Gandhys sheltered activists in their home. During the 1992–93 riots in Bombay, when Hindu majoritarian militants targeted the city’s Muslim community, Gandhy contributed actively to the mohalla committees—neighborhood groups that promoted interreligious amity. Whether by presenting subaltern artists for the first time at his gallery (Warli artist Jivya Soma Mashe’s exhibition in 1975, for example) or by helping secure the secular ideals of the republic, Gandhy devoted his life to the pursuit of equity and justice.
Both Gandhy and CSDS (which was founded by political scientist Rajni Kothari and funded mainly by the Indian Council of Social Science Research) believed in sustaining and strengthening Indian democracy—still a work in progress. Early on, academics at CSDS polemicized Western theoretical models of modernity, instead advocating the approach of multiple modernities. After the Emergency, Lokayan, which was linked to CSDS, propagated non-party politics and worked with social movements at a grassroots level, nurturing civil-society activists such as the environmentalists Vandana Shiva and Medha Patkar, who would go on to develop and articulate alternative, sustainable models of development.
Sarai Reader 09, curated by the Raqs Media Collective, Devi Art Foundation, Gurgaon, 2012–2013. Photo: Shveta Sarda. Image credit: Guggenheim Museum
Academic research conducted at CSDS resonates in public life, particularly in debates conducted around policymaking and the transformation of the media. In 2000, CSDS’s Ravi Sundaram and Ravi Vasudevan launched the new media initiative Sarai, working in collaboration with Raqs Media Collective (artists Jeebesh Bagchi, Monica Narula, and Shuddhabrata Sengupta), to analyze critically the impact of emergent, informal, and independent media in the public domain. Sarai, true to its name, which is taken from a word for public resting place, has become a refuge and transit point for architects, filmmakers, writers, and artists, and has avoided a narrow academicization of knowledge by adopting multiple methodologies. As a Sarai-CSDS fellow myself in the early 2000s, I found the space to generate alternative contexts for new media art and to test out what Okwui Enwezor has called the “will to globality” expressed by subaltern media practitioners in a post-national context—one in which the old certitudes of nationalism have failed, but have yet to be replaced by new interpretative frameworks.
Sarai, along with the NGO Ankur, gave birth to the Cybermohalla project, which works in the interstices between legal and illegal domains, old and new media, creative pedagogy and art, in Delhi’s working-class neighborhoods. Participants in the Cybermohalla project are today published writers and established media practitioners in their own right. In an art world that tends to fetishize creative output as commodity rather than nurture it as conversation, Kekoo Gandhy and Sarai-CSDS (more informally in the former case and more programmatically in the latter) have attempted to produce new socialities in which the Gandhian, the Nehruvian, and the Marxist, the academy-trained artist and his or her subaltern rural/urban counterpart have generated a discourse through the alternately tight and loose weave of consensus and dissensus. Especially over the past decade, when all value seems to have been dictated by the market, it is important to flag alternative frameworks and platforms that have sustained significant forms of artistic articulation and critical inquiry in the Indian art world.
Nancy Adajania is a Bombay-based cultural theorist and independent curator. She was artistic codirector of the 2012 Gwangju Biennale.
Tarika Agarwal of Saffronart gallery-hops in Mumbai on the occasion of the latest edition of ‘Art Night Thursday’
Mumbai: It was quite an exciting experience walking around the Mumbai Art District at night for the first time as part of Art Night Thursday last week.
Started in London, the idea is that on the first Thursday of the month, participating galleries and museums stay open past 9 pm. It was an amazing way to get introduced to the great art scene in the vibrant city of Mumbai. It has managed to promote museums and art galleries as fun places to hang out in the evening.
The trail consisted of seven galleries. There was a vast variety of works on display – tapestries, video art, sculptures, installations, oils, acrylics to name a few. I started my journey alone but somewhere along the way it became a nice little group of art lovers walking about the streets of Mumbai from one gallery to another. It was nice to see how college students, art students, the retired and collectors were in the same space enjoying, appreciating and discussing an artist’s work.
In this edition of Art Night Thursday, here is the list of a few of the artists being exhibited and the kinds of work they were showing –
In a group show at Gallery Beyond, Prakaash Chandwadkar had showcased a few acrylics on Lokta Paper (wild crafted, handmade artisan paper indigenous to Nepal). These works display the vistas of the Himalayan Ranges around Nepal where he treks.
At the Guild, Rakhi Peswani presented ‘Anatomy of Silence’. The artist believes that silence is an integral part of paintings, sculptures and objects. Art holds a mute relationship with the society it is created and survives in. She shows the human body in a handmade avatar which is close to displacement and demise. The relationship between a laborious work and a craftsman’s body is explored and seen vis-à-vis the situation of the handmade today.
William Kentridge, Untitled, Indian Ink on pages from The Century Dictionary; An Encyclopedic Lexicon of the language. Image Credit- http://www.volte.in
One of the best shows was the William Kentridge solo exhibition, ‘Poems I used to know’ at Volte, which combines large drawings done in Indian ink on multiple pages from books that have been put together, a film installation, a series of slip book films, sculptures and a large tapestry. Read a review of the show in the Mint by Girish Shahane.
Shine Shivan, Glimpse of Thirst (11), Fabric, jute, fiber, marbles, fiber glass, artificial hair, sequins and beads. Image Credit- http://www.artinfo.com/
Shine Shivan’s ‘Glimpse of Thirst’ at Gallery Maskara exhibits a provocative body of work including a large group of hybrid, fantasy characters crafted from various non-typical materials and a video installation.
Chatterjee & Lall previewed Nityan Unnikrishnan’s solo show ‘While Everyone is Away’ during Art Night Thursday. This exhibition consists of fourteen paper-works and two sculptures, and is the first time the artist’s three-dimensional works have been shown. According to the exhibition note, “He derives from a variety of sources to build his works: memories, literature, the arts, Arcadia, the modern world, his present life. The individual works are open to a variety of interpretations; little niches and low voices offer up clues as the viewer navigates their densely worked surfaces.”
Risham Syed’s first solo exhibition in India titled ‘Metropolyptical: A Tale of a City’ was on view at Project 88. The artist portrays modern day Lahore, a place she calls home, yet remains a complete stranger to, due to the construction and deconstruction which is a mystic version of post-modernity.
Imagine getting a chance to see different collections of great art for an evening every month. Four to five hours of one’s time spent in appreciating the creativity of the young and the established felt like no time at all! I consider this a MUST DO if you are visiting Mumbai or are in South Mumbai when the next editions of Art Night Thursday are taking place.