Frieze London 2013

Ambika Rajgopal of Saffronart looks at the 2013 edition of Frieze Art Fair and Frieze Masters.

London: With the onset of the British winter, as the trees of Regent’s Park shed their foliage to assume a structural minimalism, another edition of Frieze draws to a close. Running in its eleventh year, Frieze Art Fair is a conglomerate of art, artists, curators, galleries, collectors, dealers and critics who have a common affinity for art of the contemporary sort. Its younger sister fair, Frieze Masters, now in its second year is just as grand and deals with ancient to modern art.

Frieze Art Fair exterior, 2013. Image Credit:

Frieze Art Fair exterior, 2013. Image Credit:

I was fortunate enough to attend Frieze both in 2012 as well as in 2013 and the change within the two years was quite apparent. This year Frieze Art Fair condensed their number of exhibitors from 175 to 150, a move that reinforces Frieze’s emphasis on quality over quantity. Additionally the architectural design was also opened up to reveal a new entrance, floor, a revised gallery grid and a mezzanine café area, rather than the claustrophobic labyrinth of corridors from previous years.

This year the participation of South Asian galleries was lesser than last year, even though South Asian artists were well represented by international galleries. Project 88, the only Indian gallery to participate, has been at the helm of promoting cutting edge contemporary art in Bombay, India. This year Project 88 featured the works of Neha Choksi, Raqs Media Collective, Rohini Devasher, Sarnath Banerjee, Somnath Hore and The Otolith Group.

Choksi, now a regular name in the Frieze line up, concerns herself with the search for various forms of absences. She approaches and represents this absence by appealing to the presence of forms. In Houseplant and Sun Quotation, Choksi correlated the mechanized process of photography to the living process of the plant, both processes necessitated by the presence of light. She placed plants near paper that has been photo chemically treated with palladium salts, so as to expose the non-shadow part of the paper. The resultant effect was that the absence of the plant on the palladium paper was represented through a negative presence of the shadow form. The Burst series featured two ceramic sculptural forms or anti forms, if you will, that adopted absence and suspension in order to initiate her ideas of solitariness and expiry.

Forthcoming Titles, 2012, Raqs Media Collective. Image Credit:

Forthcoming Titles, 2012, Raqs Media Collective. Image Credit:

In Forthcoming Titles through referential comparison between influential authors in the canon of Marxism, Raqs Media Collective’s carefully displayed wall mounted library managed to resonate a faux seriousness only to be broken by the anagrammed names of the authors. Rosa Luxemburg, a Marxist revolutionary and a figure who has actively influenced Raqs own collective consciousness, became Luxme Sorabgur.

Sarnath Banerjee’s new series of drawings was replete with the caricatural humour that Banerjee is synonymous with. He made light of contemporary Indian society through symbolic representations and diagrammatic visual depictions.

Trotskyites Anonymous, 2013, Sarnath Banerjee. Image Credit:

Trotskyites Anonymous, 2013, Sarnath Banerjee. Image Credit:

Rohini Devasher’s paper work involved prints of satellite images of the Indian Astronomical Observatory and the surrounding landscape at Hanle, Ladakh, superimposed with drawings. Her project was an investigation of these mythic terrains where fiction blurs the boundaries of what is real and imagined. It was a process of converting the familiarity of geography into one of strange hybridization. The other artists on display at Project 88 were Somnath Hore and the Otolith Group with their newest video essay People to be Resembling.

Dubai based Grey Noise featured the works of Pakistani artist Mehreen Murtaza. Murtaza’s stylistic visual narrative consists of an amalgam of Sufi cultural imagery along with the futurism of science fiction. This odd juxtaposition enables science to question and reexamine religion, myth and superstition. While adopting the critical point of view of Western rationalism, Murtaza does not stray away from the Islamic historical heritage and thus her work operates in a realm where mystical ideas of spirituality synchronize with scientific theories.

Solstice, 2013, Mehreen Murtaza. Image Credit:

Solstice, 2013, Mehreen Murtaza. Image Credit:

In Transmission From A Missing Satellite, Murtaza payed homage to Dr Abdus Salam, a Pakistani theoretical physicist, who went on to win the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1979. Though Salam’s contribution to the field of science was remarkable, the memory of the man is tainted by prejudice due to his minority Ahmadi background. The work presented an assemblage of clues such as loose letters, telegrams and even a floating stone reminiscent of the Floating Stone of Jerusalem at the Dome of Rock. Through these artifacts Murtaza used artistic approaches to visualize the adventures in quantum immortality.

I was you, 2013, Aisha Khalid. Image Credit:

I was you, 2013, Aisha Khalid. Image Credit:

The other South Asian artists on display were Imran Qureshi and Aisha Khalid at the London based gallery Corvi Mora. Dayanita Singh also displayed her work at Frith Street Gallery. Singh also has a solo show Go Away Closer on display at the Haywards Gallery, Southbank Center till the 15th of December 2013.

In the other side of the park at Frieze Masters, the environment was quieter and less frenetic than it is in Frieze Art Fair. Whilst the older contemporary fair attracted a fair share of curious onlookers who come to marvel at the trends in contemporary art, Frieze Masters took on a more discerning vibe. The lighting was softer, public area was carpeted and the artworks were more traditional.

Untitled (Landscape), 1965, F. N. Souza. Image Credit:

Untitled (Landscape), 1965, F. N. Souza. Image Credit:

Grosvenor Gallery’s debut at the Frieze Masters featured a selection of Black on Black Paintings by Francis Newton Souza. This appearance at Frieze coincided with their current exhibition, F.N Souza: Black on Black Paintings on view till 28th October. The exhibition follow the legacy of Souza’s 1966 show Black Art and Other Paintings at Grosvenor Gallery where he presented a series of monochromatic works rendered in thick black impasto oil. Even though the inspiration for Souza’s stylistic turn toward such a dark somber palette is disputed, these works bear reflection to Souza’s state of mind in the 60s.

Difficult and demanding, Souza’s black series is not easy on the eye, but of course that was exactly Souza’s intention. As Toby Treves pointed out, Souza claimed that the visual intensity of his paintings was meant to be a jarring reminder about the visceral consciousness of life. In order for the work to reveal itself, a few moments are required in front of each work. The interplay between the light and the textured brushstrokes, caught by the eye only at a certain angle uncovers a world of forms, textures and worlds inside each canvas.

From the somber monochromes of Souza to the resplendent gleam of the Indian miniature works at Francesca Galloway, Frieze was a complete affair in itself. In conjunction with the fair itself, a host of galleries, museums and artistic institutions opened their doors to patrons by organizing lectures, panel discussions, performances and art projects.

A Scene in a Heaven, Anonymous. Image Credit:

A Scene in a Heaven,
Anonymous. Image Credit:

My favourite part of Frieze London was actually the Sculpture Park. While most of the public and media attention goes onto the two sister fairs, the Sculpture Park is often the portion of the fair, which has so much to offer. It also provides a nice escape to the bustling fanfare of the tented Frieze Art Fair.  Amidst the rolling greens of Regent’s park’s sculpture half of the fair was Amar Kanwar’s Listening Bench #4 (2013), a part of his The Sovereign Forest exhibition, currently on display at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. The benches offered visitors a place of quietude and contemplation after the influx of so much sensory stimuli.

Musical and visual collaboration with Dayanita Singh and Talvin Singh

Ambika Rajgopal of Saffronart shares a note on Dayanita Singh and Talvin Singh’s interaction at the Southbank Center, London.

London:  Words took second seat to visuals and music on 9th October 2013, at the Purcell Room at the Southbank Center, London. I was uncertain of what to expect when I found out Dayanita Singh would collaborate with Talvin Singh, in an interaction mediated by Chief Curator, Stephanie Rosenthal.

Talvin Singh, Stephanie Rosenthal and Daynita Singh in conversation. Image Credit: Ambika Rajgopal

Talvin Singh, Stephanie Rosenthal and Daynita Singh in conversation. Image Credit: Ambika Rajgopal

Dayanita Singh is adamant in her claim that she is first a bookmaker, and then a photographer. Her website also testifies this fact by describing her as a ‘bookmaker working with photography’. She used photography as a tool through which she can make books. Disappointed by the static nature of display of single framed photographs hung on the wall; Dayanita started creating portable ‘museums’. “Putting a picture on a gallery wall felt too passive. I wanted people to relate to my images in a more physical way”, she said.

Dayanita Singh photographed in her 'Museum of Chance' at the Hayward Gallery. Image Credit:

Dayanita Singh photographed in her ‘Museum of Chance’ at the Hayward Gallery. Image Credit:

These museums were essentially wooden structures that could display 30 or 40 images with up to 100 in reserve, meticulously being pulled out from her archives. She compared these structures to giant hardback books with flaps that open out to create walls. This display enabled her to change what was being displayed during a show.

The idea probably evolved from a ritualistic travel custom she performed. Whenever she travelled anywhere with her friends, she would perpetuate the memories in the form of a little visual book, documenting shared moments. Each book, a visual odyssey of memories relived, would be presented to the friend, while Dayanita kept the only other copy. These homemade manuscripts folded up in an accordion like manner, so that it could be folded out and privately exhibited in the quiet comfort of her friends’ homes- a domestic inclusion of the art of exhibiting.

Sent a letter, 2008, Dayanita Singh. Image Credit:

Sent a letter, 2008, Dayanita Singh. Image Credit:

This was the start of her working partnership with the German international publisher of photo books- Steidl. In Gerhard Steidl, the founder of the company, Dayanita not only found a publisher, but also a friend and an intellectual ally. Her book with Steidl- Sent a Letter published in 2008 was a compilation of seven of these visual stories, including one of her mother, Nony Singh’s photographs of little Dayanita growing up.

One of the things that struck me about Dayanita was the effervescent spirit she embodied. Small, but mischievous, she had the kind of personality that could interact with the same level of charm, intellect, humility and joviality with Stephanie Rosenthal and also the characters of some of her earlier works. The diversity of the characters she studied only gave me an inkling to the versatility of her own personality.

Myself Mona Ahmed, 2001, Dayanita Singh. Image Credit:

Myself Mona Ahmed, 2001, Dayanita Singh. Image Credit:

Dayanita documented Mona Ahmed, a street dwelling eunuch who was excommunicated from her already socially excommunicated community in Myself Mona Ahmed. When Mona’s adopted daughter, Ayesha was taken away from her, Mona became extremely distraught and started living in a cemetery. In the cemetery Mona adopted animals and tried to recreate a familial bond with them. The resultant visual narrative was in no means just a documentation of the life of a societal outsider; rather it exposed the commonality of human emotions. It was not a relationship between an artist and a subject; rather one between two people from very different walks of life, who have found that common thread of connection.

Privacy, 2004, Dayanita Singh. Image Credit:

Privacy, 2004, Dayanita Singh. Image Credit:

In Privacy, Dayanita’s painted a picture of post colonial opulence and regal elegance by capturing a part of India, she was more familiar with; the India with the high ceiling bungalows and the intricately carved mahogany furniture. Dayanita stepped into the worlds of these elite Indians and portrayed their social values visually- affluent and influential, yet held together by familial solidarity.

For Dayanita, rather than being about exclusion, photography is a way of including people who would normally be outside the boundaries of art. Dayanita rejects the white cube exclusionary tactic of dissemination of art and knowledge. Instead she opts for a unique way of disseminating her work. She freely hands out her work to beggars and homeless people, and exhibits it in equally unusual places. Her books are also priced very nominally. “People told me, ‘This is an art gallery, you can’t exhibit something worth £40’”, she laughed. In her usual style of engagement, discursive, yet speckled with anecdotal references, Dayanita broke off to remember her time in Kolkata. While passing through Park Street in Kolkata, Dayanita spotted a jewelry store- Satramdas Dhalamal with empty vitrines. She asked the owner if she could display her books on the shop window and he agreed. “Five years on, they’re still there. They’ve been seen by many times the number of people who have seen my other exhibitions and publications. I realised I could create my own spaces. I didn’t have to rely on established structures”, she exclaimed.

Sent a Letter being displayed on the window of a jewellery store in Kolkata. Image Credit:

Sent a Letter being displayed on the window of a jewellery store in Kolkata. Image Credit:

Dayanita studied visual communication at National Institute of Design, a prestigious design school in India. As part of her curriculum assignment, they were asked to capture the moods of a person. The young Dayanita, feisty and ambitious decided to photograph a concert of the renowned table player Zakir Hussain. In the concert, she was interrogated by one of the organizers about not having a permit to shoot pictures. The organizer pushed her aside, and the young photographer fell on her back in front of everyone. She picked herself and ran out the door to where Hussain, would come out through. Upon seeing him, she burst into tears and proclaimed, “someday I’ll be an important photographer and then I will photograph you”. Hussain touched by the girl’s spirit and determination invited her to photograph his practice session.

Thus started a six year long collaboration, where Dayanita documented Hussain on tour, over six winters in the eighties. The result was her first photo book Zakir Hussain, published in 1986, which discretely documented the many moods, feelings and frustrations of the maestro with an exquisitely observant delicacy. Although the book did not fare well in the market, this bond Dayanita has formed with Hussain would last her a long way. “For Zakir ji, work and life were one. From him, I learnt single minded focus and rigour.” Alongside her association with Hussain, Dayanita has been no stranger to music. She insists that the aural and the visual always coincide and interrelate- “the music I listen to while working always has an effect on the resultant visual work I produce.”

Zakir Hussain, 1986, Dayanita Singh. Image Credit:

Zakir Hussain, 1986, Dayanita Singh. Image Credit:

This is perhaps a good time to bring in Talvin Singh, who for a large part of this write-up has remained unmentioned. Talvin, a mercury prize-winning musician, is widely known for his innovative fusion between Indian classical music with drum and bass. At the center of this encounter though, Talvin is a tabla player- bearded and resolute. Perhaps Dayanita and Talvin’s paths crossed because her mentor turned out to be a musician, rather than a photographer.

Talvin first encountered Dayanita through her book on Hussain, which he found in a little cornershop in London. Talvin, a budding tabla player had never seen a book on an Indian classical musician in London; especially since Indian classical music was a purely oral tradition. For Talvin, this book was more than homage to a great maestro; it had a personal reflection of his own ambition. The book became a visual account of the human aspects of the musician- something Talvin both aspired for and could relate to.

Talvin Singh in performance. Image Credit: Ambika Rajgopal

Talvin Singh in performance. Image Credit: Ambika Rajgopal

The next part of the evening reinforced the interconnectedness of music and visuals. Dayanita’s photographs were projected on screen, while Talvin responded to them aurally- his was an aural response to visual stimuli, while hers had been a visual response to aural stimuli. Talvin Singh’s performance reflected the veracity of human emotions which Dayanita’s heartfelt visual style also pays homage to.

This talk coincides with Dayanita’s major retrospective exhibition Go Away Closer at the Haywards Gallery, on view till the 15th December 2013.

Dayanita Singh: Go Away Closer

Elisabetta Marabotto announces the forthcoming retrospective exhibition of Dayanita Singh at Hayward Gallery, London

Dayanita Singh, Dream Villa 11, 2007, 2008

Dayanita Singh, Dream Villa 11, 2007, 2008. Image Credit:

London: Hayward Gallery from October 8 will host the first UK retrospective of the internationally acclaimed photographer Dayanita Singh.

The exhibition will include works produced in the past several decades as well as recent images which have never been exhibited before. “Go Away Closer” celebrates Singh’s oeuvre which examines and challenges the boundaries and usage of photography as an artistic practice.

“Singh brings her portable ‘museums’ of stories, themes and image repertoires to Hayward Gallery for the first time. These large wooden structures can be placed and opened in different ways, each holding about a hundred images. Old and new pictures are endlessly displayed, sequenced, edited and archived into the continually-evolving ‘museums’.”

Dayanita Singh, Dream Villa 7, 2007-2008

Dayanita Singh, Dream Villa 7, 2007-2008. Image Credit:

Among the works on display feature some of Singh’s early works such as “Dream Villa”, “Blue Book”, “I am as I am”, “Bombay Portraits” and “Mona and Myself”.

Dayanita Singh, (From top left) Go Away Closer; I Am As I Am; Myself Mona Ahmed; Ladies of Calcutta; Dream Villa

Dayanita Singh, (From top left) Go Away Closer; I Am As I Am; Myself Mona Ahmed; Ladies of Calcutta; Dream Villa. Image Credit:

For more information click here.

Venezia Calling

Kanika Pruthi of Saffronart talks about the South Asian artists participating at the 55th Venice Biennale

New York: 2013 seems to have had a promising start for the art world considering the reviews received from the art fairs so far. Frieze New York opened this May with around 180 galleries from 40 countries showing works in all media, including performance. The visual and sensory frenzy then travelled across the seas to Hong Kong, which witnessed the debut of Art Basel Hong Kong, the commercial success of this venture still a worthy point of conversation in the art circles. They say the market has been resurrected, and the buzz continues at the 55th Venice Biennale which opened its doors to art aficionados from around the world on 1 June.

Massimiliano Gioni, Director of the 55th Venice Biennale

Massimiliano Gioni, Director of the 55th Venice Biennale. Image Credit:

Massimiliano Gioni, the Director of this edition of the Biennale, titled this year’s exhibition The Encyclopedic Palace. Echoing the credentials of its Director – heralded as one of the youngest, innovative and most talented international curators seen in recent years – it is no surprise that this year’s Biennale has already gathered overall positive reviews in its first week. The eclectic ensemble exhibited this year mirrors Gioni’s refreshing approach, which shuns the dichotomies of high and low art, insider and outsider artist – there is a place for one and all under the Venetian sun.

Several works by artists from India and the subcontinent are on display this year, signaling a continued affiliation with the biennale after the debut of India’s National Pavilion at the 54th edition in 2011.

Dayanita Singh is among four non-German artists showing in the German Pavilion this year. During the opening preview on May 30, she signed and stamped limited edition copies of her latest photo-book File Room for visitors. At the Biennale she will show photos from her 2001 work Mona, which chronicles the life of a eunuch living in India. Singh has worked with the subject for over a decade now. The continuity-and-change binary in her practice and the elusive meaning and layered contexts, seem to echo the dominant theme of the Biennale and the curatorial context of Gioni’s efforts, which highlight the changing landscape of artistic practice today – redefining and re-imagining existing models which are in a constant state of flux yet ever-present.

Outpost, Samar Singh Jodha

Outpost, Samar Singh Jodha. Image Credit:

Samar Singh Jodha is showing his work titled Outpost in the Arsenal. The work is a commentary on global consumerism and its impact on aesthetics – intentional and accidental. The subject of his work is discarded containers fashioned into habitat by miners in India’s pristine northeast. He utilizes this pictorial trope to invite interplay of narratives around consumerism and the impact of technology.

Imran Qureshi, one of the most acclaimed contemporary Pakistani artists, known for his modern miniatures inspired by Mughal art, is also showing at Venice this year. His series of miniature paintings titled Moderate Enlightenment (of which one featured in Saffronart’s first Art of Pakistan Auction last year) depicts various characters taking part in everyday activities. These images embody cultural shifts and quietly counter Western preconceptions, while commenting on the scenarios and situations in his native Pakistan.

Moderate Enlightenment, Imran Qureshi

Moderate Enlightenment, Imran Qureshi. Image Credit:

Faiza Butt, born and raised in Lahore, Pakistan, is exhibiting her pop culture infused works at the exhibition. Her works also draw from the miniature tradition, while commenting on current and controversial themes that explore issues of politics, gender and identity.

To read more about the 55th Venice Biennale click here.

Must-Attends: Beyond the India Art Fair

Manjari Sihare shares details of some must-attend exhibitions and symposia in New Delhi coinciding with the India Art Fair 

New Delhi: If you are in India right now, Delhi is the place to be. The art world is gearing up for the country’s biggest annual art extravaganza, the India Art Fair starting on Friday, February 1 (with a preview the day before). Each year since its inception in 2008, the fair has grown larger. The 5th edition is bringing together 105 exhibiting galleries from 24 countries, presenting over 1000 works by some of the most exciting artists from across the world. But the action is not just limited to just the Fair. Outside of the Fair, there are some collateral exhibitions and events that I believe are MUST ATTENDS. Here is my list:

KNMA Noida EInviteA private museum for modern and contemporary Indian art, the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art (KNMA) is known to line up an ambitious program each year to mark its birthday (three years ago in January 2010, KNMA opened its first location in the HCL campus in Noida, on the outskirts of Delhi). The museum lives up to its reputation once again this year by unveiling an ambitious series of events. The first in line to open on January 18th was Zones of Contact an exhibition curated by three young and dynamic curators, Deeksha Nath, Vidya Shivadas and Akansha Rastogi. The curatorial note for the show notes that it is an attempt “to envision the museum as a site and an idea in flux, as a catalyst that by undergoing redefinition allows for concretized notions and experiences of modernity and post-modernity to be revisited and rethought.” In a country where there is really no state owned museum of contemporary art, an exhibition such as this one speaks volumes of the mission this private museum has set for itself to showcase and re-define contemporary art in the region.

On view from today is Difficult Loves , a trilogy of exhibitions curated by the Director and Chief Curator of KNMA, Roobina Karode. This includes the largest retrospective ever of the late Nasreen Mohamedi, an artist whose minimal works leave an unforgettable impression on the viewer, a tribute to India’s Frida Kahlo, Amrita Sher-Gil, and a group exhibition featuring iconic installation works of seven leading contemporary  women artists – Ranjani Shettar, Anita Dube, Sheba Chhachhi, Bharti Kher, Dayanita Singh, Sheela Gowda and Sonia Khurana. My personal favorite is Sheba Chhachhi’s Water Diviner, a version of which I first saw at the National Museum of Natural History in 48’c public. art.ecology curated by Pooja Sood and organized by the South Asian Network of Goethe Institutes in 2008. This series of shows promises to be spectacular. Not to miss at all!

KNMA exhibition

Tomorrow, the museum will be hosting two talks under the Critical Collective Symposia conceptualized and organized by veteran Delhi based critic and curator, Gayatri Sinha. The first of these is panel discussion between renowned South African contemporary artist, William Kentridge and Indian veterans, Vivan Sundaram and Nalini Malani. The second one is a talk by UK based art historian, TJ Demos, who is best known for his published work on the conjunction of art and politics.

KNMA talkThe India Art Fair always ends with the opening of an exhibition at the Devi Art Foundation. This time, it will the third and last edition of the Sarai Reader, an exhibition conceptualized by the Devi Art Foundation and Raqs Media Collective. Sarai Reader 9 is a nine month long project envisaged to draw on ‘exhibition’ as an evolving process, introducing new forms of creative thinking and methodologies. Invitations were open to anyone and everyone with an interesting idea and an engaging means of presentation, limited to a fixed duration and applicable within a space. The first  episode opened for viewing on 13 October, 2012, followed by another on 15 December last year. Read more about these episodes. This current episode will be on view until April 16, 2013. For more information, click here.

Devi Art Foundation - Sarai Reader

All the activity is not limited to Delhi only. Mumbai will see the opening of the first ever exhibition of William Kentridge’s work in India hosted by Volte Gallery. Of South African descent, Kentridge has exhibited worldwide in major venues such as the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art and MoMA in New York. His works mostly deal with subjects of apartheid and colonialism. This show featuring Kentridge’s eight multichannel projection installation, sculptures, drawings, tapestries, videos and prints, promises to be a blockbuster. The exhibition will be on view from February 6 to March 20, 2013.

William Kentrdige @ Volte Gallery
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