Postwar: Art Between the Pacific and the Atlantic, 1945-1965

Guest contributor Ananya Mukhopadhyay reviews the exhibition, on view at Haus der Kunst, Munich, until 26 March 2017

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Image courtesy Grosvenor Gallery

Haus der Kunst’s ongoing exhibition Postwar: Art Between the Pacific and the Atlantic, 1945 – 1965 takes as its premise the ruptured discourses of nationalism and humanism which were sharply brought to light during and following the Second World War. The exhibition traces the global artistic response to the cataclysmic events of the Holocaust, the atomic bombs of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the enduring political schisms of the Cold War. In addition to rehabilitating waning and Nazified ‘degenerate’ European modernisms, Postwar surveys the contributions of artists from pan-Asian, African and American backgrounds. In doing so, curators Katy Siegel, Okwui Enwezor and Ulrich Wilmes follow in the footsteps of Rasheed Araeen, whose seminal exhibition The Other Story: Afro-Asian Artists in Post-War Britain was held at the Hayward Gallery in 1989. In another sense however, Haus Der Kunst goes further than to simply subvert the hegemony of Western Modernism. ‘Postwar’ becomes a condition that is not topographically constrained: it is a global consciousness of a violent modernity which counts partition conflicts, decolonisation and the rise of new technologies among its various geopolitical faces. Indian and Pakistani artists are featured prominently in this recent survey of alternative voices.

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Image courtesy Grosvenor Gallery

Baroda artist Jeram Patel is on view alongside Araeen, Anwar Jalal Shemza and Mohan Samant in a section of the exhibition dealing with materialism, entitled ‘Form Matters’. Patel is perhaps most well-known for his experimental brutalisations of the picture surface with a blowtorch, and also for his black abstractions on paper which are seen as in-betweeneries, or illustrations for the interstitial spaces of experience. Postwar, however, exhibits a dark, highly textured oil-on-board composition. A luminous window floats atop the murky abstraction which dominates the picture plane. The curious referentiality of this window element suggests a beyond, a concealed au-delà which emphasises the very instrument of its obscurity: the material blackness of the foreground. The physically ruined postwar landscape had prompted a concern with this kind of material manipulation, with the surface transformed from mediating membrane into the primary site of expression. Highly prized by Alfred Barr, Mohan Samant’s tactile Green Square (1963) is also presented as an embodiment of this trope.

Another area of the exhibition focuses on ‘New Images of Man’, highlighting the major crisis of humanism which characterised the postwar period. Existential questions are combined with a concern for nation building in the works on view here, including Man (1951) by M.F. Husain and Head of a Man Thinking (1965) by F.N. Souza. Husain’s monumental canvas is largely articulated in the colours of the Indian flag, featuring folk dancers, nude female bodies and the sacred cow. The central character of Man is a pensive black figure, drawing the eye by virtue of its chromatic negativity, and raising the question of identity in a newly independent India. Souza’s Head is a similarly charged work of dappled blackness, a stigmatised colour in the context of ubiquitous racial conflicts and migratory movements across not only Indian but global borders.

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Image courtesy Grosvenor Gallery

In the context of modernity as cosmopolitanism, Postwar posits the work of Krishen Khanna, Avinash Chandra and Pakistani artist Sadequain. Chandra’s typical blurring of the line between abstraction and figuration permits the entwinement of various different figures, distinguished by their varied colours and rotund, interlocking forms. While Chandra’s Early figures (1961) is decidedly erotic in its staging of heterogeneous characters, Krishen Khanna’s News of Gandhiji’s Death (1948) uses depicted newspapers to divide up and isolate the various figures on the canvas, thematising separateness within a community, despite their unifying interest in a tragic event.

Krishen Khanna, News of Gandhiji's Death (1948) Image courtesy Grosvenor Gallery

Krishen Khanna, News of Gandhiji’s Death (1948). Image courtesy Grosvenor Gallery

Postwar: Art Between the Pacific and the Atlantic, 1945-1965 is on view at Haus der Kunst, Munich, until 26 March 2017.

Folk And Tribal Arts of India: Part 1

Elizabeth Prendiville of Saffronart introduces the indigenous art forms of Patachitra and Jogi Art alongside illustrated lots from Storyltd’s upcoming auction of tribal and folk art

NEW YORK: On September 24th StoryLTD’s newest Absolute Auction of Folk and Tribal Art will go live with an eclectic collection of indigenous art works depicting a vast array of artistic traditions from different regions of India. These techniques represent longstanding regional narrative and customs with colourful hues, varying textures and elaborate compositions. Two techniques represented in this sale include the multi-dimensional storytelling tradition of Patachitra scroll paintings and the family rooted Jogi art.

Patachitra, originating in the Eastern Indian state of Odisha, is essentially an ornate cloth-based scroll painting. Although these colourful works have organic and humble roots they offer a wealth of narrative possibilities. “Patta” means “cloth” in Sanskrit while “chitra” means picture or painting. True to the name, layers of cotton cloth are adhered together with a natural glue product and formed into scrolls. Patachitras made of lighter paper materials are sometimes reinforced with saris to extend their life. It is essential that these scrolls remain intact as they are exhibited by traditional story tellers that travel distances and use these scrolls in their performances. The subject is often based on Ramayana or regional folklore and mythology. However, they also sometimes contain narratives from Muslim and Sufi traditions. Traditionally crafted by travelling bards, each scroll was accompanied by a song. Thus each Patachitra was experienced as a multidimensional piece, with a narrative conveyed in both visuals and music. The tradition of Patachitras continues and contemporary scrolls often convey current events or pivotal moments in recent history.

Lot 86, Jabbar Chitrakar and Unknown artist, Bengal Scroll https://www.storyltd.com/auction/item.aspx?eid=3741&lotno=86

Lot 86, Jabbar Chitrakar and Unknown artist, Bengal Scroll https://www.storyltd.com/auction/item.aspx?eid=3741&lotno=86

A fitting example of these Bengal scrolls can be seen in Lot 85 and 86 in the Absolute Auction of Folk and Tribal Art by Jabbar Chitrakar and Yamuna Chitrakar. These colourful works are made from natural pigments and shows two narratives simultaneously. The title Chitrakar, literally meaning painter, is taken on by the performers. Not formally trained in the art of painting, these chitrakars learn the traditional skills in a local setting, becoming travelling showmen who are adept in more ways in one, donning multiple roles- painters, singers, performers, storytellers.

Much like the scroll paintings of Bengal, Jogi Art has an interesting history. Ganesh Jogi, the namesake of this artistic form, performed as a musician in Rajasthan. Following the traditional professional associated with the Jogi caste, the family would wander the streets in the early hours of the morning, singing devotional songs and receiving grains, clothes and occasionally money from people. Due to changing times they had to move to the neighbouring state of Gujrat to seek a livelihood. A chance encounter with the eminent artist and anthropologist in the 1980s laid roots for the blossoming of this visual art form. Shah encouraged Ganesh and his wife Teju to draw from their hearts and imagination images that inhabit their world. Over time these illustrations became detailed and complex, a true visual delight. The current lots showcasing Jogi Art present the evolutionary and transformative potential of traditional artistic practices. They present varied themes that include village life, current events and contemporary discourses like environmentalism.

StoryLTD’s upcoming auction of folk and tribal art presents an opportunity to partake in India’s traditional visual practices, the range of artworks included in the sale are sure to peak one’s curiosity about the indigenous art genres existing in the different regions of the subcontinent.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

“Nalini Malani: Transgressions” at Asia Society Museum

New York: The Asia Society Museum in New York is currently showing their latest contemporary exhibition, “Nalini Malani: Transgressions”. Malani received her technical training in painting at the Sir Jamsetjee Jeejebhoy School of Art in Mumbai and throughout her career has focused on a number of controversial topics such as feminism, race, gender and global politics. This was especially powerful in the 1980’s when feminist topics were less prominent in art on the Indian subcontinent. In her process the artist is inspired by myths and allegories from a variety of cultural backgrounds including Hindu and Greek. “Transgressions” is no exception as it brings forward a strong narrative depicting globalization and transnational current events focusing specifically on the powerful western influence in postcolonial India.

Transgressions II by Nalini Malani. Source: http://www.e-flux.com/announcements/nalini-malani-2/

Transgressions II by Nalini Malani
Source: http://www.e-flux.com/announcements/nalini-malani-2/

 

I was fortunate enough to slip into the Asia Society thirty minutes before closing, the ideal time to experience the central installation of the exhibition: “Transgressions II”. This enchanting piece, created in 2009, is part of the Asia Society Museum’s collection and depicts cultural negotiations in India. The piece consists of video projections combined with shadows utilizing three large transparent cylinders. “Transgressions” is both playful and visually haunting with the multifaceted use of a variety of mediums and sound. Each aspect of the work is an independent artistic expression that when combined, brings forward a dramatic multisensory experience for the viewer. Malani’s paintings on the transparent cylinders are in homage to the Chinese reverse glass painting of the 18th century and are aesthetically engaging all on their own. Viewers can walk freely through the projections and examine these dynamic paintings individually. The only other additions to the exhibition aside from the large installation are a selection of books by the artist depicting the drawing and painting technique in full. This addition invites Malani’s audience into her artistic process. Holistically, the work creates an engaging contrast between histories of seasoned storytelling and modern technology.

“Transgressions II” by Nalini Malani Source: Asia Society

“Transgressions II” by Nalini Malani
Source: Asia Society

 

As a viewer, I felt fortunate to experience the work completely alone and be ensconced in the ever evolving and shifting visuals of animals, characters and designs. Accompanying the moving colors and imagery was a poem written and read by the artist. Both the painting and poem touched on the artist’s central topics of colonialism and world politics. However, the visuals rarely depicted the poem in a literal sense, creating a dizzying, dreamlike quality. “Transgressions II” is an all-consuming and enthralling installation that allows Malani to fully absorb her audience in her multiple levels of creative expression and storytelling. This exhibition is a uniquely beautiful success for both the artist and the Asia Society Museum. While in New York this summer be sure to take in “Nalini Malani: Transgressions”. The exhibition will be up through August 3rd 2014.

 

L.N. Tallur To Debut At Nature Morte

Elizabeth Prendiville of SaffronArt shares an announcement about L.N. Tallur’s “ UKAI (Cormorant Fish Hunting)” in Delhi.

New York: L.N. Tallur has established a strong career through his sculptural pieces that convey a greater meaning and commentary on our contemporary world. His training and work experience worldwide have provided a vast approach to reoccurring societal plagues and inspirations that are present in all of his work. While he touches on historically rooted techniques each of his pieces employs a thematic response to time, want, greed, nostalgia and other elements of human life. His new show “UKAI (Cormorant Fish Hunting)” starting on January 11th at Nature Morte, will display all new works and embodies that metaphorical message that he is known for. Currently, the artist resides in both India and South Korea and utilizes inspirations from a variety of cultural standpoints to depict his metaphorically driven work.

Even the title “UKAI (Cormorant Fish Hunting)” is filled with a greater meaning from the artist’s perspective. In this name he is referencing the medieval Chinese and Japanese technique of fishing with help of trained cormorant birds. Each cormorant bird (or “Ukai” in Japanese) is controlled by a knot at the base of the throat that prevents them from devouring the fish and instead allowing the fisherman to obtain the spoils of their hunt. This collision between human desire and nature is Tallur’s well-crafted illustration for the presence of greed in our society, specifically within global labor out-sourcing.

Tallur’s sculptures expand on these themes through depictions of manipulated figural shapes as well as a wide variety of materials such as wood, metals and mixed media. The artist takes an earnest and aggressive approach to these themes while still remaining playful and explorative in his work.

 

Prior to his solo exhibition at Nature Morte, L.N. Tallur debuted his solo exhibition “Quintessential” at the Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum in Mumbai in 2011. In addition to “UKAI” his solo exhibition “Balancing Act” is currently being show at the SCAD Museum of Art in Savannah, Georgia.  While in South Delhi this winter, do visit the curatorial space Nature Morte to take in this eclectic exhibition. “UKAI (Cormorant Fish Hunting)” will be on display through February 8th 2014. To learn more about this exhibition and Nature Morte visit their website here. 

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