London: September 2013 – April 2014 has and will be an exciting time at Chemould Prescott Gallery, Mumbai. Curating five exhibitions during this time frame, Geeta Kapur depicts an extremely evolved contemporary Indian art scene with Citizen – Artist (Oct.14th – Nov. 15th 2013), mirroring the growth and expansion of Chemould Prescott as a gallery. The first exhibition in the series, Subject of Death, was in remembrance of Bhuppen Kakkar, the groundbreaking painter supported by Chemould at the beginning of his career, with this particular exhibition opening on his 10th death anniversary, as well as an ode to the late Kekoo Gandhy, founder of Chemould Prescott in 1963. The second – Citizen Artist deals with notions and definitions of citizenship, nations and borders, the exhibition features works by Inder Salim, K. Madhusudhanan, Tushar Joag, CAMP, Gigi Scaria, Ram Rahman, Shilpa Gupta, Rashid Rana, Atul Dodiya, Jitish Kallat, Raqs Media Collective, Gauri Gill and Arunkumar HG.
Each work is deeply engaged with the implications of citizenship in a contemporary globalised world. For instance, in Shilpa Gupta’s 1278 unmarked, 28 hours by foot via National Highway No1, East of the Line of Control 2013, she places a graveyard in the middle of the gallery, and creates an index of people who are considered martyrs by their families, but are buried namelessly, questioning the ethics (or lack thereof) of citizenship in Kashmir.
Circadian Rhyme, 2 & 3 (2012-2013), by Jitish Kallat involves miniature crafted-figures staged in a line on a ledge, to depict scenes from everyday travels such as airport security checks, immigration queues etc. In detail, one figure is performing a security ‘pat down’ on another, seemingly commenting on the increase in accessibility of global travel, but the costs and troubles of crossing borders that go with it. The greater accessibility is increasing the crowds, risks, and precautionary measures.
Rashid Rana’s Crowd is thematically similar, and is composed of three photo prints on wallpaper involving digitally spliced and manipulated images. An intense reproduction a mixed population people is projected onto the wallpaper focusing on the loss of identity and individuality in very populous.
Raqs Media Collective’s animated video projection loop, The Untold Intimacy of Digits (UID) (2011), is an image of the handprint of a 19th century Bengali peasant, Raj Konai, which was taken by British colonial officials in 1858, and then sent to Britain. Fingerprinting technologies were developed from experiments based on this image. The Unique Identification Database (UID – same as the title) is a new project initiated by the Indian government in attempts to properly account for, and index its’ population. This work poses an interesting juxtaposition of India’s colonial past and current day attempts to account for citizens.
These are a few amongst many other multi medium and media works that dwell on various aspects of citizenship and certainly don’t seem to be in an aesthetic bind. The third and next installment in the Aesthetic Bind series to look out for is Phantomata (Nov. 29, 2013 – Jan 03, 2014) participating artists include: Tallur L N, Susanta Mandal Sonia Khurana, Nikhil Chopra, Tushar Joag, Pushpamala N, Baiju Parthan, and Pratul Dash. For more information visit about the exhibitions visit Chemould Prescott Gallery website.
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.
Nishad Avari of Saffronart explores the history of India’s pioneering art and architecture magazine
Mumbai: Over the last 66 years, Marg magazine and its associate publications have lived through several logos and avatars. Soon after Marg was founded as a not-for-profit publisher in 1946, with the support of industrialist and philanthropist J.R.D. Tata, Marg became a division of Tata Sons Ltd. In 1986, it was moved under the umbrella of the newly established National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA), and finally, in 2009, the Marg Foundation was created as an independent Public Charitable Trust.
Marg, established as a magazine dedicated to art and architecture, was first published in October 1946, a year before India’s independence. The publication was founded by novelist and writer Mulk Raj Anand, who served as Editor for several of its volumes. As the Marg website notes, “With ‘seven ads and two rooms’ provided by the visionary industrialist J.R.D. Tata, it took up the massive task of identifying, cataloguing, and publicizing the nation’s heritage in the built, visual, and performing arts.”
Over the next decades, Anand, along with Assistant Editor Anil de Silva and Art Advisor Karl Khandalavala, led and firmly established this independent quarterly journal as one of the country’s most well-regarded publications in the fields of art and architecture. Following Anand’s long and celebrated tenure as editor, Saryu Doshi and Pratapaditya Pal led the publication, and this year, Vidya Dehejia took over the post.
Saffronart’s Words & Lines III Auction, held earlier this year, featured two issues from the very first volume of the magazine, published in January and April 1947 respectively, which included articles contributed by Frank Lloyd Wright, Karl Khandalavala, Herman Goetz, John Terry, Martin Russell and Kekoo Gandhy among others. A treasure trove of information and a collector’s delight, this set sold for more than four times its estimate.
An excellent resource for the study of ancient Indian art and culture as well, early Marg magazines have included some of the most pioneering scholarship on sites like Ajanta and Ellora, Khajuraho, Hampi and Konark. Saffronart’s collection From the Library of a Collector, features several early Marg publications on these subjects, as well as on the Heritage and Splendours of India.
Today, from its headquarters at the historic Army & Navy Building in Mumbai’s Kala Ghoda art district, Marg publishes quarterly issues of its magazine (currently in its 63rd volume) and four hard bound books each year. The Marg Foundation also collaborates with various entities to publish several single author books and other special publications, and has produced a few documentary films as well.