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.

Visions of India @ Grosvenor Gallery

Elisabetta Marabotto of Saffronart invites you to visit ” Visions of India”, Grosvenor Gallery’s current exhibition in London

London: If you find yourself in Central London for your Christmas shopping, take a break and visit Grosvenor Gallery’s current exhibition: “Visions of India”- which is definitely worth it a trip to central London in itself.

Wonderful pictures by British photographer Derry Moore and Indian photographer Prarthana Modi will guide you through the diverse landscape and architecture of the Indian subcontinent.

Below you can enjoy a sneak peek of the exhibition but you’d better go and see it in person!

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More information can be found here.

 

 

 

Gigi Scaria Finds Meaning in Endless Landscapes

Elizabeth Prendiville of Saffronart discusses Gigi Scaria’s new exhibition in Melbourne.

New York: Kothanalloor-based artist Gigi Scaria is currently presenting his exhibition “Dust” at the Ian Potter Museum of Art in Melbourne. The works included were created specifically for the Ian Potter Museum and take the artist on new levels of his craft. Scaria focuses on the desolate desert of India’s border with Pakistan. This is a controversial, but primarily empty and fruitless geographic space.

Prior to the exhibition Scaria traveled to the Thar Desert and found the beautiful nuances of this natural wasteland for his photographs. The desert terrain turned out to have more to offer than simply dust and sand manipulated by the wind. Salt marshes, small patches of plant life and various mineral formations presented themselves. The artist utilizes the non-descript quality of this space, elements of this environment have a universal quality. It is not innately obvious in his photographs where this land is; it could be in any country or perhaps be the remote terrain of another planet. Scaria’s utilization of these spaces is centered on his belief that non-identifiable spaces will leave room for the engagement of viewers. While only leaving hints of a physical space the works offers opportunity for true memories and fantasy. Scaria’s work not only brings a viewer into this remote geographical space but also prompts meaning and emotions to animate the endless landscape.

“Dust” includes three levels of video, photography and installation work. Although this type of work is a bit of an offshoot from his typical technique, his artist process is present in the way he honors the original image yet manipulates it ever so slightly for the viewer. Prior to this exhibition he was one of the five artists to represent India in the Venice Biennale in 2011. He was also a 2012 University of Melbourne MacGeorge Fellow. “Dust” will be at the Ian Potter Museum of Art well into the new year, wrapping up on March 16th. Art enthusiasts in visiting Melbourne in the coming months should definitely experience Scaria’s “Dust”. For more information please visit the Ian Potter Museum website. 

Subjects & Spaces, Women in Indian Photography

Ambika Rajgopal of Saffronart announces Tasveer Gallery’s exhibition ‘Subjects & Spaces, Women in Indian Photography’.

London: Tasveer Gallery in collaboration with Saffronart presents a photographic homage to the depiction of Indian women from the 1850s to the 1970s. Tasveer Gallery, since it’s opening in 2006, has been committed to promoting and exhibiting contemporary photography.

Portrait of the Actress Saira Banu, 1965. Image Credit: http://www.tasveerarts.com/group-shows/subjects-spaces/view-individual-images/?p=49

Portrait of the Actress Saira Banu, 1965. Image Credit: http://www.tasveerarts.com/group-shows/subjects-spaces/view-individual-images/?p=49

Carefully selected from the archives of the Tasveer Foundation, the exhibition features 65 photographs including studio portraits, film stills, post cards, cabinet cards and lobby cards. The anonymity of some women juxtaposed with the fame of some, forms a realistic depiction of womanhood in India. There are stills of dancing ‘nautch’ girls from the 19th century, private studio portraits of women with their families and splendid portraits of yesteryear 40s and 50s stars like Saira Banu and Nargis.

Thus begins a visual journey that transports us back to the evocative black and white era. Ted Grant once famously quoted: ‘when you photograph people in color, you photograph their clothes. But when you photograph people in Black and white, you photograph their souls.’ This dictum couldn’t hold more weight in relation to the photographs exhibited. The women sometimes boldly meet the gaze of the camera, and sometimes avert their look into one of wistful contemplation. In doing so, they offer a slice of social and cultural context of their own personal history.

With the advent of the film and photographic medium, the representation of Indian femininity underwent a radical transformation in the public sphere. The female representation, previously kept within the confines of homes and behind veils, now took a step forward and embraced colonial modernity. The female image fashioned itself within elaborate studio setups as well as within the print medium.

The curatorial strategy of the exhibition abandons chronology in favour of spatial placement of these women. Nathaniel Gaskell, curator of the exhibition notes: ‘Often such spaces — domestic, outdoor, shared or even abstract spaces — are very telling of how women were perceived.’ The exhibition also features an ethnographic account of the lives of women from different parts of India in different periods in time. From a visual depiction of women from the pre-colonial and colonial era, a diverse and vivid ethnographic map of society can be derived.

Member of the Moamuria or Muttuck Hill tribe from Assam, 1860. Image Credit: http://www.tasveerarts.com/group-shows/subjects-spaces/view-individual-images/?p=23

Member of the Moamuria or Muttuck Hill tribe from Assam, 1860. Image Credit: http://www.tasveerarts.com/group-shows/subjects-spaces/view-individual-images/?p=23

From the dichotomy of the domestic or performative spaces they were photographed in, to the diversity of their individual stances, each photograph was an exercise in feminine self-representation and told its own story. The exhibition manages to create a dialogic interaction between the viewer and the photographed subject.

This exhibition is also in partnership with Vacheron Constantin and Cinnamon.

The exhibition commences at the Saffronart Gallery in Prabhadevi, Mumbai on the 27th of September and goes on till the 5th of October 2013.

A limited edition boxed folio of prints from this exhibition is available online at StoryLTD.

For more information on the exhibition, visit the website.

Delhi Photo Festival 2013

Ipshita Sen of Saffronart shares a note about the upcoming Delhi Photo Festival 2013.

New York: Delhi-ites, save the dates in your calendars! The Delhi Photo Festival is right around the corner, enticing photographers, collectors and enthusiasts alike. With a week full of learning, showcasing new work, voicing young collectives as well as instigating interactions between artists and shutterbugs.

Delhi Photo Festival 2013 Poster. Image Credit: http://www.torgovnik.com/pages/getWorkshops

Delhi Photo Festival 2013 Poster. Image Credit: http://www.torgovnik.com/pages/getWorkshops

India Habitat Centre and Nazar Foundation initiated the biennale photography festival for the first time in 2011. It is curated by a creative team of photographers, namely, Prashant Panjiar, Dinesh Khanna and Dr. Alka Pande, the curator of Visual Art Gallery at the IHC. Acting as a catalyst, the festival popularizes the emergence of photography as the real democratic art form in a public space, thus making it a revolutionary step for photography in India.

‘The importance of gallerists, critics, curators, collectors, photo festivals & museums coming together to create a new and separate platform for photography’ states Dr. Alka Pande, on the festival.

Super Mamika, Sacha Goldberger. Image Credit: http://www.delhiphotofestival.com/delhi_photo_festival_2013/home.html

Super Mamika, Sacha Goldberger. Image Credit: http://www.delhiphotofestival.com/delhi_photo_festival_2013/home.html

As a tribute to the late Prabuddha Dasgupta, a noted fashion and fine art photographer, the 2013 festival will be centered on the theme of Grace. ‘I want to have a long string of images, held together by grace, because grace is that undefinable, non rational, non linear word that I am looking for’ said Prabuddha Dasgupta, speaking at the Delhi Photo Festival 2011.

Early Work, Prabuddha Das Gupta. Image Credit: http://www.delhiphotofestival.com/delhi_photo_festival_2013/home.html

Early Work, Prabuddha Das Gupta. Image Credit: http://www.delhiphotofestival.com/delhi_photo_festival_2013/home.html

The festival is not only confined to India Habitat Centre grounds, but several participating galleries across the capital. It thrives on a wealth of workshops, portfolio reviews, artists’ talks, and exhibition tours.

The festival is on from 27th September to the 11th October 2013.

For more information, click here.

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