Mumbai: Created by the artist, Reena Kallat and curated by the Bhau Daji Lad Museum in collaboration with ZegnArt/Public, this impressive ‘Untitled’ installation captures the viewers’ attention at once. Several rows of over sized rubber stamps form a cobweb covering the entire facade of the colonial era museum. Instantly invoking ideas of bureaucracy and the passage of time, each stamp on the web bears on it the name of a street which has been changed in the city of Mumbai as part of the renaming and decolonizing of the city. Like the museum itself, originally named the Victoria and Albert Museum, the city of Mumbai as well as the country as a whole has undergone a reclaiming of public spaces through the renaming of institutions, roads and even entire cities.
Reena Kallat’s installation,“Untitled (Cobwebs/Crossings)” at Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum
Kallat is able to visually recreate the cobwebs of the past that continue to crowd our spaces, and will eventually be forgotten with the passage of time. Kallat’s project was chosen from a group of seven artist’s proposals including projects from Gigi Scaria, Hema Upadhyay and Sakshi Gupta by the curators of the museum and ZegnArt Public. A separate gallery space gives visitors an opportunity to see the proposals for projects that might have been.
Reena Kallat’s installation at Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum (detail)
A gargantuan effort, this project ties into the Museum’s focus on the contemporary. Under director Tasneem Mehta, the museum has been host to a series of curated exhibitions in which contemporary artists are invited to respond to the Museum’s collections. Among several artists who have exhibited here are this year’s Skoda Prize winner, LN Tallur, Ranjani Shettar and Sudarshan Shetty.
Reena Kallat’s installation at Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum (detail)
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.
Manjari Sihare in conversation with the Director of the ARKEN Museum, Christian Gether
Copenhagen: On August 18, 2012, a large conglomeration of visual and performing artists, filmmakers, fashion designers, authors, business professionals and scientists from India descended upon the city of Copenhagen for a much awaited project hosted by a mix of premier Danish institutions including the ARKEN Museum of Modern Art, the CPH Pix Festival, the Royal Danish Theatre, the University of Copenhagen and the Copenhagen Business School. Titled India Today-Copenhagen Tomorrow, this massive Indian-Danish culture project is aimed to acquaint Danes with modern India and its vibrant culture and dynamic economy. The project was inaugurated with a large exhibition of contemporary Indian art and fashion at the ARKEN Museum of Modern Art. Located 15 minutes south of Copenhagen, the museum is known for its modern and contemporary art exhibitions, one of the most important public collections of iconic British artist, Damien Hirst, and its building structure in the shape of a ship in marine surroundings. The art exhibition titled India: Art Nowis the museum’s biggest exhibition ever. Participating artists include Rina Banerjee, Hemali Bhuta, Atul Dodiya, Sheela Gowda,Shilpa Gupta, Subodh Gupta, Jitish Kallat, Reena Saini Kallat, Rashmi Kaleka, Bharti Kher, Ravinder Reddy, Vivan Sundaram and the artist duo Thukral & Tagra. I am delighted to have had the opportunity to speak with Christian Gether, the Director of the ARKEN Museum, about this exhibition and the museum’s programming and collection.
Vivan Sundaram, Aztec Deity, 2011. Courtesy of the artist.
Q. Could you please tell us a little about the project India Today-Copenhagen Tomorrow? Please also throw some light on the choice of title?
A: We are deeply fascinated by India. It is a nation with a tremendous tradition and a very dynamic relation to the rest of the world. From this a very energetic and interesting art scene has arisen. We are convinced that the Indian way of thinking today will play an important role in the way that Copenhagen will develop tomorrow. Hence the title.
Q. How did the idea for this project come about? Why India?
A: For a long time we have been interested in showing contemporary art from India, as India is the next focus point for international art collectors. We were then approached by The Holck Larsen Foundation which is established by one of the founders of the construction company L&T (Larsen and Toubro India) which said: If you will produce an exhibition on contemporary art from India, then we will pay the costs. So our wish of showing contemporary art from India suddenly came true.
Rina Banerjee, Preternatural passage came from wet whiteness and mercantile madness, paid for circular migrations, she went thirty six directions that is all the more different, where empire threw her new born and heritage claimed as well, this lady bug was not scarlet her wound was rather shaped like garlic seemed colored, a bit more sulfuric, could eat what was fungus her cloth punctuated by tender greenness she seemed to be again pregnant, 2011. Courtesy of Galerie Nathalie Obadia, Paris-Bruxelles
Q. I understand that the selection of the 13 artists in the show is made with the intention of revealing dimensions that extend beyond ideas of an ‘exotic’ India. For decades Indian art has been plagued with the term ‘exotic’. How did this conceptual framework come about?
A: In the art circles of today, a hot topic is ‘migratory aesthetics’. That is the new visual expression that arises from the dialogue between a local culture and the global impact. What we have tried to do is to show the art that is a synthesis of the Indian and the global culture. Indians are very open-minded and they travel and settle all over the world – and they have English as their common language so there is no barrier between the Indians and the rest of the world. Therefore they take in the best of the global culture and combine it with their experience of existence in India. A new visual language is established which fascinates the rest of the world. That is what we found unfolded in the 13 selected artists in the show.
Q. Some of the works are especially commissioned for the show? Could you elaborate on these works?
Rashmi Kaleka, Chhota Paisa (Small Change), 2012 Surround sound installation with video component Courtesy of the artist and the Swiss Arts Counsil Pro Helvetica in 2011-12
Jitish Kallat, The Cry of the Gland, 2009. Courtesy of Haunch of Venison, London
A: One of them is an audio installation by Rashmi Kaleka titled Chotta Paisa.When we saw Rashmi Kaleka’s work at her house in Delhi we were immediately deeply fascinated. With a modern recording device, the video camera, she had registered the early morning on the roofs of Delhi and combined it with the sounds of the street vendors and other sounds from a metropolis that is wakening. It is an intense revelation of a common daily ritual that we can all relate to.
The other is Jitish Kallat’s work where he has produced at series of photos of shirt pockets filled with notebooks pencils and rulers, which signalizes identity and importance of the owner. It is a very accurate observation on symbols of power structures in a society.
Q. What are some of the highlights of the exhibition?
A: I am very keen on Subodh Gupta’s installation with the brass pinnacles, which are bound together with thin, but strong strings. It shows the dialogue and interdependence of different religions. Ravinder Reddy’s women heads are also fascinating because they refer to a classical Indian tradition and to modern pop art simultaneously. It is Indian in the modern world.
Subodh Gupta, Terminal, 2010. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Anders Sune Berg
Ravinder Reddy, Untitled, 2007-08, Courtesy: Private Collection, India
Q. The project has an important online and social media component to facilitate exchange in the form of Co-Create Now–an online platform facilitating conversations, inspiration and exchange of experiences between Indians and Danes. Please elaborate.
A: Here at ARKEN we are extremely focused on the dialogue with our visitors. We reach out to everybody on different media platforms and like to involve the visitor as much as possible. We would like to have the visitor to employ his or her own experience of existence in a mental dialogue with the experience of existence which you find in the art work. Thereby the visitor becomes wiser on himself and on life as such.
Q. How has the response to the exhibition been?
A: The response has been overwhelmingly positive. The critics love the exhibition and so do the visitors.
Q. The Arken Museum has an active acquisition policy for international contemporary art mostly from the 1990 onwards. Are there any works of Indian artists in the collection? Could you tell us about the museum’s future acquisition plans for Indian art, if any?
A: We do not have any works of Indian origin in the permanent collection, but hopefully we soon will. I cannot reveal any names, but of course we are very fascinated by the artists that we have selected for the exhibition. We hope to find a private benefactor who will help us to buy art from India.
Q. What are some of the highlights in the museum’s collection?
A: We have one of the world’s biggest public collections of works by Damien Hirst. It was established with the help of a private donor and the great support by Damien Hirst himself and the owner of White Cube in London, Jay Joplin.
We have a fantastic video by Bill Viola called ‘Silence , Gold and Silver’ which we bought many years ago when we could still afford it. The same applies to our big installation by Mona Hatoum which we also bought more than 10 years ago.
Recently we acquired nine huge works by Anselm Reyle, also with the help of a private donor. Otherwise it would be completely impossible as most art museums have very tight budgets nowadays. To make these big and important purchases we need private donors who will help us get the best art pieces. That also applies to our wish for including art from India.
Anselm Reyle, Wagon Wheel, 2009 Photo: Per Morten Abrahamsen
Q. Which exhibitions over the past few years has been a particular source of pleasure for you?
A: I think that INDIA TODAY for a very long time will have a special place in my heart. It has been a fantastic experience to get to know a little corner of the contemporary art scene in India – and it has been a great experience to meet the dynamic culture in India and also the kindness and generosity of the Indian people. Earlier on we have made big exhibitions on artists such as Edvard Munch, Chagall, Dali, German Expressionism and contemporary art from Berlin etc. Recently we had a colossal exhibition by the Danish artist Olafur Eliasson. All good art is fascinating and unforgettable.
Q. Which exhibitions in the next few years would you recommend? Is there anything else related to Indian art on the cards?
A: If we have the possibility i.e. money, we would like to expand our relation to art from India by including Indian art works. In the coming years I can mention a show by the Mexican artist Frida Kahlo and her husband Diego Rivera. We will also show Picasso, and in 2015 we will show Monet. In addition to that we will show a series of contemporary artists from all over the world. In that series it is very likely that we include artists from India.
India: Art Now is on view until January 13, 2013. Read more.
Thukral & Tagra, THE ESCAPE! Resume/Reset, 2012. Courtesy Thukral & Tagra Studio and Gallery Nature Morte