New show charts out the future of Indian art through works of masters and novices

New show charts out the future of Indian art through works of masters and novices

By BHUMIKA POPLI | | 2 December, 2017
Kohbar and the two Naina Jogins, by Shantanu Das and Mahalaxmi.
An ongoing exhibition at Delhi’s Art Alive Gallery provides a common platform to distinguished masters and emerging artists from across India. Bhumika Popli speaks to the organisers, as well as to the participants, about the vision behind the show.
Imagine a group show where the list of participants includes almost all the biggest names from the spheres of Indian contemporary and modern art. The ongoing show at Delhi’s Art Alive gallery, titled Art NOW 17’, is an attempt to do something similar. Sakti Burman, Anjolie Ela Menon, Satish Gujral, Jatin Das, Krishen Khanna, and Thota Vaikuntam among others are some of the luminaries who have sent their latest paintings and sculptures for the exhibition.

In total, 34 artists are part of this show, which first opened, on 25 November, at the Lalit Kala Akademi, and after a week, was shifted to Art Alive gallery. The previous edition of the show was hosted at Mumbai’s famed Jehangir Art Gallery in 2016.

Sunaina Anand, founder of Art Alive gallery, has curated the present show. She told Guardian 20: “The idea here is to look at the works of the artists on a yearly basis and how they are moving with their art practices. We have added nine more artists to the list of 25 as in the previous show.”

The Indian modernist Krishen Khanna has sent his recent painting, Minstrels in a Wood for the Delhi show. In it, he plays with his usual trope of band wallahs. The figures painted in red appear to be walking beside trees.

Art NOW 17’ also familiarises visitors with paintings of the renowned Hyderabad-based artist Thota Vaikuntam, who is known for his creative engagement with rural cultures. In his painting, titled Woman with Parrot, a parrot is seen sitting on the palm of a woman who is draped in a yellow sari. One can see his preference for employing primary colours. In an undated interview, he had said, “I don’t like using colours that are a mix of two because they are not natural, they don’t exist in surroundings around us, in our everyday life.” All the four Vaikuntam canvases displayed at the show are  replete with basic colours and imagery of village life.

Woman with Parrot 2, by Thota Vaikuntam.

Guardian 20 caught up with Vaikuntam to talk about the ongoing show and his latest paintings. He said that he owes a large part of his success to renowned artist K.G. Subramanyan. “During the start of my career I was confused about my subjects. It was all because of K.G. Subramanyan, my teacher, who helped me find my theme. Mani-da [Subramanyan] explained to me the importance of my roots. I understood that there were lots of rich cultures like theatre, music and so on in my village, which is Burugupalli in Telangna,” said Vaikuntam.

“Through my sculptures, I wanted to convey that there is a lot of expectation which we have from ourselves or which the society lays down upon us, which turns a man into a machine. But as human beings, one should not forget to celebrate life or overlook the basic emotions our life is made up of,” says Narayan Chandra Sinha.
He said that he has always felt a certain sense of obligation to have his canvases reflect India’s rural life. “Village people are very simple. I though it is my duty to bring these to the canvases. But nowadays artists don’t touch villages,” added Vaikuntam.

The best part of Art NOW 17’ is that alongside highlighting the greats of Indian art, it has created space for many young and emerging artists. The show, in a sense, marks the path ahead for contemporary Indian art, and establishes how young artists are open to experimenting with a range of themes in their bid to carry forward the legacy of the masters.

In the neophyte section, there were names like Mahalaxmi Karn, Shantanu Das, and Narayan Chandra Sinha among others.

Sinha’s work in particular offers a commentary on consumer society. He feels strongly that human emotions should get primacy in an otherwise materialistic society. In one of his sculptures, titled Celebration, the artist uses the concept of stick figures. Sinha says, “Through my sculptures, I wanted to convey that there is a lot of expectation which we have from ourselves or which the society lays down upon us, which turns a man into a machine. But as human beings, one should not forget to celebrate life or overlook the basic emotions our life is made up of.”

Untitled, by Satish Gujral.

Mahalaxshmi Karn and Shantanu Das have worked together on a painting, titled Kohbar and the two Naina Jogins. Here the artists have given their variation on Kohbar—a form of Madhubani painting often done on the walls of the room of newlywed couples to bless them. Karn said, “Though styles in Madhubani art are divided along caste lines, we have tried fusing the colour and line styles to recreate and reinterpret this motif which is routinely done for the wedding on the walls. We have tried to bring new colours to make it more communicative and vibrant.”

The exhibition brings the narrative of contemporary folk art to the forefront. “As an emerging artist, it is crucial to have a platform to make your presence felt. Also for a folk artist, the common perception is that of a craftsperson who continue to repeat what he or she derives from the tradition without much thought. The imagination and creativity involved in making the artwork are often overlooked. That is why when the gallery that normally deals with modern artists opens its doors for us folk artists, it is a good sign and encouragement too,” said Karn.

Art NOW 17’ is on view until 15 January

 

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