AN INDIAN SUMMER FOR INDIAN ART
From Ramgopal Kumawat's miniatures to Bharti Kher's provocative displays and further on to Dhanraj Bhagat's careful sculptures – art in India is a dynamic concoction of excellence and imagination.
Where is Indian contemporary art going in 2018? Ask Peter Nagy, one of India's most avant-garde curators. He empties out an old palace filled with opulent furniture and punctuates it with contemporary Indian artworks that meld the minimalist as well as the magical. To Nagy goes the credit for discovering and nurturing the best names in the circuit – and, to top it all, he does not brag, he does not boast, he just puts his mind to curating some of the finest cutting-edge exhibitions in the country at Nature Morte. Nagy and Aparajita Jain have come together to create a stunning sculpture park at Jaipur.
The Park invites visitors to experience contemporary art on a mammoth scale, showcasing an ensemble of 55 sculptures, which will be on display for 11 months. Situated within the precincts of Nahargarh Fort – a historical, undulating sculpture in its own right, made of 18th century stones chiselled into form –the Park offers a clever juxtaposition. Nagy has handpicked the sculptures from the studios of 15 Indian and nine international artists who have a formidable repertoire.
Featuring works by artists such as Subodh Gupta, Thukral & Tagra, Bharti Kher, Stephen Cox and Evan Holloway – the Park boasts of larger-than-life bronzes, beautifully carved out wood pieces and stone works. Only three pieces have been made from scratch for this space, "Everything else is borrowed and are older works," says Nagy. Some even date back three decades, including a 1984 bronze creation by the late French artist Arma Chisti.
Cane Sculptures - Mumbai
In Mumbai, the Chemould Gallery just had a brilliant show by installation artist Shakuntala Kulkarni. She has been dealing with the body, armour and cane sculptures over the past decade or so. Julus at Chemould was like a multimedia installation with videos, drawings, photographs and a few brilliant cane sculptures that were installed like pieces of jewellery in a white cube.
Baroda March in Mumbai
Rukshaan Art Gallery hosts the Baroda March every year since 2007. This year it brought together 40 artists from Baroda in works that stunned the eye and salved your soul.
Puppets and Miniatures
Ramgopal Kumawat, who hails from Jaipur, originally employs his interpretation of Rajasthani katputli puppets to comment on social hierarchies and the games people play. Kumawat creates visual puns by juxtaposing these puppets against everyday objects like the sewing machine or the pistol.
Despite their lively and delightful forms, the novelty of traditional puppet shows has clearly worn off over the years with a variety of modern entertainment taking its place. It was the poignancy of the fading interest in puppets, accentuated by the slight desperation of the puppeteer that caught Ramgopal's attention, tugging at his heartstrings and causing him to revisit his roots and traditions. It is the contemporary creation of his format that strikes – in the way he brings forward the miniature tradition with zest and colour.
Another artist who works with the miniature tradition is Ajay Dhapa, who creates carpets on canvas and places miniature characters on the carpet to comment on present-day social mores. The carpets are symbolic of the earth – they reflect present-day environments. But the miniature format characters are in an inverse proportion – they are minute even as they create conversations.
Dhapa is a lover of dogs, he includes them in most of his works to add an element of humanism as well as humour. In Everyone wants a good Dog, the dog is represented as the boyfriend. Ladies come together and discuss prospective lovers. It is interesting to note that the ladies belong to the old school of miniatures adding a period style to the statement, even as we think of human traits that remain the same, while only lifestyles change.
Gulab Kapadia's watercolour on rice paper and canvas have about them an evanescent elegance. He represents one of the most popular professions of India. He says that though they belong to small-scale industries, they matter. Small business holders like vegetable and bangle sellers, cobblers, barbers, key-makers are Gulab's heroes in his visuals.
Gulab uses soft watercolour washes and layers them to create the vintage effect in an attempt to render their lives beautiful and meaningful. "Sometimes, different objects, materials from these environments serve as surfaces for creating the sense of remained traces of presence in absence through his painting," says Gulab. The beauty of the Baroda March was Rukshaan Krishna's eye for recognising the works of some of the best.
Dhanraj Bhagat at 100
Just opened at NGMA Bangalore is an epic showing of Dhanraj Bhagat, the sculptor who was Head of the Department at College of Art Delhi for more than two decades and created a series of works that transcended both abstraction and realism. In a brilliantly designed installation created exhibition by Adwaita Gadnayak and his team at NGMA Delhi, this show reads like a lesson in art history.
While it speaks to us about the passion of the artist Dhanraj Bhagat, it also advocates the truth that mentors must practice their art all through their lives. The show has a series of works belonging to collectors, the family as well as a number of important works from the Delhi Art Gallery Modern collection. It unravels like a fascinating display of mother and child evocative works to a series of abstractions in wood and cement and even concrete. Shiva Dance, a minimalist work, and Spirit of Work of a woman and child, are two top of the line creations. A Durga created out of just wrought iron is another enchanting ensemble that speaks to us about the brilliance and devotion Bhagat had to his creations. Bhagat's studio has also been recreated in the show and, no doubt, art lovers in Bangalore will spend time appreciating and recognising a master. Amongst the works are a series of drawings and paintings too. The show also positions the new Director General Adwaita Gadanayak as a disciple of hard work and a historian in his own right – he has been culling the NGMA Archives to create shows that stand a class apart in terms of the historicity of the institution and the wealth of art that lies in its repository.
(Uma Nair is a senior Art Critic and Curator)