Into the artists’ world

A two-part documentary takes a wide-angle view of Indian art,artists and movements since the ’80s

Written by Sankhayan Ghosh | Mumbai | Published:June 23, 2013 12:37 am

In the first part of the two-volume documentary,To Let the World In,artist Pushpamala N speaks to the camera while her make-up artist prepares her for yet another performance. Pushpamala,one of the foremost performance-artists of India,wanted to turn the interview into a performance too,transforming into a Mother India while she spoke at length about her feminism-driven art that often sees her morph into a Fearless Nadia-esque figure or a femme fatale from classic noir movies.

The director,Avijit Mukul Kishore shuttles in and out of the artist’s worlds: be their homes,the studios or out in the open. For instance: the film puts Nilima Sheikh against the landscapes of her homeland,Kashmir.

“The idea was to give the artists and their art works as much space as we can and let them engage with the viewer,” says Kishore. The film is arguably the first effort to document three generations of contemporary artists in India,from the early ’80s to the present day.

Films in the past have recorded the works of a single or a group of artists,like Ritwik Ghatak’s documentary on Ramkinkar Baij or Film Division’s commissioned works on four artists including MF Husain.

The film features 27 artists who have been a significant force in India’s art movement. While artists like Nalini Malani,Atul Dodiya,Sheikh and Anand Patwardhan represent the pre-liberalisation phase of the country,the current generation features Anju Dodiya,Reena Kallat,Tushar Joag and Shilpa Gupta,among others. It’s scheduled to be screened on July 6 and 13 at Films Division,Mumbai. It received a warm reception at filmfestivals such as Sheffield Doc/Fest and was also screened at the International Documentary and Short Film Festival of Kerala,Trivandrum. The film also features noted art curator Geeta Kapur and talks about the late Bhupen Khakhar. The latter’s artist-friends like

Malani and Gulammohammed Sheikh share anecdotes

about Khakhar.

The film is set around several landmark events in contemporary art history. The first reference point in Part 1 (93 minutes) is a major art show titled “Place for People” that set the ball rolling for a group of artists who started exploring locality,class and politics in their works. It contextualises the art movements with respect to the turbulent political and communal environment — the Emergency period,the rise of religious fundamentalism,the Babri Masjid demolition and the riots — and how these events set the framework for the group of artists. Part 2,which is 53-minutes long,touches upon how the Godhra riots polarised MS University,Baroda. “When I came to Gujarat,it was this all inclusive place especially for someone from the South where there is a lot of regional animosity. But it all changed,” says artist Nataraj Sharma,about his experiences of working in Gujarat.

The film is funded by Art Chennai and its first part was originally conceived as an accompanying video to an art show in Chennai in 2011. The curatorial concept and interviews are by art historian Chaitanya Sambrani. “I wanted to adopt a style irrespective of the artists’ varied approaches,” says Kishore.

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