Into the Artist’s World

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

Written by Sankhayan Ghosh | Pune | Published:June 23, 2013 3:11 am

In the first part of the two-volume documentary,To Let the World In,Pushpamala N talks to the camera while her make-up artist prepares her for yet another performance. Pushpamala,one of the foremost performance artistes of India,wants to turn the interview into a performance too,transforming into a Mother India while she speaks about her feminism-driven art that often sees her metamorphose into a Fearless Nadiaesque figure or a femme fatale from noir movies.

Throughout the film,director Avijit Mukul Kishore creates an immersive atmosphere,shuttling in and out of the artists’ worlds — from the serenity of their homes to the creative energy of their studios. For instance,he puts Nilima Sheikh against the landscape of her homeland,Kashmir.

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

Films in the past have recorded the works of a single or a group of artists,such as Ritwik Ghatak’s documentary on Ramkinkar Baij or Film Division’s commissioned works on four artists including MF Husain,but it’s the first time such a wide period of Indian art has been documented together.

The film features 27 significant artists. While those such as Nalini Malani and Atul Dodiya represent the early generation — the pre-liberalisation phase of the country — the current generation features Anju Dodiya and Reena Kallat,among others. It is scheduled to be screened on July 6 and 13 at Films Division,Mumbai. The film received a warm reception at the international documentary film festival,Sheffield Doc/Fest,and was also screened at the International Documentary and Short Film Festival of Kerala,Trivandrum. According to Sheffield festival’s official blog,it has emerged as the second most-liked film there.

The film also features noted art curator Geeta Kapur and talks about the Late Bhupen Khakhar.

To Let the World In sets its narrative around several landmark events in contemporary art history. The first reference point in Part 1 is a major art show titled “Place for People” that had set the ball rolling for a group of artists who had started exploring locality,class and politics through their works. It contextualises the art movements with respect to the political and communal environment — the Emergency,rise of religious fundamentalism,the Babri Masjid demolition and the riots — how these events set the framework for the group of artists.

Part 2 touches upon how the Godhra riots polarised MS University of Baroda. “When I came to Gujarat,it was this all-inclusive place that had a place for everyone. That has 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 film — the first part is 93 minutes long and the second is 53 minutes — is lovingly languid in the way it is shot. “I wanted a style that would work irrespective of the artists’ varied approaches,” says Kishore,who has also shot the film.

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