Mapping the Nation: For Independence Day, artists reinterpret Indian history in unique ways

As India turns 69, as many number of artists get together to present the landmark moments of Independent India through paintings, graphic novels and installations

Written by Vandana Kalra | Updated: August 15, 2016 4:18 pm
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On August 15, 1947, India gained freedom from the British Raj at the stroke of midnight. It was a moment of triumph and celebration, but also one of despair, notes Aparajita Chowdhury. The Delhi-based artist is not undermining the jubilation but is pressing for the need to look at the complete picture. “The moment was the harbinger of hope and happiness in the country as it did bring the most awaited news, leaving India an independent country. But the consequent Partition manifested seeds of hatred, war and darkness, deep within hearts and minds,” she says.

When she got down to paint her thoughts, though, she did not opt for a sombre picture. Instead, Chowdhury chose to douse the map of India in bright pink. Dark clouds hover over ensanguined barbed wires on the border while the nation seems to be tied to its fate with ropes. This is just the beginning of the story of India, as showcased by 69 artists through their works, each representing a year of Independent India, from 1947 to 2015. Titled “Indianama”, the exhibition in Delhi presents a story of India through art — paintings, graphic novels and installations — created within a map of India.

“The brief was to highlight what they believed was the most important event of that year,” says Kunel Gaur. The creative director of Delhi-based advertising agency Animal has conceptualised and organised the exhibition along with their art director, Sharon Borgoyary. The duo played with colour themselves too — while Gaur imagines a possibly different India that might have existed had Sanjay Gandhi survived the plane crash in 1980, Borgoyary probes the mysteries concerning Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose.

In her paper work, Himani Batra revisits the celebration of India’s second World Cup victory in cricket in 2011, with the iconic picture of the Men in Blue with the trophy. Besides, the entire gambit has been covered — from the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi by Nathuram Godse in 1948 to the first Indian general election in 1951-52 and the liberalisation of the economy in 1991. The artists document the scientific and astronomical developments too, from the launch of the first ISRO Rocket in 1963 that was transported to Thumba Equatorial Launching Station on a cycle, to the more recent launch of the Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) by ISRO in 2013. If Shubhangi Raheja devotes 1955 to the declaration of untouchability as an act of offence, Dhruv Chakkamadam tracks the first Ambassador car as it left its factory in Uttarpara in 1958, and Hari Krishnan paints the birth year of Amar Chitra Katha in 1967, an Indian comic-book that redrew mythology. Shreya Gulati recalls arguably the first study of homosexuality in India, Shakuntala Devi’s The World of Homosexuals, in 1977.

India’s fascination with cinema also gets attention. Among others, Divya Bhardwaj dedicates 1953 to Bimal Roy’s Do Bigha Zameen that “laid the foundation for the Indian New Wave”, and Furqan Jawed discusses how in 1966 Sharmila Tagore’s photograph in a two-piece bikini on a magazine cover led to a discussion in the Parliament “regarding the morality and image of an Indian woman”.

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In some works, personal tales are interwoven into the narrative. If Rituparna Sarkar puts together a comic panel on anecdotes from the 1962 Indo-China war that she heard from her father-in-law (a retired Major General), Rekha Bahl describes 1984 as “one of the loudest years of independent India”. Having just completed graduation from the Punjab University, her final exams were postponed due to Operation Blue Star; also a time when India was still coping with the Bhopal gas leak tragedy.

The display is no complete history of India, but a narrative that attempts to document its important landmarks. The story ends with the inception of the the First International Yoga Day in 2015, in a depiction by Anna Chakravorty, but before that Valiullah Hashmi showcases “the hopes of millions riding on the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate” in 2015.

The exhibition is on at Kona, 1, Jor Bagh Market, Delhi, till August 18

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