Strokes of Light and Shade

The halls of India Art Fair reflect modern-day politics, from discrimination of Dalits to dreams of peace, while remembering artists who have passed on.

Written by Pallavi Pundir , Vandana Kalra | Updated: January 29, 2016 4:55 am
IAF, India Art Fair, art fair, art exhibition, Zain Masud, International Director of IAF, kiran nadar, Sudarshan Shetty, Amin jaffer, maneka gandhi, art Belgian neo-conceptual artist Wim Delvoye’s cathedral features laser-cut steel and subversive elements such as human X-ray images Ravi Kanojia

There were already red dots against some works when select invitees stepped into the halls of the India Art Fair (IAF) for a private preview yesterday. In its eighth edition, the fair focuses on the subcontinent, with galleries from Nepal, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, apart from the West. India, though, predictably dominated the floor. “Since the 1990s, Asian contemporary art has grown exponentially due to regional biennials and triennials, the building of art museums, international recognition and success of Asian artists and, of course, global political and economic shifts,” said Zain Masud, International Director of IAF. In attendance were artists Atul and Anju Dodiya, Subodh Gupta, Sudarshan Shetty, Anjolie Ela Menon, art collectors Kiran Nadar, Malvinder Singh, Lekha and Anupam Poddar, Amin Jaffer, International Director, Asian Art, Christie’s, and politician Maneka Gandhi, among others. Here are the highlights of the fair:

Crossing Borders

An increased focus on the Indian subcontinent has brought in four galleries — Bengal Art Lounge from Dhaka (Booth A8), Nepal Art Council from Kathmandu (Booth B14), Taseer Art Gallery from Lahore (Booth B11) and Theertha from Colombo (Booth B12). “Art from Nepal is something that has been missing at IAF before. Being a part of this dialogue at the fair is extremely important, otherwise we’ll be missing a huge story in South Asian art,” says Dina Bangdel, member of the council, which has brought seven contemporary artists including Hit Man Gurung and Manish Harijan, whose first solo, about Hindu and Buddhist deities dressed as superheroes, in 2012, was banned in Nepal. Taseer Art Gallery, with works by young names — Humaira Abid, Farida Batool, Saba Khan and Mohsin Shafi — juxtaposes the red-walled city of Lahore with Delhi, each work focusing on urban life, public spaces, family and status symbols. “Considering the climate in the world, Delhi is the only place where people are thrilled to receive Pakistan,” says gallerist Sanam Taseer. While Batool will be at the fair today, the rest will be unavailable because their visa was denied. Over at Theertha, contemporary and abstract visuals map a politically-charged country grappling with change, through the works of Anoli Perera, Pala Pothupitiya and Bandu Manamperi. Bengal Art Lounge has a multi-layered display of photographs, texts and video installations by Australian-Bangladeshi artist Omar Chowdhury in collaboration with Bangladeshi political and economic historian Shahidu Zaman. Together, they trace an intricate narrative around re-experiencing history, experience of the self and one’s own past. A first for all four, their participation allows a distinct perspective on their respective societies and cultures, yet situating themselves in the current context in Delhi as well as the global art representations at the fair.

Picture Perfect
Leaving the heavies behind, we stumble upon some eye-catchers. From Subodh Gupta’s untitled work depicting a cycle in brass, laden with ripe bananas in aluminum at Nature Morte (Booth A1), to artist duo Thukral and Tagra’s Swatuntar Singh-2, a sculpture of a Sikh man tied to balloons in the same gallery, the fair presents a little more than mere awe. At Hosfelt Gallery (Booth B3), Manhattan-based artist Rina Banerjee’s work create a ruffle with her winged fantasy creature titled Friendly Fire, a steel sculpture comprising textile, beads, feathers, thread and bulbs. At the other side of the wall is Cameroonian artist Pascale Martine Tayou at Galleria Continua (Booth B2) and his Pascale’s Eggs, dotted in colourful shades. Spanish gallery MONDO Galeria gets a double take for Venezuelan artist Alberto Echegaray Guevara’s U$D One Million Sphere and Le Dictateur (The Dictator), the former depicting shredded $ 1 million in a Murano blown glass case, while the other comprising shredded dollars, blood and screws. All real and authentic. A large site-specific project by Belgian neo-conceptual artist Wim Delvoye occupies a separate space in the form of a large Gothic cathedral made from laser-cut steel and adding subversive elements such as human X-ray images — combining the majestic with the macabre.

Kitchen Talk
Familiarity always attracts attention — it holds true for the fair. Right at the entrance, GALLERYSKE (Booth B1) has an untitled work of Subodh Gupta, where the artist uses, not his trademark metal utensils, but glass bowls filled with pulses and grains. At the same booth, Sudarshan Shetty shows that broken objects don’t have to stay broken, as he combines porcelain teapots and saucers with wood to create objects that may not resemble the original but can become something else. In the process, he also brings together polar opposites within a single whole. Also dealing with perception through crockery is German artist Alke Reeh. In Tray with Two Vessels at Lakeeren (Booth C2), Reeh has the photograph of a detail of a dome in Rome and she crochets a similar pattern inside a ceramic cup. “It questions scale, perception and a need to see things in a larger context,” she says. Pakistani artist Humaira Abid, meanwhile, reflects on urban living at Taseer Art Gallery (Booth B11) — a milk bottle left on the pillow in Mother, Child and…. There are also tiffins in wood and bronze, titled Don’t Forget your Lunch, put together with pills and injections — perhaps a house left in a hurry.

Paying Tribute

I never did them hell. I just told them the truth and they thought it was hell.” The words run through Home, perhaps one of the last works of Hema Upadhyay before her death in December. The multimedia work, in which the artist speaks, is being shown by Chemould Prescott Road (Booth, B4). “We will make Mumbai better than Shanghai,” she says. Across halls, another artist is being remembered. Sarjan Art Gallery (Booth E7) has built a mini memorial for Bhupen Khakhar, with friends and fellow artists from Baroda dedicating their works to him, also featuring him in several. There are Jyoti Bhatt’s and Vivan Sundaram’s photographs of him, Amit Ambalal paints him in conversation and British figurative artist has made portraits of him. Atul Dodiya, meanwhile, pays tribute to artists that he admires. His shutter work T-Square Vacation at Vadehra Art Gallery (Booth E1) has portraits of notable artists from the West, including Henri Matisse, Paul Klee and Francis Bacon, reflecting on their art, and how there is a need for “caution”. There is another personal tribute — to modernist architecture by Ram Rahman (Booth P10). He juxtaposes his photographs with his father Habib Rahman, an architect. Through his buildings, the project looks at the trajectory of idealism in public building and where that legacy stands now. The project ends with a father-son engagement with the Ayodhya Babri Masjid demolition – Habib Rahman’s public proposal to solve the conflict through an idealistic design proposal before the demolition and Ram’s post demolition broadside for SAHMAT.

Politics in Art
An inevitable and a long-standing relationship between art and politics finds home yet again. We find Baroda-based visual artist Priti Kahar’s Peace from her series called “Exit” at Palette Art Gallery (Booth A10), in the form of an electronic clock, which is her interpretation of chaos, destruction and violence that reigns before peace strikes. It comprises the partially printed word “Peace” on the second hand and other half printed on the surface, manifesting into the complete word when the hand meets the surface once every minute. Sri Lankan artist Anoli Perera’s Elevated Utopias: Paradise Lost at Shrine Empire (Booth C8) recreates the notion of geographical boundaries by using paraphernalia of stitched fabric, printed images and acrylic and ink on paper. “Utopias are imagined and paradise is promised in the urge to transform and develop lands,” she says in her note. In the same booth, Bangladeshi artist Tayeba Begum Lipi grapples with the politics of land in From 1.7 million mi2 To 55,598 m2, a stainless steel panel depicting a map that shows the subcontinent in different phases, from a wholesome nation to partitioned one, keeping the idea of a subcontinent a “hallucination for many living in this century”. The Partition Museum Project at the fair touches the same nerve.

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