It is believed that during the 1857 Uprising, many wealthy and powerful Britishers were moved to Nahargarh Fort by the king of Jaipur, Sawai Ram Singh, for their protection. Standing on the edge of Aravali Hills, overlooking the city of Jaipur, the fort was built in 1734 by his forefathers. The historic venue is having a unique brush with art these days, as an year-long exhibition of contemporary artwork by Indian and international artists began a few weeks ago.
Called the “Sculpture Park” the display at the famed Madhavendra Palace inside the fort aims to turn the entire venue into an art gallery, with sculptures displayed indoors as well as outdoors. Curated by Peter Nagy of Delhi’s Nature Morte gallery, the exhibition comprises artworks by 16 Indian and nine international artists’ including Huma Bhabha, James Brown, Stephen Cox, Vibha Galhotra, Subodh Gupta, Jitish Kallat, Bharti Kher, Gyan Panchal, LN Tallur and Ravinder Reddy.
Tallur, who lives and works between Bengaluru and Seoul, is displaying four sculptures as part of the exhibit. One of them, titled “Obituary”, consists of a charred wooden log with coins nailed into it and as it is turned into an incense burner on a stand, it sort of becomes both a funeral pyre and an altar — all in one. Tallur, who finds it “exciting and interesting to see so many contemporary sculptures within such a grand historical property” says, “I have exhibited in all these works in a white-box gallery setting, so it will be great to see them somewhere new. I look forward to the juxtaposition of my works with the architecture and decorative paintings that run throughout the palace.”
Kallat adds that the historic site provides not just an evocative backdrop, but adds another layer of context to their art. The Mumbai-based artist, who has worked with Nagy for two decades, says Nagy was “keen on juxtaposing his work Annexation with the architecture of the fort”. The work comprises an enlarged kerosene stove, carrying on its surface numerous species engaged in acts of consuming something or in an act of making love, an image of a perpetuation of life derived from the porche of the Victoria Terminus building in Mumbai. His other work to be exhibited in Jaipur is titled “Vertical Chronicle of Turbulent Equilibrium” — a hand-rendered sculpture where the bamboo-like surface has the very imagery that one finds on the surface of Annexation.
The initiative is the result of a collaboration between the Government of Rajasthan and Delhi-based Saat Saath Arts Foundation, which supports collaborations between Indian and international artists. Aparajita Jain, its Founder and Director, says,”We have always been intensely aware of a lack of public art venues in India as well as arts being a part of our living heritage. Peter (Nagy; her husband) suggested the use of heritage spaces in India for contemporary sculpture and we spoke to Malvika Singh (Member, Chief Minister’s Advisory Council, Rajasthan), who was very helpful.” She adds,”We need public spaces for contemporary art to be viewed by the masses. We are doing an experiment here and let’s see if it works.”
On the selection of works for the first edition of the showcase, Nagy says, “I wanted to show important works that could command the setting, which is rather impressive. But the palace, as one experiences it now, is an empty monument and it was built to be a pleasure palace. So I wanted to bring something of this back into the palace through the sculptures displayed. For this reason, I have chosen many works that use domestic objects (such as furniture and clothing), to bring a sense of the ghosts within the palace to life. Second, the palace is a highly decorated space, with elaborate paintings covering most of the walls. For this reason, I chose works that have a relationship to the decorative arts. The diversity of works exhibited in the palace will certainly illustrate the wide range of sculpture being made today to the visitor who is not familiar with contemporary art.”
He says the works he has brought together for the palace would never have been brought together for a standard gallery setting. “In the palace, only two or three works will be seen together at the same time, usually by the same artist. So, in a way, it is a number of small solo shows, because of the many different rooms in the palace. The only sort of “group show” arrangement will be the five large sculptures placed in the courtyard, which you will be able to see all at once when you enter. So many different spaces simply aren’t available in a gallery setting.”
The international artists also acknowledge the novelty of displaying their art in an exotic set-up. British-sculptor Cox — who is exhibiting a rather seminal work that was created 25 years ago at a workshop in Mahabalipuram — says that ever since the demise of the Indian Triennale, it has become incumbent of lovers of art and various regional states to create new initiatives, such as the Kochi Biennale in Kerala, or the building of KMOMA in Kolkata. “I have shown really big sculptures made in India inside galleries and museums. Many works are also exhibited in collections and sculpture parks outside the gallery space. Sometimes large sculptures shown inside affect the scale of sculpture and the space. The wonderful intimate spaces inside and outside in a palace like the Madhavendra will yield wonderful surprises, I am sure.”
Jain says that if the project goes well, the state government has assured they will consider other heritage properties for art purposes, but that will take some time. Nagy adds, “We plan this to be an annual event. The first edition continues till November 1, 2018, while the second edition opens in the first week of December 2018.”