In most Indian homes, a celebration is incomplete until a stack of playing cards is shuffled, rolled out and stared at for hours amid stealthy glances and hushed giggles. Rarely, however, does anyone come across cards in which the king holds a flower in his hand, the queen hides behind a burkha and the two of spades is covered with artwork of a couple intimately embracing each other. These can be seen at British Council’s exhibition “Deck of Cards| Taash ke Patte”, which brings together 55 artists from India and 54 from Britain to present their creative interpretation of the playing card.
Curator Laura Williams had come across a similar interpretation of cards by 54 British artists in 1976 as part of the “The Deck of Cards” exhibition in a London gallery. She says, “While I was at a client’s home in London, I spotted an interesting collection of artwork on his wall, which turned out to be the originals from ‘The Deck of Cards’ exhibition. As I looked at the works, which were representative of British art in the 1970s, I immediately knew that I would like to make an Indian Deck of Cards.”
Williams put together an Indian collection, “Taash Ke Patte”, with the help of contemporary artists such as Anjolie Ela Menon, Thota Vaikuntam, S Nandagopal, Jogen Choudhary, KG Subramanyan, Rameshwar Broota, Krishen Khanna and Arpita Singh. There is Menon’s gold digital work as she portrays a woman with a lotus, reminiscent of Laxmi, drenched in the red colour of rebellion and longing. Vaikuntam’s interpretation centres around a villager in an orange turban, his forehead smeared with teeka and turmeric.
From the lot on display from 1976 is British painter David Inshaw’s Queen Diamond — a sepia-toned painting of a curvaceous young girl, who sits leisurely on a chair as if it were a throne. Adrian Heath, one of the significant post-war British painters who felt that the purpose of art was to create abstract visions that would make the world a better place, presents the Ace of Hearts as a large heart caught in an orange-tinged wind storm.
Raqs Media Collective picked the ace of diamonds when offered a pack of cards and their interpretation has a beam of three lights coming together and intersecting to form a diamond shape. Jeebesh Bagchi of the Collective says, “The exhibition is an interesting platform as it allows for a different reading of something that is very established in our popular culture. The formulation of the exhibition is charming and makes one think in different ways as well as makes it more alive. We have a strong history of card making and card playing. We had hundreds of cards games in our history but we have slowly lost them through time.”
At British Council, Delhi, till May 15