It’s fairly obvious that some of the works at the 2012 Regional Art Exhibition are very good. But to say that something is good isn’t always enough, you also need to say why – what is it that makes them ‘good’? In terms of a survey, the exhibition has strength in its breadth, but it compromises on depth. Although the works themselves demand sustained perusal they appear somewhat deracinated from a wider artistic context. The questions that go unanswered are the ones that a survey such as this should make its priority to address: on what evaluative criteria have these particular works been chosen? Are there any defining characteristics or precepts that find a pattern in South Indian art? What schools and models of thought have influenced each of these artists and their work?

To answer this would be to point toward the paradigms by which current evaluative judgments are made. It’s tricky terrain, but at the very least such indication would provide a platform for further discussion and debate, which is never a bad thing.

The Regional Art Exhibition 2012 takes place after a hiatus of over 10 years, featuring the work of almost 60 artists to provide a sampling of current South Indian art. “The show is designed to bring out promising artists by exhibiting their work to the public,” said Regional Secretary Rm. Palaniappan, “It gives them exposure. However, it also serves as a proper documentation of the trends in the art of the region. To select artists for the exhibition, seven senior artists including S. G. Vasudev and P. Gopinath proposed the names of artists below the age of 40 from their respective regions (10 artists from Tamilnadu, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Karnataka, Maharashtra and 5 artists from Goa and Puducherry).”

Yet regardless of the individual merit of the works, there’s something a little clumsy about placing such a varied range of paintings in a gallery without any cohesive material to supplement them. The brochure, which has become a staple feature of any established exhibition, lists each artist’s accomplishments and academic background – which isn’t nearly as helpful or interesting as a few words about his or hers thought or influences would have been. This is a shame, because on seeing these works, I really did want to know more; to be given at least a sliver of insight into the sort of theoretical and intellectual thought that frames them.

However, this absence isn’t the fault of the artists, whose works traverse a broad range of styles and themes. With political works, such as Srinivasa Reddy N’s watercolour featuring the repeated black and white repeated sketch of a man crouched in the positions of the three wise monkeys in front of a faded 500 rupee note to Sachin D. Naik’s surreal woodcut of a kneeling man, in close proximity to animals and nature yet surrounded by symbols of the modern world, they are deeply challenging, and sometimes shocking. Segar M’s provocative fibre glass sculpture depicts a pregnant woman, clasping her belly, her legs spread in a simultaneously defiant and sensuous posture; and there is a similarly fierce defiance in C. P. Krishnapriya’s watercolours, with its suggestive female anatomy and vivid purples and pinks. The works do demand attention and time on an individual level, but it’s the sense of locating them within a larger whole that remains elusive.

That being said, the exhibition is still a profoundly interesting one, which you should go and see. And viewing such a wide array of works side by side gives a broadly contemporaneous view that you’re not going to come across every day. I don’t believe that art can, or should, be ‘explained’ – although it would have been nice if there was a ball of string to guide you some of the way through its labyrinthine walls.

The Regional Art Exhibition 2012 will be on view at the Lalit Kala Akademi, Regional Centre, 4 Greams Road until 4 March, daily between 11am and 7pm.