Artist and critic Monikhaa's presentation on ‘Modernism in Indian Art' was enlightening

“When we listen to music, we sometimes cry. But do we actually understand why? Not always. But something happens; something we can't describe. It's the same with modern art — though we don't always understand it, it moves us in some way,” said Monikhaa, an art critic and artist. She spoke on ‘Modernism in Indian Art' and had a slide show of paintings, at the monthly meet of Aruvi, a literary group formed by art and literature enthusiasts in the city. The event was held at Contemplate Art Gallery.

Monikhaa traced the history of art through the ages. “Industrialisation and the World Wars led to Modernism in Europe. It's from there that the form came to India,” she said. “Artists like Da Vinci and Raphael painted scenes from the Bible. They gave characters in the written word a form. Back in India, Raja Ravi Varma did the same — he gave form to Hindu gods and goddesses through his paintings. When people saw how beautiful the gods looked, they wanted to hang their pictures at home. They decorated them using cloth and sequins — even today, you can find such paintings in old households,” she said. Though he represented our people, Ravi Varma never drew the common man, said Monikhaa. “He only drew the people he saw in and around his palace.”

Monikhaa compared a miniature painting by an Indian artist with a painting by Raphael to show how dissimilar they were. “The detailing in our miniature painting is powerful. The artist gives importance to the tiniest petal of a hibiscus flower,” she pointed out. She spoke of tantrik art, temple art, the paintings found in the Ajanta and Ellora caves and motifs such as the yaazhi that feature in Indian art.

Monikhaa spoke at length about women artists. She mentioned Frida Kahlo from Mexico and Amrita Sher-Gil from India who drew self portraits. She showed a work of American Cindy Sherman and compared it with that of Pushpamala. Both of them used a technique where they replaced the face on an already existing painting with their own photographs. “Budding artist Benitha Perciyal does art that is tangible — she uses seeds and cotton in her paintings,” she said. Monikhaa also discussed the works of Islamic artists Nasreen Mohamedi who was attracted by architecture and Rummana Hussain who depicted her views on culture on her canvas.