The exhibition at the Georges Pompidou Centre for Modern Art in Paris, put together by joint curators Fabrice Bousteau and Sophie Duplaix gives us an India that is emerging from the old stereotypes of Maharajas, poverty and spirituality
The Georges Pompidou Centre for Modern Art in Paris, better known as Beaubourg, on Wednesday opened its doors to an ambitious exhibition of modern art, a joint effort by Indian and French artists. In a huge space spread across 2000 square metres, 47 Indian and French artists, many of them specially commissioned to produce original works for this show, give us their vision of India.
The exhibition, put together by joint curators Fabrice Bousteau and Sophie Duplaix gives us an India that is emerging from the old stereotypes of Maharajas, poverty, spirituality and snake charmers to one of transition and transformation; an India that is shedding its old skin and growing a new one that is more dynamic, active, creative, novel and full of contrasts.
Of the 100 odd paintings, sculptures, photographs and installations on view, about 70 were commissioned for this show.
France has long turned its nose up at contemporary Indian art. Established Indian painters such as M.F. Hussain, S.H. Raza, Gaitonde, Francis Souza or other stalwarts, have never received critical acclaim or much attention from one of the snobbiest centres of art in the world even when their works were selling for millions of dollars in art auctions worldwide. In fact Raza, who spent over fifty years living in Paris was so hurt and annoyed by the treatment he received at the hands of French critics that he decided to sell his property in France, abandoned the idea of creating a foundation and returned to India. It is as if Paris had decided it would discover modern Indian art on its terms and at its own pace. And now it is done.
Mish-mash of styles
But this exhibition, lacking as it does a central theme, leaves the viewer both perplexed and somewhat dissatisfied. The exhibits are a mish-mash of styles, sights, sounds and materials that leave the visitor bemused if not downright confused. What is this all about?
Alain Seban tried to shed light on the subject during a discussion with The Hindu: “Some of the greatest exhibitions that have marked the history of the Centre Pompidou have been those that featured an exchange of views. Where does Paris find itself in the ebb and flow of art? Shows like Paris-New York, Paris-Berlin or Paris-Moscow were seminal. It did not make sense to me to hold a retrospective of Indian art from Jamini Roy or Amrita Sher-Gill to the present. For me, it’s not the past so much but what the future holds for what so far has been a somewhat tenuous Franco-Indian relationship that is important. I asked myself which are the major phenomena marking the 21st century and the obvious answer was globalisation and that is why this exhibition might appear disparate. The world no longer functions thematically but functions in a far more haphazard fashion and this exhibition reflects just that.”
Ancient Tibetan chants by Gyuto monks greet you as you walk up the escalator. The exhibition floor itself is laid out in the form of a Mandala. Indian artists such as Nalini Malini andSheela Gowda make political or feminist statements through their work. Gowda pays homage to rural Indian womanhood by creating red-painted heart shaped cowpats, while Malini examines religious or social conflicts through her work.
On the French side, the Hijras and their world is the focus of the work by Kader Attia in a video installation entitled Echos with subjects from Paris, Alger and Bombay. The same subject is treated by Tejal Shah in a series of photographs. Leandro Erlich looks at the seamier side of life whether in “down and out” Paris or Bombay, through his installation.
But the overwhelming feeling one gets is not of a dialogue or a meeting point of minds, creativity or of cultures but of ships crossing in the night — soundless and sightless.
Alain Sebag refused to tell this correspondent how much such a show had cost the public exchequer. Companies such as Infosys have helped with generous grants but one cannot help concluding that the outcome fails to justify the effort and the expenditure.