The touchy feely art of today is ably accompanied by equally intriguing titles of the exhibitions that showcase it
Glitch Frame Lollipop…Contemporary Panchtantra at Ambedkar Nagar…Hope is the thing with feathers…The Anatomy of Celebration: The Party Plot…I Want to Seduce Them with My Line…what do you think these could be? Seem to qualify rather well as book titles, chapter names or some abstract poetry, but they are not. These quirky one-liners actually happen to be the titles of art exhibitions held over the past year.
What’s in a name? Actually everything, if you go by what artists, curators and gallerists would tell you. “The title of an exhibition is important. It is like a book cover which says a lot although you cannot judge the book by it as they popularly claim…” says Bhavna Kakar of Latitude 28, an art gallery which is a regular with humorous and imaginative titles.
“Some of my quirky titles have been ‘Does Size Matter??’ — that became a trendsetter for small format shows and was a bit tongue-in-cheek — ‘Re-claim, Re-Cite and Re-Cycle’ , a show on recycling of thought, imagery etc, ‘Glitch, Frame and Lollipop’ and ‘Tactile’, a show on material and mediums currently on in the gallery, but I don't like to make the titles long and filled with jargon. Short, crisp and to the point!” adds Bhavna.
That apart, it needs to have the quintessence of the exhibition and yet shouldn’t give it all away. When giving the go ahead to a name or working on it in collaboration with the curator or the artist, Rasika Kajaria of Exhibit 320 does pay a lot of attention to this aspect. “What do these words do? They lead to some stories in your head. They allow an entry point into the art on display,” feels Rasika. She links these funny one-liners to the nature of art practised today. “Contemporary art is conceptual. Artists work with all sorts of mediums. Concept comes first, even before the artists start working on their pieces,” says the gallery owner recalling some of her impactful show titles like “Public Enemy Number 1”, “deFacebook” or “Fresh from Tulia”.
Giving an insight into the process of how a title is born, Rasika explains the solo exhibition of the young artist Muktinath Mondal last October came to be called “Fresh from Tulia” because of the artist’s background. “Tulia is a small village in West Bengal the artist belongs to. Even though the work had nothing to do with Tulia directly, the artist and his art seemed to have evolved from there. It seemed just perfect to give an entry point to a thought process.”
“Group show of Baroda Artists/Bengal Artists”, “A show by four contemporaries”, “Recent works by…” were the norm till a few years ago and “…the phenomenon continues till today. Sudarshan Shetty’s ‘Paper Moon’ in 1995 was one of the first examples of a solo show with a title at a time when most solos were called ‘One Man exhibition by...’,” points out Bhavna.
While it’s the curator in the case of group shows, it’s usually the artist who comes up with the title for a solo show. Artist Manjunath Kamath says titling a show requires much contemplation. Held two years ago in Sakshi gallery in Mumbai, his show was called “Collective Noun”. “I don’t like to get very literal — as in explain my work but I needed to give an idea about the process. I was reading all kinds of books preparing for the show so I just named it ‘Collective Noun’. Then there was ‘Something Happened’ which was referring to the boom. Four years ago I did a show at Gallery Espace called ‘108 small stories’. It was a tribute to my daughter who would tell me to narrate stories to her every night. So I came up with a very direct title.”
Vidya Shivadas, curator and researcher at the Foundation for Indian Contemporary Art, says just like art is about the usage of language, so is the name. “While the modernists wouldn’t attach too much importance to inter-textuality for they would like it to be self-referential, the contemporaries are not looking at purity of concepts. The imaginative titles have to do with the nature of practice, concept and the idea of curation.” A curator at Vadehra Art Gallery, Vidya reveals how the latest show at the gallery came to called “Apna Ghar”. “One of the photographers, Vicky Roy grew up in a shelter home run by Salaam Balak Trust, which was called ‘Apna Ghar’. It worked very well for the show too as the works by Chandan Gomes, Nishtha Jain, Samudra Kajal Saikia and Roy raise questions regarding identity and home.”