India has helped curator-writer-poet Elizabeth Rogers find her poetic and historical voice

For Elizabeth Rogers, it's been eight years of shuttling between New York and New Delhi. The journey, though, has been within the world of art. When we get in touch with Elizabeth, it's the last two days of the exhibition “Architectural Blue”, a display of cyanotypes on Delhi's historic monuments and Le Corbusier's buildings in Chandigarh by photographer Robert J. Schaefer Jr. at New Delhi's Max Mueller Bhavan. Elizabeth has curated the show.

The exhibition here, the idea for which was born a year-and-a-half ago, is one part of the project, which involves another exhibition in Chandigarh (at the Government Museum and Art Gallery) and a daylong workshop at Alkazi Foundation on the historical significance of architecture.

In a way, it was this concept of showcasing art in its natural setting that has brought Elizabeth here. The curator-writer-poet holds a Master's degree in East Asian Studies and Art History from Yale University. Previously, as executive director of the Jacques Marchais Museum of Tibetan Art in New York, Elizabeth had come to New Delhi in 2001 to do research at the museum at Tibet House. This got her interested in Himalayan art — more specifically, “the concept of the sacred in contemporary art.”

Indian contemporary art, according to her, is of particular interest because of references to past iconic forms.

“One of the major shifts that has happened in my life in the past few years is that previously, though I was researching Asian art, I was curating mostly in the West, only in museums. But then, you are taking work out of its natural context. I am no longer curating for westerners; now I'm showcasing Asian art in Asia,” says Elizabeth.

The shift in approach wasn't a conscious decision, she says. “It was a consequence of time and passage. Especially, if you look at Delhi, Mumbai, New York and London, it's a small world socially and artistically. This is a consequence of having friends who are artists, an outflow of knowing people.”

A few years ago, Elizabeth helped initiate research on Indian artists who received Rockefeller fellowships in the 1960s and 1970s. “Nobody is following Indian modern contemporary artists who were there years ago. So many of the artists who received the fellowships way back are still alive, artists like Ram Kumar and Krishen Khanna. There are a few who are still there, and I want to make sure they are documented. The artists would travel to New York and stay there, and the Museum of Modern Art would collect their works,” says Elizabeth. “Every time I'm back in New York I go back to the catalogue... What I'm hoping is that it all turns to an exhibition or a book. A lot of people in the West don't know about them. How is it that all this has been forgotten?”

Another project that she's been working on is on Indian artists who have been living and working in France since Tagore's time. A recent topic of study in the region was a UNESCO research project on Newari art in Nepal, besides projects with Pakistani artists.

“I particularly like abstraction in art,” says Elizabeth on her favourite genre.

A subject that has started to interest her particularly at present is connecting tribal art to the contemporary. “I would also like to look more into South India, go into Tamil roots.”

India, she says, has helped her find her poetic and historical voice. “The years here have brought together my work and my life, both personally and professionally… India has brought a very large input into my aesthetics, in the way I write, reconnected to my interest in mythology through colour, texture and tonality,” says Elizabeth.

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