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Images without borders

`Borderless Terrain' which is centred around three groups of artists, opens tomorrow in New Delhi. Curated by Alka Pande, it will attempt to highlight issues that are at the forefront of artistic practice today, says ASHRAFI S. BHAGAT.

"Lotus vision", orange(three boxes), stone ware clay, copper enamelled eyes, Kriti Arora.

THE world wars initiated a process of migration by intellectuals — this included artists, scientists and philosophers, among others — to the United States ending the dominance of Paris as the heady art capital. Instead, New York donned the mantle.

By the 1960s, art had become international.

The exhibition "Borderless Terrain" curated by Dr. Alka Pande allows for this discourse. According to her, it attempts to showcase issues — plurality, heterogeneity, migration, travel, transculturation, contact zones, hybridity, de-territorialisation, re-territorialisation, identity, nationality and nationhood — that are at the forefront of artistic practice the world over.

As a visual language, art melts barriers and, in the last few decades, there has been a definite move towards the macro-spaces of globality, bringing together artists on a plane where individuality celebrates differences. In the case of diasporas, exiles, immigrants and emigrants, struggles with dislocation and recognition of the empowering potential remain a constant engagement. And within such a milieu, identity is not discovered but established by acts of self-representation that are political. Certain kinds of cultural forms had to be negotiated in the process of identity construction becoming, in the bargain, an establishment of differences as well as an accretion of experiences. "Identity is neither continuous nor continuously interrupted but constantly framed between the simultaneous vectors of similarity, continuity and difference." (Stuart Hall). This question of identity carries valence for artists particularly in the age of globalisation where boundaries are not so definite and the dynamic interactive process through diverse media takes precedence which is essentially observable in the virtual space that has shrunk the world to a small screen. Globalisation has been the tendency to treat history, culture and political economy as a world system with the possibility of reducing it to a single and unique point of view. But for the artists' fraternity, the heightened differences make their creative experiences unique.

"Borderless Terrain" is about a mixed bag of three groups of artists — Indians with an international exposure, foreigners influenced by Indian culture and the diaspora. The first has Gautam Bhatia, Bharti Kher, Samit Das, Meethu Sen, Abhay A. Gaekwad, Sanjay Sundaram, Suhasini Kejriwal, Shammi Banu and Kriti Arora. The second category has Lady Catherine Young, Simon Mark, Andy Townsend, Talha Rathore, Mark Baudin, Helen Geier, Clare Richards, Charles Green and Lyndell Brown and Sanjeeva Liyanage. And the Indian diaspora — Rachel Kalpana James, Allan de Souza, Annu Matthew, Jaishri Abhichandani, Amrit Kaur and Rabindra Kaur, Shelly Bahl and Avantika Bawa.

"Work in Progress", bindis on painted fibreglass, woollen carpet, untitled, 2002, Bharti Kher.

Their art works cover a gamut in terms of their techniques and material as well in their forms of expression — from installations to digital prints to mixed media to watercolours to relief sculpture. Celebrating differences, the heterogeneity of concepts and their visualisation by the artists makes dynamic references to borders crossed and re-crossed. It (borders) marks a place that is the moment of difference becoming a source of productive excitement.

Among the works of the Indian artists, the emotions of "doubts, fears and perceived injustices" are reflected in Sanjay Sundaram's watercolours — the technique that has reminiscences of the Bengal School of the early 20th Century. Meethu Sen's mixed media echoes a similar concept in which gender defines itself through the colour pink which is symbolic of an irrational world marked by fears, hatred and anxieties. Kriti Arora's imagery implies strong eroticism and sensuality through her relief sculpture describing them as "avenues for supreme self-realisation and human expression "bordering on repression".

Samit Das explores architecture as landscape. Subsumed within this concept is the idea of a home expressed through the imagery of a book that unfolds, metaphorically, as "a man's passage from his home in nature to this home (architecture) that is created". A reversed diaspora, Bharthi Kher is English by birth but has chosen to return to India for art practice. The ubiquitous bindi defines her installation of fibreglass, fetishising the traditional and spiritual symbol. A. Balasubramaniam is a versatile young artist who has explored media-like oils, installations and printmaking. His experiences have been largely confined to working abroad, creating conceptualist and minimalist expressions that offer ingenuity of intellectualisation.

Abhay A. Gaekwad's untitled acrylic collage has a dominant blue and ostrich imagery interspersed with forms that predominantly represent South East Asian nationals. The mobility of the artist allows borders to melt and this metonymy of expression is eloquently heightened by the abstracts of Suhasini Kejriwal where the image is fluid and transforms itself according to the viewer's perspective symbolising that the "home" is no longer a fixed structure, with roots guaranteed by the premise of national traditions but as contingent passage. The Indian diaspora negotiates his identity within the intercultural situation that he encounters. The dialectics of persistence and adaptation make him navigate diverse socio-cultural systems.

Avantika Bawa employs minimalist means to express the realm of the undiscovered. Her visual vocabulary, derivative of urban reality, is minimalist so as to create interactive designs between the rational and the irrational.

The British twins Amrit Kaur and Rabindra Kaur's imagery is neo-realistic parodying the British royal family and the advertising giants as they come head on in ugly competition to remain perpetually at the top.

The American Jaishri Abhichandani's digital print on vinyl is her "documentary of the lives of the generation of new global techno-bohemians" to which she belongs. She critically examines issues of class, gender, spirituality and nation under the Western sky.

Shelly Bahl's installations evoke romantic interiors. She plays with notions of oriental exoticism appropriating the mass produced and culturally specific iconography.

Allan de Souza's digital print is inspired by post-September 11, while Rachel Kalpana James uses personal records to authenticate the interior life of a person opening up his private space — to imply negotiations of identity in a world of shifting territories.

"Untitled", mixed media, Helen Geler.

The artists who have travelled to India have been deeply influenced by its diverse complex culture and the visual material remains of its rich civilisation. Lady Catherine Young juxtaposes the unique form of Taj Mahal as a mirror image with religious and secular structures of Europe. While the Australian Helen Geier felt the need to work on the scroll format "to retain the meaning and the visual language of it as a decorative, celebratory, traditional Asian format, a meditation on nature",Talha Rathore uses the Indian miniature format.

Clare Richards works on handmade paper to transcribe her Indian experiences. Interestingly, the Australians Lyndell Brown and Charles Green see themselves as "one artist". Their art works, that comprise digital re-photographed reproductions, are an attempt to link memory and subject, subsuming memory as archival material that transcends barriers to be utilised globally.

Similarly, Andy Townsend employs maps to chart the metaphorical personal trajectory of his journey to and from India. Sanjeeva Liyanage parodies the most happening event in India and the East — the marriage.

Simon Mark and Mark Baudin epitomise cosmopolitan internationalism.

Alka Pande's venture has drawn upon post-modernist problems of cultural hybridity and experiences of multiple displacements in which the origin of physical location becomes irrelevant.

The exhibition is on from September 9 to 14 at the Visual Arts Gallery, India Habitat Centre, New Delhi.

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