Sometimes art is the best catharsis. Even as India emerges into what seems like the beginning of the end of the pandemic, a major project featuring more than 65 Indian artists will open in Turin, Italy, in the coming days, signalling the relaunch of public and overseas engagements for art. Coming in these fractured times, the Hub India exhibition seems like a testament to the irrepressible quality of the humane and artistic spirit.
Curated by Myna Mukherjee and Davide Quadrio in collaboration with Turin’s annual contemporary art fair, Artissima, Hub India is backed by many players from the world of culture and art. Discussing the multi-part project, the curators outlined some of the main issues in a joint statement: “Crossing the cultural rubicon between modern and contemporary art, this curation rejects the colonial attitude of linear progress; rather, it uses tradition as a means of innovation, a continuous rebirth.” Their process included gathering works from a selection of several galleries and from the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art (KNMA) to put together a careful list that’s a little different from the usual set of names. With a plethora of artists to choose from, the curatorial team has been at work for over two years during the lockdown, on Zoom and social media, to cull out a collection that represents India’s ‘glocal’ resonance.
According to Kiran Nadar, chairperson of KNMA, “Hub India showcases diverse strands of contemporary Indian art across generations, juxtaposing established and emerging practices for new and unfamiliar audiences in the Western world.” Calling it “an extraordinary effort,” Nadar says the show’s overriding aim is to present “the fertile, peculiar and unique terrain of contemporary India, unfolding under the themes, ‘Classical Radical’ and ‘Maximum Minimum’.”
Incidentally, Hub India was originally initiated for Artissima to provide an overview of the art ecosystem in India, comprising galleries, institutions and artists. However, it subsequently grew into an expansive curation, which will be showcased in four venues across Turin. The show will consist of ‘Maximum Minimum,’ an exhibition at the Artissima fairgrounds, and ‘Classical Radical,’ a tripartite show at Museo d’Arte Orientale (MAO), Palazzo Madama and Accademia Albertina. The event will also provide a first look at Sama , a feature-length documentary film directed by Onir, Mukherjee, and Quadrio on contemporary art in Italy and India.
Through a fresh lens
‘Maximum Minimum’ refers to a panoramic view of the startling visual culture that reflects the abounding polarities, contradictions and dualities that comprise India. From the country’s ancient spiritualism to its modern materialism, its colonial past to its growing global centrality, its migratory flows from the largely agrarian and rural towards rapid urbanisation, from dogma to technology, from marginal to mainstream, from historical monuments to contemporary architecture, from normative to radical, the show plans to look through myriad histories and representations in the subcontinent.
The exhibition at MAO comprises contemporary renaissance composites that both iconise and obliterate classicism, while the Palazzo Madama explores syncretism and hybridity through mostly three-dimensional works that connect and juxtapose with the outstanding collection in the palace. The Accademia Albertina exhibition will be an attempt to look at the classical and traditional legacy through a fresh lens.
Featured in ‘Maximum Minimum,’ Bharti Kher and Tanya Goel are artists associated with Nature Morte, a contemporary art gallery in Delhi. They work with abstract motifs like Kher’s ever-present bindi and Goel’s screen, which become symbolic of identity and history. Kher’s bindi series ‘I’ve Seen More Things than I Dare to Remember’ is evocative in title and form. It has maps of the U.S. and the rest of the globe covered in white translucent bindis and iconic black ones. There are also colourful bindis that swirl and perhaps spiritedly evoke the cellular form of the novel coronavirus.
However, Kher’s approach is not heavy-handed; there’s always a sense of humour lurking. Goel’s ‘Fractal’ is a digital drawing and lenticular print that evokes her fascination with the science of colour. The work is layered imagery that moves from her city of origin, New Delhi, to a larger universal expression that is the sky, clad with clouds and strips of lighter colours that could perhaps evoke tall buildings.
The selection also features cutting-edge AI work by Harshit Aggarwal and 64/1, and tech-art thought leaders like Raghava K.K. For Artissima, Raghava is going back to his roots as a painter with an oil on canvas titled ‘Edges and Centre’ that looks at the binary debate.
Gallery Espace is showcasing work by Puneet Kaushik, G.R. Iranna, Manjunath Kamath, and Dilip Chobisa. While Kaushik’s quiet and restrained watercolour and beadwork speak of the trepidation of the pandemic, Kamath employs historical reappropriations of imagery, Chobisa deals with miniature religious monuments, and Iranna talks of the transience of life through the motif of ash.
Soft and luminous
Emami Art Gallery is represented by a selection of young and emerging artists as well as a few established names. Bholanath Rudra’s paintings, portraying prevalent environmental issues, are not messages of protest. Exceeding the limits of the work’s title and theme, they convey to the viewer a more profound truth within the soft, luminous watercolours. “I am excited that we will finally be “physically” there (present) at the art fair with fresh artworks for the Artissima audience. There is something in art you can’t get online, from digital platforms. Besides the exhibition pavilion of the art fair, we will showcase our artists’ work in two significant museums. It is a substantial effort,” says Richa Agarwal, CEO of Emami Art.
Arpita Akhanda’s practice is very much rooted in South Asia’s social and political complexities. She is presently engaged in an inter-media dialogue along body, process and interactivity. Ravinder Reddy is a senior artist who has been working with the female form for the last two decades. For him, it is not ‘transient emotions’ that play an important role in the creation of an art object; rather, it is the pure study of form and its ‘universality’. Reddy believes in creating sculptures of the universal idea of woman. They are confrontational with wide eyes, blockish features, and garishly coloured skin. He brings about a delicious mix of pop art portraits and traditional Indian religious statuary.
Akar Prakar presents Jayshree Chakravarty, Manish Pushkale and Piyali Sadhukhan. Chakravarty’s work, titled ‘Unfolding: The Route Map of Experience,’ is a larger-than-life installation, from KNMA, that focusses on and captures the mainstay of her practice: the influence of nature and the onslaught of relentless human activity on the natural environment, which she has closely observed since moving to Salt Lake, Kolkata, in the 1980s. Her drawings, paintings, paper scrolls, and life-size installations revolve around the withering relationship of nature and mankind.
“It is a pleasure to have my work exhibited at prestigious institutions such as KNMA and now at the Palazzo Madama,” says Chakravarty. “Hub India is a unique platform that focuses on providing a pedestal for creativity,” says Pushkale.
The feminine space
Rekha Rodwittiya, represented by Sakshi Art Gallery, is known for her iconic female forms that confront the viewer with their wide eyes and heroic stance. “I hold a consistent desire to examine the feminine space of survival, the spirit of endurance and the empowerment of pride and self-dignity that centuries of feminist oral histories are infused by; and which cast their shadows for me to find my resting space within,” says the artist, who presents viewers with two watercolours that are painted over photographic autobiographic imagery, on paper.
Art Alive is featuring Teja Gavankar, Ghana Shyam Latua, and Chandrashekar Koteshwar for Artissima and Sakti Burman and Paresh Maiety for the museum show. The gallery has focussed on promoting young and emerging contemporary artists along with a portfolio of masters and seniors.
Shrine Empire presents Tayeba Begum Lipi and Sangita Maity. While Lipi employs the razor blade as a potent metaphor, one that indicates both repair and abrasion, Maity’s ‘Views from A Certain Distance’ are a set of serigraphs and photo transfer on iron sheets. They look into the juxtaposition of the personal and the political. Her current projects are based on socio-cultural, geographical, political and even environmental issues that are related to the excessive rubber plantation in Tripura, India’s second-largest rubber producing state.
Latitude 28 is showcasing Niyeti Chadha Kannal, Sudipta Das, Noor Ali Chagani, Chandan Bez Baruah and Rahul Kumar. “I am sending part of my ongoing series titled ‘Body City’ for the Italy show. I respond to urban cityscape. The form and textures evoke a sense of an aerial view of a city with meandering roads and rivers and fields, but at the same time resembles a microscopic view of tissues of the body. A skeletal rendition with welded iron rods asks about the hollowness of contemporary lives,” says Kumar.
A groundbreaking exhibition in many ways, Hub India clearly has the potential to put Indian art on the world map in a uniquely focused manner. As Reena Lath, director of Akar Prakar, says, “It’s not often that you find so many Indian artists and galleries under one roof, outside the country. With this project, Myna and Davide have created history of sorts by having three major museums in Italy showing both modern and contemporary Indian artists along with an art fair.”
A delightful opportunity to see such a major representation of Indian contemporary artworks in one city, the show is doubly impressive for accommodating a wide range of genres, styles and periods. If you are lucky enough to be in Italy at that time, you can catch it from November 5 to December 5. What a way to end an otherwise miserable year.
The writer is a critic-curator by day, and a creative writer and visual artist by night.