Hand it to photography
From books to exhibitions and festivals, it has been photography all over. The age-old debate about its validity as art seems to have been put to rest and everyone from professionals to amateurs is soaking in the accessibility the democratic medium affords.
(Snapshots of Indian Photography Festival Hyderabad)
So, the photography festivals’ list grew longer with additions like the Shillong International Photography Festival, India Habitat Photosphere and Indian Photography Festival in Hyderabad. National Gallery of Modern Art, Delhi, a premier space dedicated to modern and contemporary Indian art held a retrospective of Prabuddha Dasgupta. Raghu Rai, besides a book on his 50 best photographs of the career, also launched a bi-monthly photography magazine Creative Image . And as the year winds up, the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art in Saket, Delhi hosts ‘Conversation Chambers: Museum Bhavan’, by Dayanita Singh, one of the most significant artists of our times, who works with images. Our new found love for photography will be further nurtured with newer festivals like Travel Photo Jaipur in 2016 and Museum of Art & Photography (MAP) coming up in Bangalore in 2017.
(Dayanita Singh’s Museum of Chance)
Curator and photographer Ram Rahman attests this trend: “2015 has been unusual in its attention to photography. I was invited to speak at NYU in Abu Dhabi, at the Photomuseum in Winterthur, Switzerland and MoMA in New York. I have also curated major back-to-back retrospectives of Sunil Janah at the NGMA in Mumbai and JH Thakkers’ Bombay movie star portraits at the Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum in Mumbai. Chatterjee and Lal gallery had the first-ever commercial show of vintage Sunil Janah pictures of industries selling at Rs. 9 lakh each. Also in Mumbai, Jhaveri Contemporary had the first exhibition of Raghubir Singh’s work since his death in 1999. The Delhi Photo Festival was a huge draw with lots of youngsters attending…”
Indigenous art in vogue
No longer is it enough to have moderns and contemporaries in your burgeoning art collection. A Gond, a Warli or a Madhubani you must have. Cognizant of the rising demand of indigenous art, the stakeholders are making efforts to make the most of it. Delhi-based Ojas Art set up the Ojas Art Award this year to identify promising artists working in this genre. 21-year-old Roshni Vyam — she belongs to a family of traditional Gond artists and is studying at NIFT Bangalore — Venkat Shyam and Bhajju Shyam were the first three recipients of the prize.
Pichwwai — an intricate portrayal of Krishna on cloth traditionally hung behind the main deity in the temples of Nathdwara in Rajasthan — got a major boost with Reliance Foundation sponsoring ‘Gates of the Lord: The Tradition of Krishna Paintings’ at the Art Institute of Chicago. The show is on till January 2016.
‘The Royal Hunt: Courtly Pursuits in Indian Art’ a collection of Mughal and Rajasthani paintings that depicted royalty, nobility, and courtiers engaged in hunting was also showcased at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Kanha Museum of Life and Art at Singinawa Lodge in Kanha National Park, Madhya Pradesh is a valuable addition to the tiny list of tribal museums in the country. The 1,000 square foot space dedicated to the art of the Gond and Baiga tribes will soon be thrown open to the public. Curated by art historian Alka Pande, the museum will host pieces of art that represent tribal beliefs about birds, trees, animals, their values and art installations in the open with a focus on the ethos of Kanha, as a step towards conserving ecology through art.
Jaya Jaitly, founder of the Dastkari Haat Samiti, an initiative for promoting Indian crafts, says: “While there seems to be a right and magical time for everything, there has been consistent work going on for a long time to develop and nurture indigenous art. As the world has opened up to the wonderful heritage of India, these artists have found their space and are ready with innovative ideas and a new confidence. Galleries have woken up to Gond, Phad, Mata-ni-Pachedi and even textiles arts like Shibori, Kalamkari, and Kantha. ‘Artists’ are now doing ‘crafts’ and vice-versa…”
Return of the classic
With a lot of veterans showing this year, the thrust seems to be on painting. Paris-based artist Sakti Burman, showcased his canvases bearing their trademark marbling effect in a show that centred around mythology titled ‘A Private Universe’.
Another biggie was Anjolie Ela Menon, who returned with a solo ‘Through the patina’ after a gap of five years at Vadehra Art Gallery in Delhi. Comprising 12 works in oil, a triptych, collages and miniatures, the show in a way marked her return to pure figuration.
The reticent late artist K.S. Kulkarni was also celebrated in ‘Esoteric Expressions’, an exhibition of 26 paintings that revealed his mastery over form and colour. Another vintage show that had art lovers hooked was Gopal Ghose’s ‘Rustic Resonance’ a beautiful assortment of landscapes culled out from the collection of Kumars of the Kumar Gallery.
Baroda-based artist K.G. Subramanyan, one of the most significant Modernists, had his show of latest works in Santiniketan, his alma mater. The exhibition had travelled across the country before concluding in Shantiniketan on February 15, his birthday.
And towards the end of the year, two masters Kolkata-based Jogen Chowdhury and Bangalore’s S.G. Vasudev have got together for their love of lines at Galerie De’Arts in the city.
Sharan Apparao of Apparao Galleries says: “People are getting back their confidence in buying and they are buying what they know well — which is painting. Sanjeeva Rao does beautiful watercolours about migration and urbanisation and his show in Chennai did amazingly well.”
(Shweta Bhattad’s performance in Taiwan ‘Bharat Mata in Taiwan’)
Nagpur-based artist Shweta Bhattad, art and activism go hand-in-hand. The self-effacing quietly went and did an art performance at COP-21 on December 7 in Paris. The work drew attention to farmers’ plight in India and around the globe. The artist’s first ever solo ‘Kabhi Namak Tumhe Kam Laga Kabhi... Kabhi Namak Tumhe Zada Laga Kabhi’ held this year at Gallery Latitude dealt with rural India dealing with challenges like open defecation.
Karthik Sood continues to shine. Awarded emerging artist of the year by The Foundation for Indian Contemporary Art (FICA), this year Sood was chosen for the prestigious Gasworks International Residency Programme in the U.K. He dabbles in a host of media like archival prints, paintings and T.V.-based installations.
Vadodara-based Shailesh B.R., who studied at Chamarajendran Academy of Visual Arts, Mysore and Maharaja Sayajirao University, Baroda, is the recipient of the FICA Emerging Artist Award 2015. His transformation of everyday objects into a machine is fascinating.
(Artists Manil and Rohit)
For artist duo ManilRohit, the subject of female sexuality is nothing new. At the second Pune Biennale in February, the duo showcased ‘The Chronicles of Sitaphal’, a sexual satire making references to Sita and Hanuman. It ran into trouble with right-wing activists demanding that it be brought down.
At Jaipur Art Summit, there was ‘Bovine Divine’, which had a plastic cow suspended in the air conveying the message to save the animal from eating plastic. The work because of its subject, the cow, which trended all through the year in the political arena, ruffled a lot of feathers for the wrong reasons.
It is not unusual for Arpita Singh to respond to what is happening around. In her show of sketches, drawings and water colours, the senior artist showed a work which dealt with the killing of Syrian archaeologist Khaled al-Asaad by the ISIS in Palmyra.
Yet another powerful show was that of Katharina Kakar ‘Crossing the Lakshman Rekha’ which made a strong statement against female foeticide, rape and domestic violence through her drawings and installations.