How does one present strands of one’s own memory to those, who were not privy to those moments? The ongoing exhibit, Around the Table: Conversations about Milestones, Memories, Mappings at the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art (KNMA), hosted in collaboration with the Asia Society India Centre, attempts to do just that. Divided into four segments, the display is not bound by themes. Rather, one can see a fluid, intuitive curatorial vision, one aimed at a less-structured exhibition. The flow and feel are that of an attic, an artist’s studio.
Curated by the museum director and chief curator, Roobina Karode, the exhibition features seven artists—Akbar Padamsee, Krishen Khanna, Gulammohammed Sheikh, Arpita Singh, Jyoti Bhatt, Himmat Shah and Vivan Sundaram—who hailed from a time when the nation was seeking a new identity. “These seven artists won the Asia Society, India Centre Vanguard Artists Game Changer Award through years and this exhibition is a tribute to and a celebration of their contribution to Indian art,” she adds. Besides their art, the exhibition includes the voices of the artists through letters, sketches, personal photographs and conversations. “It was indeed daunting to select works from the oeuvre of such prolific artists, some of whom have six decades of practice behind them," says Karode.
It is noteworthy that many practitioners from the generation kept up with the latest technology of that time, such as photography. In fact, one of the most immersive segments in the show is of photographs by Jyoti Bhatt. In a candid documentation, he extensively photographed tribal pockets of western India and created a huge body of work on the artistic community.
According to Karode, the camera became a fascinating tool to gratify their need to capture the visible reality, and it also allowed for experimentation. “Krishen Khanna observed a fascinating play of light and shadow, along with the crows, that sat on his studio window. He photographed all of that. He also captured an image of his artist-friend M.F. Husain on a scaffolding,” she elaborates. In her view, Sundaram was more experimental and allowed reality to merge with different time frames and spaces in his photographs of aunt Amrita Sher-Gil and her father Umrao Singh Sher-Gil. Sheikh, on the other hand, was interested in photographing historical and modern architecture, enhancing different perspectival views, shapes and patterns through his vision. “Padamsee went a step further and made an experimental film, Syzygy,—an eleven-minute silent, black-and white-creation—, shot on 35mm,” Karode illustrates.
Globally, Asia Society navigates shared futures for the continent and the world across policy, arts and culture, education, sustainability, business, and technology. The Asia Society India Centre is one of its 14 such centres around the world. Within the arts, the focus is to become a catalyst for change, through collaborative curatorial initiatives that promote public engagement. According to Inakshi Sobti, chief executive officer, Asia Society India Centre, the organisation has always been deeply committed to the arts as one of its key areas of focus and impact. “The annual Asia Arts Game Changer Awards, which recognises and honours pioneering and emerging artists from India and other parts of Asia, is a testament to that,” she adds. 2021 marked 15 years of Asia Society in India and as the organisation crossed this milestone, it began to consciously expand its arts and culture footprint.
While the organisation marches ahead, the exhibition, in a way looks back at stalwarts, who stood out as distinct voices with clear positions, and who were interlocutors of modern and contemporary art in India.
Around the Table: Conversations about Milestones, Memories, Mappings is on view at the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, Saket, New Delhi till 22 December, 2022.