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Delhi Contemporary Art Week: New media and young voices take centre stage

Currently in its sixth edition, the annual cultural event presents a synergy between six Delhi-based contemporary art galleries

Zeruanza, watercolour and gouache on paper, Manjot Kaur. Image: courtesy Latitude 28
Zeruanza, watercolour and gouache on paper, Manjot Kaur. Image: courtesy Latitude 28

In 2017, likeminded gallerists from the Capital gathered together to conceptualise an event that would showcase a new wave in contemporary art. That set the foundation for the Delhi Contemporary Art Week (DCAW), which has now become an annual fixture in the city’s cultural calendar. Currently led by six galleries—incidentally all helmed by women—the event is currently in its sixth edition. To be held between 3-7 September at the Bikaner House, the DCAW is all set to showcase new media and new voices. The participating galleries include Blueprint12, Exhibit 320, Gallery Espace, Latitude 28, Shrine Empire and Vadehra Art Gallery.

The sixth edition also showcases the evolution of DCAW. According to Mandiraa Lambba and Riddhi Bhalla of Blueprint12, the earlier editions set the foundation by showcasing a diverse range of contemporary artworks and fostering dialogue between artists, collectors, curators and art enthusiasts. “Post-pandemic, there has been a broader shift in curatorial strategies. There's a growing emphasis on thematic coherence and the exploration of interdisciplinary intersections,” says Lambba. Anahita Taneja, director, Shrine Empire, concurs. She adds that most collectors now wish to view works and engage with the programming in person rather than attend online exhibitions. The DCAW has been curated with all these shifts in mind to offer an immersive experience.

The spotlight is once again on emerging artists from the subcontinent. Blueprint12 is presenting works by Avantika Bawa, who has recently joined the gallery’s roster of artists. Her practice lies at the intersection of drawing and sculpture, the functional and the non-functional. Latitude 28 is showcasing for the first time in India works by Pakistani visual artist Farhat Ali, who is based out of Badin, Sindh and focuses on reinterpretation of history and popular imagery. Vadehra Art Gallery (VAG) too is presenting a young South Asian diasporic artist, Zaam Arif, a Pakistani-American visual arts practitioner living in Houston Texas. “His work is rich with philosophical and literary influences, as well as a deep and provocative exploration of the human experience,” says Roshini Vadehra, director, VAG.“With powerful visuals, seamless craft and synergy between his characters and their environments, his work has viewers drawn to it, often creating a deep personal resonance with a yearning and an existential inquiry into our personal selves.”

Also read: An exhibition of artist self-portraits in the age of selfies

History is a deeply contested subject these days, and young artists are presenting their own unique takes on it. Take, for instance, Farhat Ali’s powerful imagery. According to Bhavna Kakar, founder-director, Latitude 28, in Mughal history, along with the written word, one also finds a visual account that was undisputedly commissioned by the ones in power at the time. “Farhat Ali’s work inspires the viewer to mock that power, in order to make explicit the comical nature of historical imagery,” she elaborates. “Besides adding cartoons from contemporary popular culture into reproduced images of historical paintings, the artist re-contextualises different time eras, locations and aesthetics into a single frame, thus creating a newer kind of historical imagery for the future. It is somehow, like the adage, ‘The past is always changing, the future is definite’.”

Gallery Espace is showing works by Devi Seetharam
Gallery Espace is showing works by Devi Seetharam

Another artist, Manjot Kaur, represented by Latitude 28 at DCAW, is exploring ideas of power and agency. Her detailed paintings try to “de-patriarchise” the sovereignty of ecology and women’s bodies. “She explores what it means to be human, what it means to be non-human, and where these meanings rupture and collide. The paintings open up possibilities for a post-queer and post-human world where beings move towards an uncanny kind of becoming,” adds Kakar.

One genre, which has really emerged as a powerful medium for expression of feminism and personal politics, is textile art. At the DCAW, Gallery Espace is presenting a selection titled, ‘Common Thread’, which showcases the rich diversity of expression in contemporary textile art. “Several of our artists have been working with textiles in interesting ways, addressing a range of concerns – social, political, ecological, historical and so on,” says Renu Modi, founder-director, Gallery Espace. She cites the example of Puneet Kaushik, who has used cobblers’ needles to stitch strips of canvas. His work also alludes to how the once-ubiquitous cobbler is slowly disappearing from the city streets.

Through a myriad textile crafts and techniques such as the Dhaka muslin, chikankari and batik, Paula Sengupta explores the forgotten history of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah in Kolkata, where he lived for the last 30 years of his life. “The canvases of Devi Seetharam—who is exhibiting for the first time in the city— are rooted in the local context as well. In her work about groups of men, standing about in public spaces in Kerala, Seetharamdepicts them from the torso down, drawing attention to their postures—feet apart and planted firmly on the ground, arms akimbo or crossed in front. These gestures speak of the insidious workings of patriarchy, and the invisibility of women in public spaces,” elaborates Modi.

These new voices share space with contemporary masters such as Atul Dodiya, Jagannath Panda, N.S. Harsha, and more. For instance, VAG is showcasing works on canvas by Sujith S.N. while also presenting a neon sculpture by Shilpa Gupta.

Also read: A new exhibition by Parag Tandel, the artist-archivist from Koliwada

In addition to individual showcases, the DCAW will also host a group exhibition, featuring works of 18 artists, drawn from each of the participating galleries. This year, the exhibit, ‘Conjunction of the Spheres’, has been curated by Girish Shahane. “In any long-lived belief system, whether Mesopotamian, Indian or Egyptian, the place of gods shifts in importance over the centuries, as do their traits and powers. There is frequent overlap in roles among divinities, especially when it comes to issues central to pastoral and agricultural societies like fertility and war. The exhibition does not pretend to be either comprehensive or scholarly in its interpretation of Babylonian cosmography,” states the curatorial note.

The sixth edition of the Delhi Contemporary Art Week will be held at the Bikaner House, New Delhi, between 3-7 September

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