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London gets a glimpse of South Asian art

Four Indian galleries are showcasing the best of contemporary Indian and South Asian art at Sadie Coles’ gallery in Mayfair

Detail from Prabhakar Pachpute's ‘Resilient Bodies In The Era Of Resistance’. Courtesy: Experimenter, Kolkata
Detail from Prabhakar Pachpute's ‘Resilient Bodies In The Era Of Resistance’. Courtesy: Experimenter, Kolkata

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Everyone’s surprised that four Indian galleries have been able to drum up this level of interest and excitement in London,” says Shireen Gandhy, director of the Mumbai-based Chemould Prescott Road. Together with Delhi-based Vadehra Art Gallery, Kolkata-based Experimenter and Mumbai-based Jhaveri Contemporary, she is staging an exhibition of contemporary Indian and South Asian art in London. Titled Conversations Of Tomorrow and hosted at Sadie Coles’ gallery in Mayfair, the exhibition showcases the wide range of thematic concerns—social, political, emotional, ecological—being addressed by some of the foremost artists from the region.

A large wall installation at the entrance, Resilient Bodies In The Era Of Resistance by Prabhakar Pachpute, sets the tone, grand and defiant, with a woman sowing the land and her future at its centre. Flanking this work are a series of pierced paper works by Mithu Sen and charcoal drawings by K.M. Madhusudhanan, arranged to form a collage. While Sen references particular moments of pain, communal violence and police brutality in India since its independence, Madhusudhanan points to our shared humanity, using the language of music and cinema.

Mrinalini Mukherjee, 'Bagh', 1984, etching
Mrinalini Mukherjee, 'Bagh', 1984, etching

“Madhusudhanan is a thorough Marxist in his leanings and I find it fascinating how he’s able to bring out the unifying factors in an increasingly polarised world today,” explains Roshini Vadehra, who represents the artist. Atul Dodiya’s signature cabinet of curiosities, arranged with stills from Alfred Hitchcock’s Blackmail, captures the artist’s love for cross-cultural references—drawing from British film and pop culture in particular— and completes the section.

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The works on the upper floor take an introspective turn. Radhika Khimji and Anju Dodiya explore the trials and trauma of lockdowns in their mixed- media paintings, whereas the late Mrinalini Mukherjee’s etchings present blissful emotional and natural landscapes. In another room are a set of striking watercolour paintings by Lahore, Pakistan-based Ali Kazim that bring to mind fragments and memories of the long-lost Indus Valley civilisation, while Simryn Gill’s photographs predict a plastic-infested future. The result is a space of endless juxtapositions and connections, with the many realities of South Asia presented in difference and dialogue with one another. Each work holds immense wall power, standing out while coming together in unexpected ways.

The idea for Conversations On Tomorrow was conceived in 2021. Through the pandemic, the four galleries were at the forefront of initiating and leading online collaborative exhibitions under InTouch, as well as taking it offline into a physical exhibition, Onsite, at Bikaner House in Delhi. “At the time, we were thinking about taking our programme to an international art city such as London. I bounced the idea off Sadie Coles, whom I knew through the International Galleries Alliance, and she immediately responded by offering her space. It was such an open and generous offer. We took it up as a purely collaborative exercise and here we are, doing it together,” says Prateek Raja of Experimenter.

Simryn Gill's ‘Channel' (2014). Courtesy the artist and Jhaveri Contemporary, Mumbai.
Simryn Gill's ‘Channel' (2014). Courtesy the artist and Jhaveri Contemporary, Mumbai.

Amrita Jhaveri, co-founder of Jhaveri Contemporary, says, “I would say sharing of resources—intellectual and practical— is the best way forward.” Roshini Vadehra adds, “Then again, you also need excellent hosts like Sadie, as well as synergy and good working relationships between the gallerists to be able to cohesively come together on an exhibition like this. ...I hope this collaboration will encourage others to take a step in this direction.”

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With curators and directors of Tate, Whitechapel and Serpentine Galleries in attendance, and a steady flow of British collectors making purchases at prices ranging from £6,000-100,000 (convert), the exhibition opens up a new world of possibilities and conversations for tomorrow.

Conversations On Tomorrow can be viewed at Sadie Coles HQ, London, till 18 June.

Gautami Reddy is director of digital and communications at the India Art Fair.

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