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Love and relationships in the warm embrace of art

'Call Me By Your Name', a new group show at Delhi's Vadehra Art Gallery, features new and existing works by some of the titans of contemporary Indian art

Detail from 'Forest' by Sudhir Patwardhan. (Vadehra Art Gallery)

An art exhibition named after one of the most iconic books (and films) of our time raises as much curiosity as expectation. And Call Me by Your Name, a new show featuring some of the titans of contemporary Indian art, curated by art collector Udit Bhambri, which opens at Vadehra Art Gallery (VAG) in Delhi on Wednesday, lives up to both.

After the devastations of the second wave of covid-19, the tender embrace of art, as galleries cautiously open up to visitors, is much welcome—and so is the comforting thematic of Bhambri’s curation. “I wanted to turn to the gentler concept of love and relationships,” he says. “This is also the time when people are grappling with depression and separation from their loved ones.”

The artists, all picked by Bhambri from among his enduring favourites, belong to the VAG stable, and have made work (or chosen earlier ones from private and personal collections) to respond to the crux of the concept note: “Why do some relationships struggle with naming and why are so many relationships still unnamed?” Primarily painters, some of the featured artists have paired a new work with older one. Sudhir Patwardhan, best known as the great chronicler of modern Bombay (now Mumbai), is a case in point. His realistic pastel portraits of couples (dating back to 1990) are thrown into sharp relief by his 2021 acrylic Forest, where the literalism of human presence gets subsumed by metaphorical forces.

'Tree Lover' (2021) by Anju Dodiya.
'Tree Lover' (2021) by Anju Dodiya. (Vadehra Art Gallery)

Arpita Singh’s luminous watercolour of a pair of birds from 2010 is a far cry from her latest painting, Harbour, where broken words, distorted human forms, and crumbling buildings are entangled in crimson pain. Anju and Atul Dodiya also frame dialogues between their past and present imaginaries. Anju’s Tree Lover (2021), presented on fabric stretched across a padded board, resonates with a sense of loss that is more universal than human mortality. As opposed to her wispy figures and scenes of natural destruction, Atul’s watercolour Fucking Ancestors (2007), throbbing with a robust carnal energy, is a more wholesome take on love and relationships.

In the works of the other artists—Shilpa Gupta, NS Harsha, Gieve Patel, and Sunil Gupta—conceptual ideas intersect with sensual figuration. Especially Altered Inheritances: 100 (Last Names) Stories by Shilpa strikes out with its ambitious sprawl, where origin stories negotiate for meaning with notions of belonging.

Call Me by Your Name is on till 13 August at Vadehra Art Gallery D-53 Defence Colony, New Delhi.

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