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Radical departures in contemporary Indian art at Hub India

Hub India is being hailed as one of the most significant conversations that contemporary art from India has had with the West in recent times

‘Crossing Over IV’ by Sudipta Das (2020), rice paper, on view at the MAO
‘Crossing Over IV’ by Sudipta Das (2020), rice paper, on view at the MAO

As soon as you enter the Palazzo Madama in Turin, you come across Jayashree Chakravarty’s ‘Personal Space’, a layered painted installation, which is the artist’s imagined map built of painted strips of paper. At eight feet tall and 40 feet wide, the scroll furls and unfurls across the space. Its imagined history interacts with that of the space—the medieval section of the museum from where the Roman army is believed to have entered. The work acts like an anchor, a womb that you can nestle into. On the diagonal end is Ranbir Kaleka’s tri-screen video work that references the transience of time and reality. This is part of Hub India, which is being hailed as one of the most significant conversations that contemporary art from India has had with the West in recent times. 

Blurring the lines between modern and contemporary art, this complex project, featuring 300 works by 65 artists, rejects the colonial notion of linear progression. Curated by Myna Mukherjee of Engendered and Davide Quadrio, and presented in partnership with a host of organisations—the ICCR, Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, Embassy of Italy in India, Fondazione Torino Musei and Artissima—the project has been divided into two parts. The exhibition ‘Maximum Minimum’ was held as part of Artissima, the international fair of contemporary art in Turin, earlier in November. However, the museum shows, clustered under ‘Classical Radical’, are being held at Palazzo Madama, MAO and Accademia Albertina till 15 January, 2022.

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“The display in Accademia is a simple one that brings the work within a transitional space. The crates and the instability of half-hanged works mark the presence of the show in this venue as if “passing by”,” says Quadrio. “We are particularly proud of this solution that treats the space of Accademia as if it is an ‘open studio’ where works are just unpacked and are ready to offer their magical experience to the audience.”

The shows at the MAO and the Accademia are particularly interesting as they look at ‘neo’ miniatures and the various strands associated with this genre—has the form changed while the material has remained the same, has the use of the gold leaf continued, have contemporary miniatures become more abstract and whether storytelling has changed? “One can see works by Anindita Bhattacharya, Nilima Sheikh and also by Manjunath Kamath, who uses a lot of tempera and gouache. There are artists like the Singh Twins interweaving different narratives about migration and the diaspora within a single composite;  Baaraan Ijlal whose work embraces gender and politics; Wardha Shabbir and Priyanka D’Souza, who experiment with the form and location of the miniature,” says Mukherjee.  She further adds that while Bhattacharya retains the form, embellishment and ornamentation of older miniature styles, she destabilizes the content by shifting the perspective from the centre to the margins, and focusing on that which has been left out in history, the parts that one does not get to see.

Jayashree Chakravarty’s ‘Personal Space’ at the Palazzo Madama
Jayashree Chakravarty’s ‘Personal Space’ at the Palazzo Madama

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The works at each of the three museums respond to the permanent collections. At the Madama, imagery of Christ and Madonna stands in dialogue with Benita Perciyal’s works, which Mukherjee calls “a dark-bodied beautiful Dalit representation of Christianity.” She further talks about Samanta Batra Mehta’s work, made on commission, which uses the carpet making techniques and motifs of flora and fauna. This 40-feet-long work engages with the museum collection of Islamic art, bowls from Central Asia, and those from the pre-Gandhara period. “There are classical works and radical departures on display, in terms of content, ideas and material. It shows the many ways in which artists can reference the past while also shining a lens on the present and contemporary moment,” she says.

The works, part of both ‘Maximum Minimum’ and ‘Classical Radical’ are a cross-section of genres, mediums and processes, ranging from line-drawings and paintings to miniatures and sculptures; terracotta and metal to paper works and canvas, prints and etchings to digital and AI works. They blur the polarities of religion, caste or race, Asia and Europe, figurative representation or abstraction. Galleries such as the Nature Morte are thrilled to be part of Hub India and the museum shows. “It is a historic undertaking for contemporary art from South Asia in the beautiful city of Turin,” says co-director and curator Peter Nagy. The politics of representation was very important to the two curators. It was important to insist on a viewing of work from the subcontinent, which wasn’t tokenistic, or limited to one kind of narrative.

“We also wanted to focus on what was happening socioculturally across the country. There are certain areas where artists are invisibilized. More male artists than female ones make their way to international platforms. But we wanted to make these changes naturally. We didn’t just want to show exciting work by younger artists but also those with the distilled aesthetics of time by artists like Mona Rai, who haven’t gotten their due,” says Mukherjee. While there are women artists like Sheba Chachi and Ayesha Singh talking about how urbanisation affects them, there are also works by the likes of Shambhavi and Sangita Maity, who root themselves in the rural. The curators felt such conversations were important for people to understand the many strands underlying Indian art today.

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Mukherjee also wanted to move away from the Eurocentric view of Indian art, where the reference point is always western pedagogy. “It is validating that a platform like Ocula chose Ghanshyam Latua with Bharti Kher as two artists to watch out for. And the museums, after they saw the works, asked for extension on dates as they were happy about how the works entered into a dialogue with their collections. 

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