One of the most striking series on display at the Bikaner House is Khadim Ali’s The Other God and Goddesses. Featuring gouache and gold leaf on Wasli paper, the works allude to stories heard during childhood of heroes from historical texts, of imposed memories of gods and goddesses, and more. “God is not just unifying. As much as they play a role in social solidarity, they can create a social rift....a layer has been added to the layers of our memories, and the god who was once thought to be the manifestation of beauty and pride has become a symbol of shame and evil. The present work is an attempt to show the layers of imposed memories,” mentions the curatorial note by Latitude 28, which is presenting this series by Ali, an artist belonging to the Hazara tribe from Afghanistan.
The artist’s works are part of the fourth edition of the ongoing Delhi Contemporary Art Week (DCAW), which is taking place in the capital with all the covid-19 protocols in place. It seeks to draw on synergies between seven like-minded galleries: Blueprint 12, Exhibit 320, Gallery Espace, Latitude 28, Nature Morte, Shrine Empire and the Vadehra Art Gallery. The idea this year is to showcase a new wave of artists from India and the sub-continent at the Bikaner House—a venue that has been quite a favourite of art exhibitions this season, as the huge space allows for social distancing between viewers.
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This event has been marked by a series of firsts. For instance, Shrine Empire is presenting works by Divya Singh and Puja Mondal for the first time at the DCAW along with other gallery artists like Tayeba Begum Lipi, Samanta Batra Mehta, and Neerja Kothari. Vadehra Art Gallery too is showcasing emerging and younger contemporary artists including Shrimanti Saha, Vicky Roy, Shailesh B.R., Sujith S.N., Pranati Panda, Jasmine Nilani Joseph, Treibor Mawlong and Bakula Nayak.
One can find mini solo shows as well, such as the one by Raqs Media Collective, being showcased by Nature Morte. True to its practice of intervening with video into archival traces, the collective has created a diptych, Dyeing Inayat Khan (2016), which reanimates the facsimile of an eponymous Mughal miniature drawings, “using animation as a tool to traverse the threshold between life and death, between being animate and inanimate, and offering a meditation on what life means in the context of time and the inevitability of mortality,” states the gallery note.
In another room, the gallery is presenting a group of paintings by Basist Kumar, Mona Rai, Kamrooz Aram, and Thukral & Tagra, along with a single sculpture by Vibha Galhotra. A third room on the ground floor displays a suite of works by Ayesha Singh, including drawings, sculptures and wall reliefs. “[These] employ images of architecture and symbols from the government buildings of New Delhi to question the hierarchies of socio-political power and how design elements come to embody history,” adds the note.
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Vadehra Art Gallery too is presenting mini solo projects of emerging artists like Shailesh BR, Pranati Panda, Sujith SN, Shrimanti Saha, Vicky Roy and Treibor Mawlong. “From sculpture to painting, etchings to photographs, we are excited to have the opportunity to show in depth practises of these artists, and a range of artworks that will appeal to a wide range of collectors and audiences,” says Roshini Vadehra, director of the gallery.
Besides exhibitions by the seven partner galleries, there is also a specially curated group exhibition of interdisciplinary practices by a young curator, Reha Sodhi, titled Residues. This features new works by artists such as Manisha Parekh, Parul Gupta, and Reena Saini Kallat.
The past year has served as a time of both reflection and disruption. And the curation by the seven galleries reflects that. Sodhi, for one, feels that this past year has been about a collective intersection of introspecting our health and wellbeing including physical, emotional, social and environmental wellbeing. “We have had moments filled with questions and complex emotions. As we move forward we hold within ourselves residues of an unconventional time that we experienced together. The artworks in the exhibition feature interdisciplinary practices from seven Delhi-based galleries. By sharing personal anecdotes and observations the works reflect upon our transformation from disruptive chaos to frustration, reconciliation to acceptance, as we steer towards resilience with hope and doubt,” she says.
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Bhavna Kakar of Latitude 28 concurs. According to her, when the lockdown first began in March, no one had any idea how long it would last and how severe the pandemic would eventually become. When the pandemic hit, the gallery was busy coordinating its program of national and international exhibitions, all of which had to be postponed. “As soon as we realised that things were not returning to normal any time soon, we began to strategise ahead. I feel that creative practitioners are reconsidering the way we use the virtual domain. We live in a unique time where self-reflection amongst the art community, and the sharing of ideas, happens at warp speed with the instantaneous nature of social media. We have a phenomenon where an entire generation is simultaneously living through the most disruptive set of conditions in their lifetime and self-actualising in response,” she elaborates.
Not all works are direct allusions to the pandemic, while some have meditative qualities, others ponder on the pressing issues of the times. At Gallery Espace’s booth, only Puneet Kaushik’s works have a direct connection with the pandemic. In stark black and red, they are an expression of the claustrophobia he felt locked up at home and in his studio. The gallery’s booth also features small and medium format works by a selection of senior and emerging artists which engage with a range of concerns: history and imaginations of the past; environmental degradation in the Anthropocene; disease and the pathology of pain; social constructs of space; representation of women and the ‘other’; urbanism and its impact; and so on. “Some of our senior artists have been exploring new styles, mediums and concepts over the past year, and we will display these at DCAW,” says Renu Modi of Gallery Espace. “The ‘Curry & Rice’ series, for instance, are interventions on vintage prints by Waswo X. Waswo and R. Vijay, while Manjunath Kamath has used the Tanjore painting style in his drawings, something he hasn’t shown in India before. Arunkumar HG’s ‘Empty shell and the Churned Mountain’ is a large sculpture made of upcycled wood which alludes to the samudra manthan as a comment on climate change and environmental degradation.”
Blueprint 12, through its Platform section, is also showcasing experimental upcoming voices from the art world. There is Nihal Faisal, who has worked on carbon imprints and Sarasija Subramaniam, who has made etchings from a book Dictionary of Gardening. Meghana Gavireddygari explores subject matter of territory, censorship, and colonisation, amongst other themes in the larger spectrum of Indian politics and sociology.
Latitude 28 is showcasing works by artists from a wide range of fields. Kakar elaborates on the list: Baiju Parthan’s ongoing series explores computational biology to understand life and biological organisms. Then there are alternative contemporary practitioners such as Radhika Agarwala, who uses experimental mediums to create unique sculptures and also veterans like Jyoti Bhatt, “who have explored and re-explored symbols that stem from Indian culture through his stylised screen prints. This time at DCAW, we are not only showcasing Indian artists but several South Asia artists like Wasim Ahmed and Wardha Shabbir as well, who bring their unique practices to our spectrum,” adds Kakar.
The focus on interdisciplinary practices can be seen across the exhibitions. For instance, Blueprint12 is showcasing works by Visakh Menon, whose practice spans drawing, video, installations, and media art. He has been exploring the impact of human-machine interaction over one’s perception. His meditative and repetitive practice focuses on the visual language of digital artefacts and the aesthetics of glitch, error and noise. Compositionally, these works are inspired by geometric abstraction and colour field paintings, the process transitioning from digital to traditional mediums of drawing and painting.
At Latitude 28, of course there is the work by Khadim Ali, who has taken the miniature tradition and intermingled it with contemporary issues. “His history of migration, accompanied by trauma and loss, gets a visual which shows the political upheaval he faced due to his Hazara tribal identity as a child. He is showcasing a new body of work with us where he uses machine, embroidery and dye colours to create vibrant images of mythical as well as contemporary demons of his time. This year we also have Zahra Yazdani in our show who practices alternative photography to create images of crisis and trauma. She has produced an artist's book this year which will be accompanied by a video installation,” says Kakar
The fourth edition of the Delhi Contemporary Art Week will be held till 15 April at the main ballroom as well as the new refurbished Center for Contemporary Arts, Bikaner House, New Delhi