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‘The Empire Strikes Back: Indian Art Today’ at Saatchi Gallery, London
The world-renowned Saatchi Gallery having marked its grand reopening in the 70,000 sq. ft Duke of York’s HQ building right in the heart of London in October 2008 aims to offer an innovative forum for contemporary art. As part of its endeavor to present and promote international artists, Saatchi showcases 26 artists from India. Many of them have been rarely or never shown in the UK.

The show, entitled ‘The Empire Strikes Back: Indian Art Today’ offers a striking and intriguing interpretation of new India. Elaborating on the broader theme, the organizers note in a statement: "The fast flourishing art scene, on the one hand, and the recent economic upheavals on the other, have prompted critical questions about Indian culture and globalization in a nation torn between a dependence on global consumption and a proudly independent mindset. Against this backdrop, contemporary Indian artists are making a wide range of work that responds to the complexities of 21st century India."

‘The Empire Strikes Back’ is a kaleidoscopic presentation of works by both emerging and established artists including Atul Dodiya, Chitra Ganesh, Probir Gupta, Sakshi Gupta, Rashid Rana, T. V. Santhosh, Subodh Gupta, Tushar Joag, Jitish Kallat, Reena Saini Kallat, Bharti Kher, Rajan Krishnan, Jaishri Abichandani, Kriti Arora, Huma Bhabha, Huma Mulji, Ajit Chauhan, Shezad Dawood, Mansoor Ali, Justin Ponmany, Schandra Singh, Tallur L.N, Hema Upadhyay, T Venkanna, Pushpamala N and Yamini Nayar.

Atul Dodiya’s ‘Woman from Kabul’ (Acrylic and marble dust on fabric) is a work about living in Afghanistan at the turn of the new millennium. Another work, entitled ‘Portrait Of Niko Pirosmani’ (1862-1918) done in enamel paint on laminate board portrays the Georgian primitivist, who invented a new technique of painting during periods of solitude and poverty.

Internationally renowned artist Subodh Gupta employs many of the original techniques of French conceptualist Marcel Duchamp by elevating the ready-made into an art object. He chooses signature objects of the Indian sub-continent and relocates them as art objects in monumental installations of stainless steel and tiffin tins. His ‘Spill’ (Stainless steel and stainless steel utensils) is an overbearing work of great scale that has at its center a larger than life stainless steel water vessel, with many smaller steel utensils spilling over the edge like water pouring out.

Jitish Kallat’s ‘Public Notice 2’ re-invokes the momentous speech delivered by Mahatma Gandhi on the eve of the historic 'Dandi March' delivered not far from the site where India witnessed among the worst communal riots since Independence. His ‘Eruda’ is colossal in scale. The work depicts one of the many young boys found selling books at India’s traffic signals whereas ‘Rickshawpolis 4’ (Acrylic on canvas with bronze gargoyles) is fashioned by his signature style of misshaped and contorted objects delivering a final image of multiple narratives. T.V. Santhosh’s ‘Tracing an Ancient Error’ and ‘Stitching an Undefined Border’ stir your emotions.

Rashid Rana’s ‘Veil Series’ is attention grabbing. He has photographed an anonymous figure dressed in a veil against a pixelated background. Upon further inspection, the work is actually a fragmented collage made-up of thousands of small, unfocused pornographic stills of women in the act of sexual intercourse. In ‘The World is Not Enough’ he creates an impossible image of immense beauty from his personal accumulation of photographs of social waste taken whilst walking through the disheveled streets of central Lahore. His ‘Ommatidia’ series in which he takes some of the leading actors of contemporary Bollywood is also on view.

In Probir Gupta’s ‘Rats and Generals in a Zoological Park’ (Acrylic and oxides on canvas) a somber-looking full-length portrait of Mahatma Gandhi stands robust in front of a colored version of the Bayeux tapestry. Throughout the work, contoured figures and morose forms riddle the canvas. There are other works including ‘Free Passage’ by the artist also on view. ‘Tar Man 5’ by Kriti Arora is a sculpture informed by the working men that the artist encountered along mountain routes through Kashmir. ‘Tar Man 6’ (Fibreglass and tar) is a mummification of one of the hardworking men who struggle through the war-torn landscape of Kashmir.

Reena Saini Kallat’s Penumbra Passage (Canine Cases) uses images sourced from the Internet and painted onto canvas. She expresses an interest in how violence has historically been legitimized by aestheticizing the means of destruction. By rewriting popular history, Chitra Ganesh appears to empower her character Amnesia with an opportunity to directly challenge the original fairy tale. For her, such preconceived social codes have always been heavily influenced by religion and literature and her work reconfigures these codes.

The strength of ‘The Ethnographic Series’ (2000-04) by Pushpamala N’ lies in her will to reconstruct such scenes whilst grappling with the archaic machinery and acting as subject and servant to the camera. Jaishri Abichandani’s ‘Allah O Akbar’ is created from decorative materials in green and red, such as colored leather whips and Swarovski crystals. Hema Upadhyay’s ‘Killing Site’ draws on the theme of migration and human displacement across Asia.

Rajan Krishnan’s ‘Substances Of Earth’ (Acrylic on Canvas) is a colossal acrylic painting that offers a dull palette and stylized forms. Bharti Kher’s ‘An Absence Of Assignable Cause’ among other works on view invents the appearance of the whale’s heart. Created in fiberglass, she has decorated the enormous heart and protruding veins and arteries with different colored bindis (dots). Justin Ponmany’s ‘Plastic Memory’, Rajesh Ram’s ‘Heavy Load’ and Schandra Singh’s ‘The Lazy River’ are among the other noteworthy works on view.

The ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ projects works that collectively contain a strong denunciation of the socio-political implications of impending globalization and urbanization, causing the disenfranchisement of remote rural areas as well as the rise of inequality and intolerance.