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Significant international shows of contemporary Indian art
A series of international shows, comprising works by leading Indian artists, seek to investigate inherent multiple dualities and identities within the Indian society and psyche. ‘Bring me a Lion’ at Cecille R. Hunt Gallery (St.Louis, USA) features Dhruvi Acharya, Chitra Ganesh, Tushar Joag, Rina Banerjee, Jaishri Abichandani, Yamini Nayar, Rakhi Peswani, Bari Kumar, Jitish Kallat and Reena Saini Kallat. The idea is to map the contours of the recent art practice of India to underline the theme. Curators Dana Turkovic and Jeffrey Hughes have conceptualized this significant exhibition.

Explaining the title, a curatorial note states: “The emblem of the Republic of India is based on Ashoka’s Lion Capital. Placed atop a pillar to commemorate the Buddha’s first sermon, it displays four apposing majestic Asiatic Lions. They signify the great Emperor and also Gautama, the lion of the Sakya clan - combining both militarist might and the Buddha’s peaceful message of the Middle Way. The ancient mythological texts and tales are replete with stories of both the grandeur and foibles of lions like the powerful half-man/half-lion incarnation of Vishnu. Hence the lion is a fitting metaphor for the many sides of contemporary Indian art and culture.”

Another ongoing exhibition of artists is courtesy the South Asian Women’s Creative Collective (SAWCC). It reflects on the complex issues, which frame South Asian identity, based in a gamut of social-personal spheres - gender, media representations, or politics. ‘A Wild Gander’ on view at Brooklyn’s BRIC Rotunda Gallery showcases works by Jesal Kapadia, Yamini Nayar, Divya Mehra, Mala Iqbal and Chitra Ganesh.

Baseera Khan, BRIC’s Assistant Curator for Contemporary Art, has curated the group exhibition from SAWCC, a New York–based NGO that works for the visibility and development of South Asian women artists. Many contemporary South Asian artists face a constant eviction of both identity and art-historical contexts. The organization recognizes the need for personal identity as a valuable platform for art making, so that they have the opportunity to crack the Western art canon.

A curatorial note elaborates: “These women artists collectively try to transcend and look beyond conventional understandings of contemporary South Asian identity, to reclaim representations of their heritage, reference pop culture and art history, and reveal the influences between East and West. Skillfully interweaving medium and material, their diverse body of work conceptualizes the presence of liminal spaces between identity and formal study of artistic practice.”

The title of the new show is drawn from Joseph Campbell’s collection of essays ‘The Flight of the Wild Gander’. It references the Sanskrit concept of enlightened sages, who are able to transcend the mundane, just as geese transcend the earth through flight. The sage feels at home both on water and on land, analogous to a person who adeptly negotiates disparate geopolitical cultural codes.

Simultaneously, Geneva based Faye Fleming & Partner unveils a show of talented emerging artists from India and Pakistan. It coincides with the Nalini Malani retrospective at the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Lausanne. The title ‘Have I Ever Opposed You?’ quotes Mahatma Gandhi’s response to the then British Governor-General Lord Mountbatten – on the day of the vote for Partition of India – during which the great freedom fighter observed his day of silence.

The inclusion of artists from the warring neighbors attempts to reflect the impossibility of analyzing contemporary art in both countries in isolation. In terms of style, the curators emphasis that artists in both countries often reference aspects of the tradition of Persian and Mughal miniature painting in their work.

An accompanying essay observes: “Their shared history, tragic and violent in political and human terms, is also a shared history of visual culture. The visual heterogeneity of a vast and sweeping country like India makes any reduction towards a national common denominator impossible. The dialogue we would like to set between Nalini Malani’s work and the next generation emerging artists aims to draw out the issues of displacement, confrontation and opposition, both in terms of politics and sexuality, that face South Asia (and the world at large).”

The competing forces of rampaging modernity and surviving tradition, humble village economies and eye-popping international capitalism, indigence and Diasporas form the core of key discourses within contemporary Indian culture as evident in these contemporary Indian art shows.