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‘In Transition: New Art from India’
India is experiencing dramatic socio-political transformation alongside remarkable economic growth. With a keen eye on the country’s past and an informed view to the future, contemporary Indian artists are responding to these changes, as they look to examine their social, political, economic and religious implications. In an international group show, entitled ‘In Transition: New Art from India’, TV Santhosh, Sudarshan Shetty, Shilpa Gupta, artist collective Thukral & Tagra, Reena Kallat, and Hema Upadhyay showcase their installation-based work, at Richmond Art Gallery in Canada.

Among the participating artists, Shilpa Gupta uses common modes of representation and technology, the familiarity of which helps make the work accessible to the viewer. Her work often addresses the ideas of borders and territorial politics. In ‘National Highway 1’ she presents a shifting landscape, the road between Srinagar and Gulmarg, in the beautiful, albeit troubled landscape of Kashmir. Its pristine beauty is glimpsed in the video through views of the charming chinar trees, herds grazing, lush green fields, teeming towns and shots of people by the roadside. Here the artist subtly makes us aware of the psychological pressure often felt by visitors to this destabilized state.

On the other hand, Reena Saini Kallat’s work often explores the places where the public and the private intersect. ‘Lunar Notes’ and the accompanying photographic installation ’Anonymously Yours’ grew out of her fascination with what she calls ‘lovegraffiti’- testaments of affection visible in the form of initials or names scratched in public places. It comprises hundreds of bonded-marble beads, each carved with names of lovers, ‘strung vertically like raindrops’ into a curtain. From a distance they can be seen to form an image of the Taj Mahal like which ‘Lunar Notes’ balances between the public and the private, the monumental and the intricate.

Conceived after the terrifying Mumbai terrorist attacks, TV Santhosh’s ‘Living with a Wound’ revisits his pet themes that now have become even more relevant and urgent. The work consists of three sculptural forms that recall ossuaries, repositories of skeletal remains. LED panels mounted on top of the pieces scroll a text recounting the story of an unknowing participant in medical testing: On a primary level, the work speaks about reopening old wounds—the text seems to be drawn from a survivor’s testimony —but in the broader context, speaks of the relation of a society to the unabated violence unleashed by forces of global terrorism.

In ‘Taj Mahal’, Sudarshan Shetty has created countless miniature reproductions of the historic monument, bolted together to form a monumental block. Re-scaled and repeated, the image is transposed from its original context and meaning to become decorative, almost meaningless. Near the installation a video of the Taj, overlaid with an image of flames, reinforces this very idea of destruction. We are meant to understand the process of disintegration in meaning quite in the same way the monument has transformed from private gesture through national symbol, to a ubiquitous image sans any potency, akin to the tourist souvenir.

‘Keep Out of Reach of Children’ by Thukral & Tagra presents ordinary plastic bottles on commercially produced shelving units. Through the usage of commissioned labels and their strategic placement on the shelving unit, the duo reveals the social critique that underlines their work. The title repeats a common warning found on everyday household products, exhorting care and proper supervision of those in power to safeguard those who must be protected. Standing at a distance from the work allows the viewer to note the deliberate arrangement of objects that create the form of an armored tank.

Hema Updahyay’s ‘Loco-Foco-Motto’ is part of a series she has been working on since 2007. Constructed of thousands of un-ignited matchsticks assembled into elaborate chandeliers, these pieces explore violence co-existing with beauty. A nascent violence is implied in them, a commentary on the intolerance that touches so many lives in today’s world. At once delicate, nostalgic yet dangerous, the disparity of creating a chandelier out of matchsticks takes the object out of the realm of logic, situating it firmly in the metaphoric. The materials are familiar and innocuous, but in the wrong circumstance, dangerous. Matchsticks can be both constructive and destructive. ‘Loco–Foco–Motto’ points to the ‘moment’ when the individual decides which course to pursue.

The intense and introspective works on view collectively explore the issues critical to India’s redefinition in the age of globalization. Summing up their spirit, curator Keith Wallace notes: “The artists presented are negotiating the past, present, and future, can be considered and understood. The key is not to necessarily view the work as having no parallels to our own lives and culture, that it represents an other, but instead, to acknowledge the cultural specificities that inform it, while looking beyond to explore the subject matter that lies within it and which at times may not be so different from our own.”