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Book Review
‘New Delhi New Wave’: Exponents of new art trends
The conflict between modernity and traditions gets sharper and fiercer even as the evolving Indian psyche struggles to preserve its unique social values and customs, equally allured by the sweeping changes ushered in by the strong tides of globalization. The works of leading contemporary artists from India, now well recognized on the international stage, try to depict the dilemma of their countrymen. They look to not only underscore the mystical mediation and deep dialogue between the modern and traditional, but also map out the undercurrents that mark the conflict.

Their expression, idiom and the subject matter, though universal at its very core, recall the artists' humble roots. They are deeply connected to the pathos and drama of the daily struggle that constantly engulfs the lives of millions of Indians. No surprise, their intriguing body of work strikes a chord with audiences cutting across boundaries. ‘New Delhi New Wave’, a new engaging title released by renowned publishing house Damiani, tries to fathom and reflect upon the trend.

Founded in May 2004, Damiani Editore is as an offshoot of the printing company, Grafiche Damiani, which specializes in art and photography lithographic printing. ‘New Delhi New Wave’ (Italian/English; pages: 288; illustrations: 160; 36.00 EUR) is a significant step for the French publisher in its quest to assimilate with emerging cultural and artistic trends in developing countries like India. Its publications cover a wide array of topics including photography, architecture, design, pop culture and collecting. Besides the projects often concerning the unpublicized activity by noted art and photography practitioners, it also constitutes an observatory of the contemporary international artists and of fast-changing social landscape through their works.

The extensively researched essays that form part of their new release are edited by Jérôme Neutres with in-depth text provided by Radhika Jha, who has authored ‘Smell’, a novel translated in twenty languages, and also a collection of stories (both published by Penguin). On the other hand, Jérôme Neutres has extensively researched on contemporary art with a series of essays (Genet sur les routes du sud, L’Amour fou, Le Goût de New York, and many on Indian art), curatorial projects (Made by Indians, Basquiat french collections), and documentaries (Le Pont du Gard, Barcelone). He tries to grasp the way new-generation Indian art practitioners are confronting reality in the backdrop of dreams often unfulfilled and promises seldom kept. Radhika Jha belongs to the same generation and hence probably can identify with the artists’ practice, processes, narrations and the underlying thought that bind their work.

‘New Delhi New Wave’ analyzes the oeuvre of 14 artists, including Subodh Gupta, Ravinder Reddy, A. Balasubramaniam, Sonia Khurana, Anita Dube, N Pushpamala, Shilpa Gupta, Bharti Kher, Thukral & Tagra, Baba Anand, Bharat Sikka, Tejal Shah, Kriti Arora, and Krishnaraj Chonat. Elaborating on the research project, an introductory note states: “India is the land of many contradictions that mirrors the ‘globalized village’. It harbors great economic disparity; mine of new technologies and profoundly backward country that in recent years, among the clamor of Bollywood and the notes of Bhangra music, has become famous for its rapid reawakening: the new literature, the new fashion, the new economy and now we’ve the new art whose most significant exponents and works are collected in this book, with an abundance of images.”

Each of the artists featured in it follows a unique trajectory of form and expression to exhibit contemporary concerns. For example, Ravinder Reddy reinterprets the ancient Hindu statue tradition to deal with contemporary Indian woman in a pop key, and those of Pushpamala, which are portraits of the female stars of Bollywood and religious Indian women. If religion comes to the fore in Anita Dube’s video installations that revisit the ancient Hindu iconographic tradition through the theme of alms, Shilpa Gupta’s portfolio hinges on exploration of multimedia platforms. Subodh Gupta reinterprets everyday objects in his bulky metal sculptures and installations. His art essentially employs things that are part of the milieu in which he has grown up. Perhaps most striking to western eyes is his usage of cow dung.

‘New Delhi New Wave’ strives to explore and understand the varied forms of contemporary imagination through these artists’ socially relevant work, covering a gamut of issues relevant to their times. It looks to provide a definite context and specificity to the rising stature of contemporary Indian art.