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International exhibits that exude the new Indian spirit and visual trajectory
A series of ongoing international shows of contemporary art from India are contextualized in backdrop of the country’s new economic challenges, social complexities and personal challenges at an individual level apart from tracing its enchanting visual trajectory. Here is a look at the significant solo and group shows on view at the leading galleries across the globe that effectively reflect and resonate with the essence of individual psyche and social mindscape of the new 21st century India.

In the first ever major presentation in an American museum of his work, Jitish Kallat has designed a site-specific installation that connects two key historical moments - the First World Parliament of Religions held on September 11, 1893, and the terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center on that very date, exactly 108 years later. The resulting work creates a trenchant commentary on the evolution, or devolution, of religious tolerance across the 20th and 21st centuries.

Incidentally, his 'Public Notice 2' had re-invoked the momentous speech by Mahatma Gandhi on the eve of the 'Dandi March'. Constructed out of about 4500 recreations of bones shaped like alphabets, each akin to a misplaced relic held up the haunting image of violence even as collectively they pleaded for peace. The basis for the renowned contemporary Indian artist's new installation on view at The Art Institute of Chicago is a landmark speech delivered by Swami Vivekananda in Chicago. The Parliament was the earliest recorded attempt to create a global dialogue of religious faiths, and Vivekananda used it to call for universal tolerance.

Madhuvanti Ghose and Marilynn Alsdorf have curated the show. An accompanying essay elaborates: “With ‘Public Notice 3’, the artist converts Vivekananda’s text to LED displays on each of the 118 risers of the historic Woman’s Board Grand Staircase of the institute, adjacent to the site of the great preacher’s original address. Drawing attention to the great chasm between this speech of tolerance and the very different events of September 11, 2001, the text of the speech will be displayed in the colors of the United States’ Department of Homeland Security alert system.” Significantly and symbolically, unveiled on the 9/11, the installation explores the possibility of revisiting the historical speech as a site of contemplation, symbolically refracting it with threat codes devised by a government to deal with this terror-infected era of religious factionalism and fanaticism.

Simultaneously, a significant group show at New York based Aicon Gallery features works by Jaishri Abichandani, Shelly Bahl, Ruby Chishti, Mike Estabrook, Iqbal, Naeem Mohaiemen, Sandeep Mukherjee, Nitin Mukul, Anjali Srinivasan, and Chitra Ganesh among others. Through diverse mediums, they examine the conceptions and expectations of reality each with their own unique interpretation. The participating artists explore the idea of memory as a continuous and multifaceted representation in a constant state of flux. What emerges is a kind of objectivity that rests less upon tangible reference points, but rather associative recollections. Whether appropriated and reconfigured from popular sources, or registered as pigment on a surface, the works explore the crafting of reality, and how memory serves us.

‘Malleable Memory’, curated by Nitin Mukul, prompts us to embrace our inherently subjective interpretations of both personal and collective histories through the evolving and illusive device of memory. The idea is to inform our understanding of ourselves, our pasts and our futures. Another interesting show by the gallery at its London premises is entitled ‘Dali's Elephant’. It features works by Sakti Burman, Jogen Chowdhury, Manjit Bawa, K. Laxma Goud, Rekha Rodwittya, Prasanta Sahu, Avishek Sen, and Suneel Mamadapur that trace the echoes of Surrealism in modern and contemporary art from the Indian Subcontinent.

Explaining the origin of the show, an exhibition note reveals, “Air India commissioned Salvador Dali to produce a limited edition ashtray which was to be given to a select group of lucky first-class passengers in 1967. He produced a small unglazed porcelain ashtray composed of a shell-shaped center with a serpent around its perimeter. This was supported by three stands, two of which point in the same direction and resemble an elephant's head. The third stand was inverted so that it resembled swan's head. The painter was initially paid no more than a few hundred dollars for his design but when they received the design the airline bosses were so delighted that they made him the surprise gift of an elephant. This episode is one of the few concrete encounters recorded between Surrealism and India.” Its influence or role within modern and contemporary Indian art largely remains undocumented, something that the show tries to rectify.

Last but not the least, another unique event at Deutsche Guggenheim, Berlin collates film and video works by some of the innovative media practitioners. Elaborating on its purpose, Sandhini Poddar’s curatorial note to the show ‘Being Singular Plural: Moving Images from India’ states: “Philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy’s notion of ‘being singular plural’ provides its structural framework. Recognizing the interconnectedness of all beings, the selected films and videos invite the viewer to reassess conventional boundaries between such categories as fact and fiction, art and cinema, and objectivity and subjectivity.

“By manipulating sound, image, and text in experimental ways, the artists shift viewers’ positions from those of passive spectatorship to ones of active participation—to places where the ‘we’ of ‘being together’ is in the immediate here and now.” The works tend to reveal the quieter principles of perception, practice and process even while exploring the individual nature of life and the moving image.