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Traversing ‘Indian Highway’ and ‘Indian (Sub)Way’
The core theme of two international group exhibitions revolve around the outwardly stable economic and social situation that has brought India into international spotlight, at one level, even while capturing the travails of the common countrymen – a byproduct of skewed progress, at another level.

Several leading contemporary artists feature at the significant events that question today’s consumerist culture, pointedly questioning the relationship between use and value, as well as highlighting contradictions inherent in everyday life with a touch of irony and crude aesthetic, at times. ‘Indian Highway’ at the Reykjavík Art Museum traces the impact of early technology stretching to the information superhighway, which has made a major contribution to India’s economic progress - and to the artistic development visible in the country over the last few decades. It also involves reflections on significance of the road for migration, movement, and development.

Founded in 1973, the Reykjavík Museum has emerged as one of the largest visual art institutions in Iceland. Its mission is to unveil contemporary art in its many glorious manifestations through diverse programs at its three venues, namely Asmundarsafn, Hafnarhus and Kjarvalsstadir. The works presented by the museum in its special India-specific show address universal issues related to democracy, the environment, race, religion, gender, and class in the Indian context. The original version of the exhibition was hosted, first at London’s Serpentine Gallery, and later at Astrup Fearnley Musuem of Modern Art, Oslo in 2009.

The show focuses on video works created by artists Shilpa Gupta, Ayisha Abraham, Ravi Agarwal, Amar Kanwar, Raqs Media Collective, Abhishek Hazra, Tushar Joag, Sonia Khurana, Kiran Subbaiah, Tejal Shah, Ashok Sukumaran, Baptist Coelho, Nikhil Chopra, Sunil Gupta, Kiran Subbaiah, Vivan Sundaram, Debkamal Ganguly, Ruchir Joshi, Kavita Pai/Hansa Thapliyal, Priya Sen, Surabhi Sharma (with Siddharth Gautam Singh), MR Rajan Raghavan, Vipin Vijay, Subodh Gupta, and Nalini Malani.

Each artist deals with specific social and human issues. For example, Tejal Shah’s work is primarily concerned with issues of gender, sexuality, class, and politics. Shilpa Gupta employs digital media in the form of online art projects and video environments fused with sculptural and photographic elements. She seeks the participation of viewers in her work, using interactive technology to examine contemporary themes. Ayisha Abraham creates experimental films that examine narratives of identity, memory and history, representing their inherent complexities by intercutting dislocated images and sounds. The work of Raqs Media Collective locates them on the intersections of contemporary art, historical enquiry, philosophical speculation, research and theory. Subodh Gupta uses found objects that are recognizable icons of everyday Indian life. Ravi Agarwal focuses particularly on the marginalized sectors of society within Delhi’s rapidly developing landscape using images of the street, people at work and in labor. Formally trained as a sculptor, Kiran Subbaiah works in a range of media, including assemblage, video and internet art. A common approach of his practice is the subverting the form and function of objects.

The group exhibition will travel to various cities, not necessary as the original version, but as a unique collaborative effort with the respective hosting museum. It will offer an insight into a vibrant generation of artists keen to work across established boundaries in different media, such as painting, photography, sculpture, video, installation, and online art. A modified version of ‘Indian Highway’ has already been showcased at Herning Museum of Contemporary Art. An ‘exhibition within the exhibition’ – Transformations – by artist‐curator Shilpa Gupta collates works by several noteworthy artists.

Another major show of Indian art, ‘Indian (Sub)Way’ at London based Grosvenor Vadehra, deals with the various facets of challenging day-to-day existence in the country marked by opulence as well as its seamier underside that defines the edgy, subterranean its theme. The exhibition, curated by renowned art critic-curator Yashodhara Dalmia, highlights the country’s weak infrastructure, widening economic disparity and the failure of governance. Among the participating artists are Atul Bhalla, Anita Dube, Anandjit Ray, GR Iranna, Gargi Raina, Gigi Scaria, Jagannath Panda, Manjunath Kamath, Mithu Sen, Nataraj Sharma, Probir Gupta, Ravinder Reddy, Riyas Komu, Shibu Natesan, Sudhanshu Sutar, Sujit SN, Sunoj D, and TV Santhosh.

A curatorial note elaborates: “The traditional way of being, formal yet feisty, altered with the modernization process which gained pace after India's independence. In recent decades the high-tech onslaught brought about by globalization has introduced sweeping changes within cities and has not left villages untouched. The artists seem to ask 'Where indeed is the 'Indian Way' heading? Several contemporary Indian artists collectively scan with an ironical tinge, the new glittering towers and glitzy malls juxtaposed with the slums, cesspools and other detritus of existence. The extreme well being and cringing deprivations now largely provide the binaries of existence.”

The show comprises paintings, installations, photographs and digital works by contemporary artists. They articulate in a forthright manner their experiences of living in current challenging climate. It is Ravinder Reddy's sensuous head - both iconic in its gaze albeit punctuated by hubris – that characterizes the undercurrents of this interesting show. Its theme well could be underlined by Gigi Scaria’s large digital work. In both a humorous and poignant vein it denotes the metropolis with its ever growing pleasure zones and business districts. The high-rises, which rest on either side of a damaged flyover with traffic flowing smoothly below, build a dramatic interface.

The artists collectively point to the uneven form of development creates bizarre, somewhat comic situations where an eclectic internationalism jostles with the local, even archaic modes. For this, they invent devices that hone in on the glaring contradictions of existing in a country moving ahead on a curvilinear highway in spite of its problem areas.