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Indian ethos in a global context drives new art themes
Economic growth and urbanization coupled with the increasing intervention of cutting-edge technologies have dramatically altered India’s socio-economic landscape over the last couple of decades. New foreign influences infiltrate, collide and intertwine with the country’s rich traditions and ancient values that still remain unchanged. Despite embracing a new way of life, people here retain traces of its glorious past.

Socially sensitive, talented contemporary artists highlight this irony through their practice placed in a global context; their themes, intimately linked with the local ethos, assess the impact of globalization and other pressure points for drastic change in a society still heavily reliant on tradition. This element of dynamism is evident in a series of events and exhibitions like ‘Concurrent India’ at Helsinki City Art Museum in Finland along with Kulturhuset, Stockholm. It features works by Archana Hande, Chitra Ganesh, Gigi Scaria, Hema Upadhyay, Nalini Malani, Pushpamala N, Reena Saini Kallat, Riyas Komu, Sheba Chhachhi, Shilpa Gupta, Thukral & Tagra etc. They touch upon power structures that govern the actions of the individual. Their key themes include the status of women and the life of the weakest members of society or of those detached from it altogether. Many of them also address India’s recent tumultuous history, in particular the aftermath of the Partition in 1947.

Reena Saini Kallat highlights in her art the fates of individuals, while simultaneously addressing the traumas of entire communities. Her installation ‘Preface’ shows the preamble of the Indian constitution in Braille (to underscore the constitution’s promise of equality). The text projected on the book was made from frozen donated blood samples. Hema Upadhyay recounts stories in which a person is searching for one’s place and roots. In the works ‘Killing Site IV’ and ‘Sleep–Dream–Sleep’, threatening mood and violent horror combine with the beauty of traditional Indian ornamentation. The recurring themes in Nalini Malani’s oeuvre are the oppressed status of women, war, economic exploitation and the environmental degradation, whereas Shilpa Gupta's art revolves around terrorism, human rights, religion, social classification and resultant insecurity. Archana Hande’s ‘www.arrangeurownmarriage.com’ makes a quirky comment on the marriage institution worldwide.

Chitra Ganesh highlights alternative lifestyles and figures omitted from official histories and mythologies. Pushpamala N terms her photographs ‘photo romances’ that she herself stages and directs. The figures in them are based on popular imagery. Sheba Chhachhi has snapped images of holy female ascetics across India for close to a decade. Traversing across a lexicon of gestures, inscriptions and images, The installation ‘Escaped! …while I Was Cooking’ by Thukral & Tagra is about bitter disappointment and sad fates. Vivan Sundaram’s practice takes a stand on environmental issues as well as on behalf of the disadvantaged. The sculptures of Valay Shende bear a resemblance to luxury goods, yet their topic is the everyday worries of people in an urbanizing India. Gigi Scaria explores the connections between urban location and social class. Riyas Komu’s works contain a strong political message. Terror, war, chauvinism and exploitation form their core.

‘Conundrum’ is another significant group show that takes place at Bose Pacia, Brooklyn, New York. It features paintings, drawings, sculptures, apart from mixed media works that incorporate fabric wrapped tree roots and hybrid human/animal & animal/plant forms, apart from technically modified figures. The participating artists work within an aesthetic paradigm, to explore different modifications and derivations of various organic forms and constructs. Anita Dube explores critical ideas, visually compelling and at once, personal and political in nature. Mithu Sen explores the permutations of identity politics and the vagaries of self-perception. Suhasini Kejriwal’s lush and dense landscapes upon closer examination reveal tropical flora fauna, insects, human organs and other anatomical forms. Arunkumar H.G. explores the concept of Land and all that it entails and elaborates upon: metaphors for the human and social bodies; questions of ownership and usage; the migration of rural populations to urban centers. Traversing across a lexicon of gestures, inscriptions and images, Raqs Media Collective invents novel visual concepts, which question artistic norms, systems of representation and multiplicity of space.

Back home, Jitish Kallat’s ‘Stations of a pause’ is on view at Chemould Prescott Road, Mumbai. It showcases a wide range of his practice that addresses the themes of sustenance, survival and mortality in the urban environ. A 750-part photographic work ‘Epilogue’ narrates a very personal story, tracing his father's life through all the moons he saw. Measuring his lifespan with around 22,000 moons in 63 years; the image of a waxing or waning meal replaces every moon, denoting the life cycle as periodical rotations of fullness and emptiness. On the other hand, a 7 part lenticular panoramic photo 'Aspect Ratio' includes all seven colors of the rainbow and the image of a ubiquitous Mumbai street that flicker, and flip, as a viewer walks past it or even moves in front of it. A new series of paintings ‘Untitled’ (Stations of a Pause) represents candid imagery of the ubiquitous Mumbaikar. Simultaneously, his ‘Traumanama’ ( gouache, tea-wash, spray-paint), which reimagines urban destruction as an eviscerated, leaking body – returning full-circle to Bell’s entrails, forms part of 'Watercolour' at Tate Britain.

‘The Land’, is the title of TV Santhosh’s first solo exhibition in Berlin. The exhibition in collaboration with The Guild takes place at Nature Morte. A conceptual note states: “Today, to a large extent, the News Media defines the nature of our relationship/s with the outside world. In the context of the turmoil in the Middle East, its role and its relation to the nature of war has been shifting. This group of new works is the outcome of the artist’s preoccupation with the images of the on-going and changing nature of war, memory and perception. The shift from theories of resolution to conflicts to the actualities of victims, oppressors, international peacekeepers and nation states has also clearly suggested that the nature of these conflicts is getting more complex and solutions appear to be more elusive.”

T V Santhosh’s sculptures and paintings map social unrest and its inherent political implications through a construction of multiple layers of metaphors - to investigate the evolving histories of the nature of human rights, war and citizenship. They use the linguistic devices of color codes and graffiti, apart from inversions of positive images into their negatives. Mention must also be made of a solo show by Rashid Rana at London based Lisson Gallery that highlights large-scale photographic works that he considers ‘unpacking abstraction’. From a distance, they appear akin to richly textured, patterned abstract compositions. However, on closer inspection, each of them is revealed to be formed from thousands of smaller context specific digital images that offset the perceived serenity of the larger image.

The photographic sculpture, ‘Books’ (UV Inkjet print on aluminum), features images of books layered on blocks that themselves resemble books. It both maps and manipulates the distance between idea and object, representation and reality. Here the artist challenges our understanding of three-dimensional forms through the use of pixilated imagery. The shift between two and three dimensionality is further explored in a large-scale stainless steel cube sliced through with a photographic mosaic of image fragments.