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Book Review
Tuning to ‘voices of change’ in Indian art
An intriguing mix of some known and upcoming, young and senior, emerging and established names, whose works respond to the present complexities and realities, have generated immense interest in the contemporary Indian art, not just within the country but globally.

The idea of a recent volume, entitled ‘Voices of Change: 20 Contemporary Artists’ (publisher: Marg; pages: 308; price: Rs 3,500), by Gayatri Sinha is to map the contours of their art practice that deals with various facets of challenging day-to-day existence in a country marked by opulence as well as its seamier underside.

This eclectic collection of essays, launched last year to coincide with a group show courtesy Religare Art, signals an informed inter-textual reading of the new generation of Indian artists that has left an indelible scene in the 21st century. Establishing themselves in international sphere and drawing applause as well as curatorial attention, they explore several pressing issues of concern to the modern Indian society in a wide array of media like photography, painting, drawing, large scale sculpture, video installations and mixed media work. In this context, this seminal volume collates views of several renowned scholars, critics, anthropologists, and museologists, to offer a unique perspective.

Incidentally, these artist’s creations formed part of an exhibition, entitled 'Looking Glass', curated by Gayatri Sinha. It engaged different cultural organizations, later translating the project into an art walk. The idea was to build an art movement and create a dynamic platform to encourage learning, appreciation and recognition of Indian art. That’s exactly what the book looks to achieve. The author has edited a number of noteworthy research documents like ‘Art and Visual Culture in India: 1857-2007’ (Marg Publications, 2009); ‘Indian Art: an Overview’ (Rupa Books, 2003); ‘Woman/ Goddess’ (1998); ‘Expressions and Evocations: Contemporary Indian Women Artists of India’ (Marg Publications, 1996).

The renowned art expert has contributed to several Indian and international publications. Her core areas of enquiry are woven around the structures of gender and iconography, economics, social history and media. Gayatri Sinha’s concerns as a researcher essentially involve constructing a language in order to create a solid theoretical framework for understanding the complex elements that enter and make Indian praxis. She has given lectures on Indian art– its past and present, at the National Museum, Japan, Foundation in Tokyo, Tate Modern in London, Tate Britain, Asian Art Museum in Singapore etc. She has curated a series of show in India and across the world.

Talking about the core concept of ‘Voices of Change’, she states the artists featured not only work on different media and revisit their own art forms, but also reflect on the dramatic transformations occurring around them. She adds: “In the 1950s and 1960s, Indian art was largely influenced by the Nehruvian contradictions. The 1970s marked a phase of social conflict. There was a sense of gradually moving away from the ideals of art. Art followed a whole new trajectory in the 1980s and thereafter. It displayed critique about issues like injustice, violence and terror. Artists are now the forerunners in bringing these to the people’s notice.”

The volume begins with an introductory essay, entitled ‘New persuasions in contemporary Indian Art’ by the editor. The titles of the essays are self explanatory. ‘Baiju Parthan: Prophesies in Pixels and Paint’; ‘Jayashree Chakraborty: Landscape in time and space’; ‘Surendran Nair: Openness of secrecy’; ‘Pushpamala N.: Self in stills, conflict within the frame’; ‘N.N. Rimzon: The metaphor of irony’; ‘Anita Dube: A lover’s discourse’; ‘Nataraj Sharma: simulated realities & virtual experience’; ‘Atul Dodiya: between the baroque & the minimal’; ‘Sudarshan Shetty: transforming contemporary sculpture’; ‘Bose Krishnamachari: History, memory & postmodern Pastiche’; ‘Anju Dodiya: Beauty’s dark underside’; ‘Subodh Gupta: Object world’; ‘Shibu Natesan: reading the contemporary moment’; ‘TV Santhosh: Between the Satanic Verses and the axis of evil’; and ‘NS Harsha: Making of Good things’ inform us about the crux of their practice.

‘Bharti Kher: of Monsters, misfits…’; ‘Jagannath Panda: Negotiating shifting ground’; 'Riyas Komu: the seekers mind conversation’; ‘Jitish Kallat: Guilt gilded in gold’; ‘Shilpa Gupta: Tracing figures of absence’ are among the other essays. Each of them is accompanied by succinct artists’ conversations with Parul Dave Mukherji, Deepali Dewan, Grant Watson, Arshiya Lokhandwala, Vyjayanthi Rao, Deeksha Nath, Sharmini Pereira, Brinda Kumar, Latika Gupta, Sasha Altaf, Shaheen Merali, Ullekh N.P., Nancy Adjania, and Ranjit Hoskote, among others.

This thoroughly researched document puts the spotlight firmly on the best artistic talent from the country and their outstanding work that addresses a range of issues like the expanding city, religion and mythology in the context of modern urbanizing India, war and violence. With a touch of humor and irony, depth and insight, they deal with some of the complex aspects of our social polity through multiple devices.

‘Voices of Change’, in a way, acquaints us with the changing face of Indian art by encapsulating the practices, themes and thoughts of some of the top contemporary artists from the country.