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Significant shows and events revolving around Indian art
About eight years ago, Aroon Shivdasani helmed the debut contemporary art event of the New York-based Indo-American Arts Council. It focused solely on paintings. The latest collection of artworks of Indian Diaspora artists, entitled, ‘Erasing Borders: Exhibition of Contemporary Indian Art of the Diaspora’, now includes an array of mediums including sculpture, installation art, and video.

All 43 participating artists are connected to South Asia chosen on basis of a meticulous and a lot more inclusive selection process, spreading it to the entire subcontinent. The organizers reveal that earlier artists would send works believing the idea was to trace their roots. However, increasingly, you realize ‘people are people’ –more so since so many of them have spent life in their adopted lands. Their art may also be a part of their life today. It’s an event that alludes to the ‘straddling art of the Indian Diaspora’.

Simultaneously, New York based Aicon Gallery just hosted ‘POP’, the first part of an exhibition series featuring works by the Progressive Artists Group members. It focused on a selection of works on paper by Ram Kumar, Akbar Padamsee, MF Husain, SH Raza, and FN Souza. Second part will feature an array of works on canvas by several other Progressives.

Although all renowned for their distinctive works on canvas, the first part focused exclusively on paper works by these five Modern Indian art masters in a wide range of media, including watercolor and photography. They considered the works on paper not just as a window to larger-scale canvases, but rather as fully developed creations in their own right. Through them, they tried to attain experimentation in their iconic pictorial languages. Second part in September is to feature a selection of large scale works on canvas.

The Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) in Canada presents ‘Embellished Reality: Indian Painted Photographs’ that date from the 1860s, to the 2000s. Indian visual form in the modern period has often combined past & present techniques in novel hybrid varieties. These painted photographs exemplify this phenomenon by blending established painting styles and the new photography technology. This show features works from the museum's collection acquired in the last decade.

Made to commemorate, convey status, and mark rites of passage, Indian painted photographs offer a unique insight into a certain class of the society. In India, the practice of applying paint to embellish a photograph, covering the entire print at times, points to a different conception of the photograph-one, which employs photography to enhance the emotional potential of the image even while attaining the other-worldly goals of painting.

An off-beat art event, entitled ‘Encounters, journeys through language and landscape’, explores the contours of our personal relationship with the nature and environment through a series of temporary installations and artist interventions, performances and artist-led walks, from Fermyn Woods Country Park to Lyveden New Bield. Specially commissioned and existing work uses visual, written and spoken language to make physical and conceptual links between the rural landscape and the places we create for ourselves.

The works investigate how open spaces can become places full of meaning and how we develop a sense of belonging in unfamiliar places.Artists and poets are to lead walks between the two sites, exploring their local history, and culture through music, visual images, conversation and verse. Works by artists like Tellervo Kalleinen & Oliver Kochta-Kalleinen, Paula Boulton, Rebecca Lee, Graeme Miller, Shane Waltener, Caroline Wright, and Jitish Kallat are part of the engrossing artistic exercise.

On the other hand, Mother India: The Goddess in Indian Painting at The Metropolitan Museum of Art (Florence & Herbert Irving Galleries for the Arts of South-Southeast Asia) features works from its collection, which depict Devi in all her intriguing aspects. The goddess is the source as well as the affirmation of life. The concept is deified in various forms in early Indian religions. Though we lack a historical understanding and perspective of the quasi-magical-religious function of the primitive images of the female form on view, we still identify them as goddesses.

An accompanying note elaborates:”We witness a bit later, the emergence of deified females who have identifiable roles associated with the protection of children and with the life-affirming powers of water. The former finds expression in goddesses who originally may have been devourers of children—that is, the bearers of disease. Over time some were placated and thus acquired more benign aspects. The enthroned goddess with a cornucopia and children, from northwestern India, represents this tradition. A second association is with the creation of life. This female principle is expressed in a number of ways; as the bearer of life, we see the appearance of the cult of the yakshi—personified female nature spirits—who embody the fecundity and fertility of nature.”

Another powerful expression as the source of life is the personification of the subcontinent’s great rivers—the Ganges, the Yamuna, and Saraswati—worshiped as the ancient deities. Sri Gaja-Lakshmi or the benign goddess being bathed by a pair of elephants was a metaphor for the monsoons’ life-giving powers, and denoted virtues of prosperity, good fortune, and auspiciousness. Saraswati was revered as the embodiment of wisdom and knowledge. Ambika, the Jain mother goddess, embodies the maternal principal.

A variety of early sources on devi in her myriad forms were collated in the seminal text the Devi Mahatmya about the sixth century. The text primarily devoted to narrating the origins of Durga and her relationship to the pantheon of male deities, represents Durga as the ultimate destroyer of evil forces. It also introduces the awesome forms that emerge from her being, Kali and Camumda, who give expression to Durga's terrible aspect. The worship of the goddess continues to shape Hindu practice today, with Sri Lakshmi pouring down golden coins as its most popular expression.

Last but not the least, a new series of works, entitled ‘Lonely Furrow’ that Shambhavi Singh has created during her residency at the Singapore Tyler Print Institute carries on with her sole focus and concern on rural workers. Through motifs that symbolize common tools used by land laborers, she expresses her concern for those oft-marginalized, to capture their strength and spirit. Her work invariably reminds us of our connection with the land and with one another, at a broader level. The root of her works is well grounded in her humble native land of Bihar. Her oeuvre includes paintings, sculptures and installations. It explores her concerns for the displaced.