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Works that delve into key concerns of our times
With their bewildering body of works, the artist duo of Thukral & Tagra explores the bizarre blend of sentimentality and nostalgia suffused with clichéd futurisms epitomized by the fast-growing Indian middle class, especially in the expanding new cities like Gurgaon, an extension of New Delhi where the two currently live and work. Having emerged as a hub of manufacturing and IT, it’s also now recognized as a sprawling and segmented residential community largely characterized by faux-classical mansions, mega-malls dotted with globalized food courts, dirt roads leading to steel and glass behemoths, and skyscraper or apartment blocks outwardly decked out like colonial bungalows, so to say.

The artists have concocted frenetic mix of high and low styles in sculptures and paintings in an apt response to this mesmerizing and perplexing urban reality that now typifies the ‘new India’. Their new solo, entitled ‘Longing for Tomorrow’, at Berlin-based Nature Morte includes works produced by them at the historic Meissen porcelain factory near Dresden. Taking a cue from the Meissen archives’ classical vases, the two have piled them up into comical towers, to paint them with their trademark tantalizing imagery in captivating candy colors.

The porcelain centerpieces, framed by fascinating furniture pedestals and wall-mounted backdrops, contrast the rarified material with rather down-market plastics as well as laminates. The end result is in the form of seductive constructions that propel the work of Carlo Bugatti, 19th century Italian designer, right into the 21st century, with some sly references to High Modernism as it was tinkered with, in Post-Independence India.

Simultaneously, Hong Kong-based Karin Weber Gallery hosts Phaneedra Nath Chaturvedi’s solo exhibition. ‘An Anthropomorphic Incarnation’ features gripping pieces of art by this a thought-provoking and talented contemporary practitioner from India. Born in 1981, he has done his M.F.A. (Painting) at College of Arts & Crafts Faculty of Fine Arts University, Lucknow. Known for his large format multi-panel works, which feature skeletal figures with nuts and bolts, they are rather unforgiving in starkly underlining the grotesque and dispassionate aspects of human nature. The images might not be pleasing to eyes but they nevertheless intend to make viewers realize how comfortable and cozy people surrounded by superficial beauty and insincerity are!

Another highly celebrated name globally from the new generation of artists is that of Rashid Rana. In his work, aspects like visual urban culture, contemporary art, art history, and a few mundane things are culled together to build an alternate reality, which unravels both formal and conceptual concerns, invariably joined in seamless schema. They explore flatness of the peculiar pictorial plane alongside ideas of three-dimensionality through static visuals as well as time-based, dynamic works. Concepts like originality, authenticity, and ethnicity are extrapolated, exposed and at times even exploded, through these artworks that even depend upon the prevailing language of our times, existing like videos of our dreams and photographs of our imagination.

Further elaborating on his core concerns on eve of his new series, entitled ‘Apposite | Opposite’, concurrently being exhibited at Chatterjee & Lal courtesy Mumbai-based Gallery Chemould, critic Quddus Mirza states, “There are many worlds in our one planet. The political, the religious, the economic, and the social: all these spheres seem to collide, contradict, conflict, converge and combine with each other. It’s a process, which can be traced from ancient history right to the globalized present. In his work these worlds come closer to forming another parallel entity - both rooted and yet existing independently from the artist’s immediate surroundings. This might well be understood in terms of the physical, the psychological or the virtual. Multiple visuals, which are deftly drawn from diverse sources in mystical mosaic-like settings, offer complex views that if decoded, deeply relate to our scattered, shattered world.”

Mention must also be made of a significant group show in Vietnam that comprised exquisite figurative Indian paintings at the Viet Nam Exhibition Centre for Culture & Arts in Ha Noi as part of the 40th anniversary celebration of diplomatic relations and 5th anniversary of the establishment of strategic partnership between Vietnam and India. It included prints of original canvases by some of the doyens like Amrita Shergil, Maqbool Fida Husain and FN Souza, among others. "It (prints) solves the issues of exorbitant insurance and safety, which usually restrict a show of this scale to travel out of the country," the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) president, Karan Singh, quipped.

Celebration of the figurative form that can be witnessed everywhere in India, whether on temple walls, paintings and murals, in sculptures, or as architectural marvels formed the core of this showcase. In a way, it represented the fascinating figurative form as evident in the last one century through the works of India's most renowned painters. According to ICCR director general Pavan K Varma, the then prime minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, and the Vietnamese president, Ho Chi Minh, had prepared the grounds for the cultural relations between the two countries. The show was an effort to impart a contemporary touch to the relations, and strengthen the ties between the two culturally diverse countries. It presented a great opportunity for art lovers from Vietnam to know about India’s great painting traditions.