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Recap of international shows of contemporary Indian art in 2012
Several talented artists from India through their thought provoking works explore key social and political issues like religious sectarianism, gender, sexuality, economic and class disparity. They bring to the fore various enchanting facets of Indian culture and way of life, spanning a wide range of media and subject matter. Here’s a quick recap of major international shows that revolved around contemporary Indian art in the year gone by:

‘The Body Unbound’

Right at the beginning of the year, a grand survey of Modernist Art from India, entitled ‘The Body Unbound’, took place at New York-based Rubin Museum of Art. The idea was to mystify representations of the figure and the bewildering body in modernist art from India. It included paintings from the early 1940s up to the mid-1980s that traced the development of Indian modernism, and celebrated the artistically productive dialogue between tradition and innovation. The curators presented a comprehensive survey of how the modernist artists employed the human figure to express optimism, pain and anxiety, also trying to explore the country’s painting scene in the backdrop of its independence, the partition and the violence that followed.

Indian art shines in Vietnam and Brazil

A significant group show in Vietnam comprised exquisite figurative Indian paintings as part of the 40th anniversary celebration of diplomatic relations 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. ‘Índia - Lado a Lado / Arte Contemporânea Indiana’ (India - Side by Side / Indian Contemporary Art) was part of a grand showcase courtesy the Ministry of Culture and Banco do Brasil in Brazil in mid-2012. It featured works by renowned artists like Baiju Parthan, Jitish Kallat, Bharti Kher, Gigi Scaria, Nalini Malani, Shilpa Gupta, Reena Kallat, Manjunath Kamath, Surekha, T.V. Santhosh, Vivek Vilasini and Riyas Komu. According to the curators, they denoted the density and dynamics of the country’s fascinating day-to-day by people belonging to different ethnic groups, religions and castes.

‘Indian Highway VI’

The grand traveling show, ‘Indian Highway VI’, made its way into Beijing. Underlining the significance of this monumental development, an accompanying note to the show at The Ullens Center for Contemporary Art elaborated, “The arrival of this international touring exhibition in Beijing will mark the most comprehensive presentation of contemporary art from India ever seen in China.” In the form of a road movie across 3 continents (Europe, South America, Asia), each stage reinterpreted the core them to fit changing venues. The culmination of thorough research done across India by curator-duo of Julia Peyton-Jones and Hans Ulrich Obrist, Serpentine Gallery directors, and Astrup Fearnley Museum director Gunnar B. Kvaran, the exhibit featured artists known to have made an impact on the international art scene alongside emerging talented practitioners.

Indian participation at DOCUMENTA (13)

One of the world’s most prestigious and keenly awaited art events, the DOCUMENTA (13), was dedicated to holistic artistic research and different forms of imagination, which sought to explore commitment, embodiment, matter, things, and active living largely in connection with, yet not totally subordinated to, theory. Delhi-based Amar Kanwar participated in his third straight Documenta. Nalini Malani showcased her latest ‘video/shadow play, ‘In Search of Vanished Blood’, a huge site-responsive installation that employed reverse-painted mylar sheets on many rotating cylinders, creating a narrative video frieze. The Karachi-born and Delhi-based practitioner, Bani Abidi, presented a film installation ‘At a 30 Degree Angle’, whereas Tejal Shah produced a new work for the prestigious art event.

‘2012: A Further Global Encounter’ and ‘Approaching Abstraction’

A grand exhibition that coincided with the 2012 Olympic Games was hosted at London-based Grosvenor Vadehra. ‘2012: A Further Global Encounter’ included the best of Contemporary art from India. It explored contemporary issues and ideas not only local and specific to India, but those that look to deal with aspects of the global panorama. On the other hand, ‘Approaching Abstraction’ was the second of a three-part series at the Rubin Museum. It examined art from post-independence and post-Partition India. Building on the explorations between abstraction and figuration begun in ‘The Body Unbound’, it distinguished streak of abstraction in modernist Indian art from that in Euro-American modernism.

Art from Asian sub-continent in Denmark and New Zealand

During the later part of the year, ‘Sub-Topical Heat’ courtesy Govett-Brewster was lauded as one of the most in-depth and extensive projects on New art from South Asia ever held in New Zealand. Comprised of works by several renowned names from the Asian sub-continent, it incorporated themes largely driven by the impacts of urbanization and globalization on individual ordinary lives, new trajectories struck within tradition, social and political justice or lack of it, ecological and urban change, myth, gender and curious collective memory.

Simultaneously, acknowledging the fact that India has made a distinct mark as one of the most innovative and key centers of contemporary art trends, a premier institution in Denmark devoted its whole special exhibition area to a comprehensive presentation of Indian contemporary art. The project was associated with a research program on contemporary art and migration at ARKEN.

‘Critical Mass’ at Tel Aviv Museum, Israel

Last but not the least, several talented artists like Jitish Kallat, Subodh Gupta, Bharti Kher, Riyas Komu, Sudarshan Shetty, L.N. Tallur, Ranbir Kaleka, Shilpa Gupta, Rashmi Kaleka, T.V. Santhosh, and Gigi Scaria featured in the just-concluded ‘Critical Mass’ show at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art in Israel. The works on view were firmly anchored in the present socio-political realities and how their multiple layers of meaning tend to reflect in varied responses to the rapid transformation: bursting megalopolis and wild countryside, a rush toward the future and a strong traditional identity. An introductory note explained: “The notion of matter and material serves as a principle metaphor for the physical and visual experiences of the contemporary dynamic life in India. This overwhelming experience of density, noise, flow, and rich materiality is clearly reflected in the themes, materials, and visual aesthetics of the works featured."