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Book Review
A comprehensive analysis of contemporary Indian art
The contemporary art scene of India has been rapidly evolving since the last two decades, among others catalysts owing to economic growth, new media, technological advancements, and simultaneously seething social as well as cultural tensions. The country’s art and artists have been exposed to international audiences through exchanges, museum shows, collaborations dialogue, and of course, the Internet over the last decade or so. A new publication, entitled ‘India: Art Now’ (Publishers: Hatje Cantz, Pages: 156; Price: € 35) goes to show how some of our most renowned contemporary artists are engaged in interpretation of realities in the intersection, traversing the global and the local.

It collates insightful contributions from top art critics, scholars, curators, writers, and artists themselves, who discuss several new developments and emerging artistic stances in India and its rising stature on the global art scene. The book is a collective effort of Stine Hoholt, Camma Juel Jepsen, Camilla Jalving, and the Arken director, Christian Gether, with texts by Ranjit Hoskote, Zehra Jumabhoy, Mathias Ussing Seeberg, and Suketu Mehta, juxtaposed with an ambitious exhibition at ARKEN Museum of Modern Art that continues until mid- January 2013. The prominent artists as well as artist groups who form part of this significant showcase are Rina Banerjee, Sheela Gowda, Shilpa Gupta, Hemali Bhuta, Atul Dodiya, Subodh Gupta, Bharti Kher, Reena Isaini Kallat, Rashmi Kaleka, Vivan Sundaram, Ravinder Reddy, and Thukral & Tagra.

Trying to provide a context to the works and familiarize the art lovers in Denmark with the backdrop in which artists like Jitish Kallat work, an essay mentions: “Mumbai is one of the world’s largest, most densely populated cities, with a population of around 21 million if you count the suburbs. In certain neighborhoods around 120,000 people live per sq. km. In Denmark’s most densely populated area, Frederiksberg Municipality, just under 11,000 people live per sq. km. Every sixth person in the word is Indian.”

Further elaborating on the broader artistic philosophy and processes of Indian practitioners, another write-up states, “With great creativity and intellectual depth a new generation of artists is reacting to the rapid changes typifying the globalized cities of the world’s largest democracy. They lose themselves in the chaos of urban life or seek out a quieter, inner life. These artists describe the dreams of a new generation and expose social conflicts. With paintings, sculptures, photography, installations and interactive art the exhibition offers unique insight into the aesthetic spectrum within which artists today are interpreting our existence on the borderline between the local and the global.”

Opened in 1996 by Her Majesty Queen Margrethe, ARKEN Museum of Modern Art is a natural progression of Copenhagen’s cultural development. Since its establishment, it has worked towards enhancing the quality of all aspects of the socio-cultural landscapes, and is now firmly established among its peers in the national as well as international circle of museums. The group show is one among the several wide-ranging presentations of the new art of the country with an array of related activities like lecture evenings, a festival program of Indian films at the Copenhagen Festival, and educational processes for children and the young.

Not restricting to visual arts, the project encompasses several other creative arenas. For example, seven prominent young designers from India represent a new departure in the domain of fashion that started around the beginning of the new millennium. It’s a radical renewal of the Indian tradition where designers, with their starting point in their local experience, draw inspiration from widely differing global cultural idioms. Acknowledging the fact that India has made a distinct mark as one of the most innovative and key centers of contemporary art trends, this premier institution in Denmark is devoting its whole special exhibition area plus an elaborate documentation.

The idea behind the exhibit and the book is also to underline the fact that contemporary Indian art is not only created in Mumbai and New Delhi, where many of the artists live and work. It also unfolds at the European academies of art, where several of the artists have studied, at galleries in Paris, New York or Berlin, in international publications and at exhibitions all over the world even while it takes roots in far-flung towns of India, away from the mainstream, imparting with a distinct touch.