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Public Art Matters

Current times demand more art in public spaces that can penetrate and address the echelons of society in a language that is familiar, says Divya Menon after meeting Indranil Garai

Art in public spaces has always been a magnificent reality in a man’s life that has traversed various landscapes over time. From being mere visual reminders of history to becoming our only respite in these pandemic challenged times, makes it all the more imperative to be viewed through the lens of renewed experience. There is something arcane about art buried in the stoic silence of galleries and museums. Bearing a crucifix called ‘elitist’ their proximity with the common man is compromised. Contrarily, art in public spaces is a force that can transform a nondescript street into a vortex of shared experiences and memories. Current times demand more of such art that can penetrate and address the echelons of society in a language that is familiar.

This sets the prelude to several overlapping stories. One, about how in 2000, Indranil Garai, a young sculptor from Kolkata, fresh from Santiniketan moved to Pune, a smaller and still growing city then and went on to establish IGA – one of the most important art consultancies in the Country today. This is also a narrative on interesting liaisons between art, space and common man.

Sometime in 2007 at Alibaug, in the ISPAT (JSW ISPAT currently) steel factory grounds, a colossus of scrap was resurrected to birth iconic pieces of flamingos designed by Indranil. His team supervised the project that was completed on site by the factory’s workers. This helped foster a sense of belonging and pride in the workers who were absorbed into the creative process on their very own turf, establishing a deep synergy. With this project, Indranil identified that the future of art in public spaces would be a chapter pegged around the words, democratization, design, space, aesthetics, collaboration and marketing. We get talking from across the boundaries of two different states over an imaginary cup of coffee and the discussion on art in public spaces demolishes several boundaries focussing on imagination! A whole new landscape and awareness unfolds as he shares his experience, insights, design and space concepts. Sometimes creation is not a process of building or learning, it may be quite the opposite too – one of unlearning and undoing, a deflection, a path less travelled.

Reminiscing the journey towards IGA, he says, “I moved to Pune in 2000 where my wife Payal, who was my fiancée then, was apprenticing under pioneer lady potter Nirmala Patwardhan. The developing city that presented great possibilities for a fresher, interested me. However, I only had ideas to sell and did not know how to go about it. Fortunately, an architect took me up on a ten walls mural job on the Clover Watergardens housing project in 2000. Then, between 2001 and 2003, two prestigious projects came my way, namely The Ruby Hall Clinic hospital project and The Corinthians Club, a hospitality project, and then there was no looking back!”

In 2009 Indranil Garai & Associates was registered in Pune as a firm practicing in designing public art spaces. He recollects, “The years following ISPAT Alibaug project (JSW ISPAT currently) were eventful. Two interesting projects, one in Bengaluru in 2008 and another at Delhi in 2010 necessitated professionals to oversee the work on site. College mates and sculptors Chiranjib Ghosh and Sumit Roy took up these roles in Bengaluru and Delhi respectively, and currently, Chiranjib heads IGA’s Bengaluru studio while Sumit heads the Pune studio as Associates”.

Indranil is the think-tank of IGA and also heads the marketing while the Associates take care of operations. IGA’s verticals are IGA Projects, IGA Landscape Pottery headed by Payal Garai, IGA Galleria headed by Zahhabiya Hamiid, IGA Open Studio, IGA Limited Edition,, a one stop destination for art needs which is a work in progress and Adipa, a newly acquired Company specialized in handmade ceramic nameplates. IGA Galleria is a platform that showcases works of artists across all genres and IGA Open Studio offers the artist as well as the layman the luxury of exploring and understanding art through public events and workshops.

Sharing IGA’s vision, Indranil says, “Aesthetic enrichment is one of the things we try to bring into our creations. Art and architecture were cohesive entities in India at one time until British rule caused them to part ways. Aesthetics, which is sacrosanct to the Indian way of life, is but missing in most public art in our country and we are trying to bring it back”. Having said that, IGA stakes no claims to creating magnificent contemporary art, however, what they strive for is to create engaging spaces as they believe that art isn’t art until it begins to mingle with common man.

Collaboration is a keyword in public space art. The SP Shukobrishti by Shapoorji Palonji Co. Pvt. Ltd in Kolkata demonstrates this. Site study by Indranil directed him to a pre-existing miniature in the studio of Sushen Ghosh, ex-HOD of Sculpture and ex-Principal at Kala Bhavan, Santiniketan. The original multiplied in size was constructed on site into the staggering repetitive columns we see today. IGA’s works at Water Lilly in Chennai and Prestige South Ridge in Bangalore also boast of similar collaborations, at Chennai with Kolkata-based artist Nobina Gupta and at Bengaluru with Hyderabad-based Artist Kuntal Dey!

Space has an intent, energy and identity beyond its physicality. It is a melting pot of several histories, voices and experiences. Space is the most consecrated part of IGA’s business. IGA sculptures at the Swanubhooti Vatika in Pune by Chinmaya Mission expounds this by aiding the vision of this unique enlightenment park to become a self-discovery space for visitors. Materiality and form are evidently subordinate in IGA’s scheme of things. Where physical distance from people must be exercised, the sculpture may have sharp edges for instance. Those at a mall or an IT Park would permit limited proximity while those for schools would be invariably children safe and invite interaction. Recounting his journey this far, Indranil says that as the son of the celebrated sculptor Tarak Garai, growing in an environment enriched by aesthetic art shaped his ideologies and art was not serendipitous at all!

However, finding his own voice happened only during his Masters in Sculpture at Santiniketan. He discovered his calling towards large sculpture making while working on a project with B.V.Doshi, the iconic architect, recipient of the prestigious Pritzker award. Indranil also holds a diploma in Interior Designing from Jenson and Nicholson. As a Joint Director of the Pune Biennale Foundation, Indranil is responsible for the branding and marketing of the event. He believes that marketing is a misinterpreted and stigmatized word that has been equated with selling. He says, “unlike in the West, where art marketing forms part of the art course, our education system sadly leaves a vacuum when it comes to grooming art students to market their art”.

Working on his first book on how to sell art, Indranil says, “Marketing is essentially an opportunity for building relationships and sale is merely the result of that bond. And, there are so many different ways to address this negotiation”. Through each of IGA’s verticals, and designs, this bond is what they strive to create by bridging the gap between man and higher art.

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The Hidden Art of Madhubani

Much like the upper caste tradition of Kachni and Bharni Mithila paintings, the Dalits have for decades been decorating the walls of their homes with an alternate art form called Godna TEXT: TEAM ART SOUL LIFE

We have all heard of Madhubani or Mithila art which is said to have developed in the ancient city of Mithila, the birthplace of Sita, daughter of King Janak. It is said that the Mithila paintings were commissioned by the king to commemorate the marriage of his daughter to Lord Rama of Ayodhya. It was recognised as kulin art, or art of the pure castes.Traditionally, these paintings were done by Brahmin and Kayastha women. Ganga Devi, a Kayastha, and Sita Devi, a Brahmin were the two pioneers of Mithila paintings on paper. While Ganga excelled at kanchi or line paintings, Sita Devi developed the bharni style or “filled” associated with the Brahmin community. However, there exists an alternate art form by marginalised communities that seldom comes into limelight. Much like the upper caste tradition of Kachni and Bharni Mithila paintings, the Dalits have for decades been decorating the walls of their homes, which looks similar to Alpana (floor) paintings, but are different in motifs used, which is stylistically typical to the Dalits, namely the Dusadh community in the village of Jitwarpur in Bihar. Much like the upper caste tradition of Kachni and Bharni Mithila paintings, the Dusadhs castes have, for decades, been decorating the walls of their homes for rituals. However, because of their lower caste status, they were not allowed to showcase the divine in their artform. Thus, they found inspiration in geometric forms and flora-fauna surrounding the village.

Among the many decorative styles from these castes was the Godna style, inspired from the Godna (tattoo) art practised by the Nattin (Gypsy) women. Their visual language includes parallel lines and concentric circles containing floral motifs and the human form. More recently, local heroes are drawn in this style of painting. Raja Salhesh’s oral narratives and paintings, for example, are used as a symbol of resistance against upper-caste politics. He was a military man, who is now revered as a king, remembered for standing up against the discrimination of Dusadhs. Since 1972, even the Brahmins and Kayasthas have appropriated the style.

The credit to Dalit inclusion in Mithila paintings goes to a German anthropologist, Erika Moser. Works on paper painted by low-caste women appeared for the first time during the 1970s when Moser visited the Madhubani district to study and film the crafts and rituals of the Dusadh. Moser encouraged the Dusadh women to paint on paper with the aim of generating extra income. The Dusadh women, encouraged by Moser, began to take inspiration from their own oral, cosmological and aesthetic traditions. When Moser, also a film-maker and social activist, first started persuading the impoverished Dusadh community to paint, the women, caught up in hard physical work, expressed inability to do so as they had little awareness of the stories of Hindu deities usually depicted in Mithila paintings. A guiding hand from their high-caste counterparts seemed difficult owing to social differences. This is where motivation and skill-specific advisory, from the likes of Moser and American anthropologist Raymond Lee Owens, came in handy. The result was that Dusadhs started capturing their oral history — such as the chronicles of local deity Raja Salhesa — and depictions of their primary god Rahu in their paintings, which were carried out using a bamboo pen and black ink. This style was adopted by a large number of Dusadh women and evolved over time to include the use of plant designed colour schemes based on flowers, leaves, barks, fruits. They developed three styles and techniques that are specific to them.The first was initiated by Chano Devi (1938- 2010), a National Awardee, and takes tattoos as its stimulus.

This style is now known by the name godhana (godna means tattoo). These paintings are largely composed of lines, concentric circles, and circles filled with motifs taken from the flora and fauna. During this time, Mumbaibased artist Bhaskar Kulkarni, who assisted cultural activist Pupul Jayakar to revive many traditional Indian arts, including Warli, saw Chano’s work and bought a lot of her artworks besides encouraging her to work more. Chano and her husband Rodi Paswan in their attempts to popularise and mainstream this art form trained several artists. This style is easily recognisable by its sepia background that is attained through applying cow dung diluted water on paper. Chano also started to experiment with natural colours in order to create a more distinctive style. These colours later became the main identifier of Dalit Godna paintings, as other painters too started to abandon the use of Holi colours in favour of those made from cowdung base, leaves, flowers, vegetables, barks, and roots. Godna painting remains a relatively lesser-known form as compared to kachhni and Mithila paintings. Dalit artisans practicing this art form are still struggling to get a decent income in markets. The art and its history has not yet received the appreciation and recognition that it should. Meanwhile, a group of locals from Bastar in Chhattisgarh has taken up the task of reviving the region’s age-old ‘Godna’ art form, which they believe is the only ornament that remains with them even after death. This primitive artistry, known for traditional designs like the bow and arrow and bison horn headgear, is waning in the fast-changing world as people are more attracted towards the modern tattoo designs. A catalogue of the traditional Godna patterns and stories behind them is also being prepared to conserve this art form, a prominent tattoo artist from the state said.

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Restless & Relentless

C. S. Krishna Setty adopts a multidisciplinary approach to his art and his Veteran Series 1 makes a shift from dark floating images to semi abstract and dramatic with graphic intonations, says Saraswathy K Bhattathiri

Eminent artist, printmaker, art critic and columnist, C. S. Krishna Setty says his inner being urges him to reveal suppressed and unexpressed feelings. He says, “They have to come out, otherwise it’ll become intolerable. And I am most comfortable with visual art, so that means paper, canvas, colours…” Setty, whose work titled “Veteran Series 1” at a Bengaluru Art Gallery gives out a sense of restless, yet focused drive for self exploration and artistic evangelism, says as human beings, we are different from other species and we need to express our thoughts. “Being part of this beautiful and curious world, I have my own experiences and feelings, which need to be expressed,” says the ex-chairman of Lalit Kala Akademi. The artist, who was also the founder president of Drushya Kala Sahitya Parishad, an organisation formed to encourage art writing in Karnataka, is a postgraduate in Kannada literature from Mysore University. “Basically, I am a painter; but due to some compulsions I took up art criticism and became a columnist for several years. For a while, I also headed the Lalit Kala Akademi.

I was an organiser and administrator of many art fairs/events/camps. But it did not give me the satisfaction I wanted. So recently, I switched back to painting.” He clarifies. His new series makes a kind of shift from dark floating images to semi abstract, dramatic and graphic intonations. Setty adopts a multidisciplinary approach to his art where he redefines the artist beyond media divisions. The characters and objects emerge out of the picture planes instead of externally inserting them into the surface of the canvas. The Veteran Series 1 is an assemblage of semi-abstract illusions and floating figures that elucidate a sense of spontaneity and automatism. Micro-organism like in macro scales, one set of his drawings are unleashed, yet mysterious bawdy that coincides with Freudian libido analogous to the title of the show. These works excavate a non-contemplative visual intellect interwoven with personal occurrences smeared transversely within a preconceived picture plane. The series of work takes its inspiration from daily life situations which are psychologically entwined with early fables. He also adds vivid colours of crayons to his palette and elements from nature like fishes and snakes. The pinks and the blues stand apart from his display at Subliminal Excavations as it echoes a different mode of perception in his practice from dark gloomy to vibrant spectacles. The play of aesthetics in his works goes beyond its apolitical appearance to submerged connotations where the lineage itself becomes a political choice; a choice to address the self-excluding its ever changing transactions with hegemonic structures. These works share a sense of ephemeral quality as they exclusively refrain from evident dialogues on a cultural past or future. Nevertheless, his works situate itself in the contemporary times ascribable to the inclusive attitudes of the era so as to relinquish reiterations of antecedence. It also fetches in questions of how artistic temperaments juggle between channelising genuine experiences, contesting with abundance and intervening through a broader spectrum of ideations and visuals in a practice. With an inbuilt surrealist undertone, his body of work echoes as an amalgamation of his childhood memories of theatre plays and native folk art. He juxtaposes metaphors from nature and holds mythological lineation bringing immediate local discourses paralleling his otherwise political concerns. The textural qualities in his works not only demonstrate his influences from printmaking, but also a contest for the texture of the given surface. One can see cinematic persuasions in his silhouette’s images on frozen pictorial spaces. Blending the visual, literary and the theatrical, his works bridge the performative to the non- performative white cube art, which refutes the binary, hierarchical and puritanism attitudes in the realm of art production, display and discourse. Born in 1952, Setty hails from Thirthahalli, Shimoga district, Karnataka.

He pursued Fine Arts from the University College of Art, Davangere, and commenced research in graphics from Garhi Studios, New Delhi. He holds a postgraduate degree in Literature from Mysore University and a post-graduate Diploma in Public Relations from Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan. “Over the years, many national and international artists have shaped and inspired me. But my artistic role models are Anselm Kiefer and Antoni Tàpies. They have moved me through unusual modes of process and material. What great creators they are,” says the artists, who believes that the purpose of art is to produce thinking and introspection. “It should shake us into revelations and rip us from our default mode of seeing.” he avers. Setty’s art writings were aimed at blending the literary, visual and the theatrical as well as addressing the mobility of art through the vernacular language writing as we can notice in his extensive writings in Kannada. He deploys a unique method of fusing the western psychic theories with Indian aesthetics and one can notice this in an anthology of essays on art criticism ‘Chitrachitta’ where he connects a wide range of art forms from folk, classical to the performative. He also published books on Expressionism, Drishya kale Endarenu and was art critic for popular newspaper Prajavani. He directed the serial ‘Chitrantharanga’ for Doordarshan. Setty’s major collections are in Lalitkala Academy, New Delhi, Bharat Bhavan Bhopal, Lalit Kala Academy Madras, Manchester, Switzerland and Denmark etc.

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Catch Them Young

Hyderabad-based Iconart Gallery organises show featuring works of 40 artists to initiate the young to acquire art

Buy Art, an affordable art exhibition which has been a regular feature of Hyderabad-based Iconart Gallery since 2013, had a new curator this year: Gandra Lipika Rao, who took the reins from her mother and gallery founder, Avani. Armed with an ISB degree with a specialisation in marketing, Lipika quit her corporate job in 2018 to get into the arts sector and has been conducting art therapy workshops since then. Her interactions with people in their 20s and 30s opened new horizons in this new journey. “The youth who are now making their living are interested in the arts. Some of them want to build their new homes beautifully but are not sure what their taste is and where to start,” says Lipika, adding that the show is also an opportunity for the youth to grow their art collection. “An art collection connects with the wealthy but with so many emerging artists, buyers can start young and explore their own taste in art.” She wants to make art more accessible to a wider demographic, including a young clientele. That is probably why her curated show is called ‘Young Collectors’ Conclave’, featuring works of 40 artists across the country, from July 30 to August 20. “Even a small and selective art collection brings in an intensity of emotional expressions, positivity and vibrancy into the atmosphere at home, office or public spaces,” says Lipika. “It inculcates in the household, work place, in their children and employers a larger vision of looking at life. In other words, it builds the culture of the place even as it financially propels the value of the art works,” she adds. Young people investing in art involve in identifying new talent, in fostering artists as patrons and also making business sense out of the involvement in sourcing and collection art, Lipika says. She believes the internet boom and free wheel travel around the world by young people for their education, careers, holidays have accelerated the interest in art – with visits to galleries, museums marked on their ‘must do’ list of things. Her curatorial note states: “Public spaces of art in cities have become points of interest and curiosity world over. The visual access of images and videos, participating in discussions about art are now accessible for active participation like never before, making it a fertile space to explore, acquire, appreciate and invest in the art of their choices, using their own discretion and thus developing aesthetic and critical appraisal of art around the world. This privilege was accessible to very few earlier. These facilities and technological revolutions have brought art to the doorsteps of every household in various capacities.

It’s the right time for young people to use these platforms and enrich their lives with the profoundness that art expresses.” Lipika says in these times of visual bombardment and lack of attention due to the upsurge in the use of visual media on social media, it’s now become more important to learn to discern, to be aware of valuable creative, cultural aspects, from the ever-spewing imagery around. “Collecting and appreciating art brings in an opportunity to nurture artistic talent by becoming a patron of art and in acquiring an increasing knowledge of artistic practices around the world, which is forever breaking new grounds, fostering creativity and innovation of human expression,” she says. The Young Collectors Conclave “is a first of many upcoming programmes that creates access to quality, affordable art. The art works are carefully selected for a variety of genres and styles ranging from natural, realistic, figurative, abstract expressionist, with pricing accessible to every budget,” she adds. It’s in the plan to have more art exhibitions, workshops, lectures, both online and in real time to reach out to more youngsters to take interest in art collection – whilst creating a more vibrant cultural awareness of art appreciation and preservation.

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Fantastic Five

With nature as the core subject, 33 artists come together to create magic on canvas with their expressionist works and faith in spirituality

Panchmahabhoot refers to the five fundamental elements – Earth, Water, Fire, Air and Space- that are responsible for the creation of the Universe, including humans. These elements have different characteristics and also account for different faculties of human experience. Keeping in mind the importance of these elements in sustaining the world, an art show was curated by Neeraj Sharma, in which art stalwarts from across the country, including National Award winners, gathered under one roof to showcase their best works. The show was inaugurated by octogenarian visual artist Roop Chand at the Visual Arts Gallery, IHC, New Delhi. Eminent artist G. R. Iranna and author Taslima Nasrin were among the many dignitaries to take a closer look at the artworks. Talking about the show, the curator said, “Last year we planned an art camp in the holy town of Varanasi on the theme Panchmahabhoot, but the pandemic sabotaged all our plans and we postponed the camp. When things went back to normal, we finally decided to put the show together at the prestigious Visual Arts Gallery, in which 33 artists including seniors, emerging and young talent took part with their thoughtful works numbering 77.”

During all the five days, the show received a volume of art lovers which included surgeons, physicians, techies, well-known poets and writers, celebrity artists, talented actors and directors, which in itself tells the grand success of the exhibition. “With nature as the core subject, most paintings in the exhibition represented expressionism and the artists’ faith in spirituality and some of the artists’ works are done in a centrifugal manner. The bold and vibrant use of colours on canvas was nothing less than a breath of fresh air for art admirers,” Sharma said. The exhibition was very well received in the art community, added Sharma, who is also the founder of Speaking Art Foundation (SAF) – an organisation that works to bridge the gap between art admirers and artists and educate people about art. Thanking all the people who helped him achieve his goal, he said, “My sincere gratitude to the living legends of art, who unconditionally supported me and became a part of this dream venture. As a non-profit organisation, my effort has always been to serve art humbly, and I believe, together we can do it,” he remarked.

The participating artists were: Amit Dutt, Anil Kohli, Arup K. Biswas, Ashok Bhowmick, Banee Singh, Chanchal Ganguly, Dr Chhaya Kumari, Dr Deepti Jain, Dr Doyel Sinha, Dr Neerja Chandna Peters, Dr Nishit Jain, Dr Suryasnata Mohanty, Geetu Thakur, Gursimran Kaur, Harsh Inder Loomba, Jatin Chaudhary, K. Vishwanathan, Madhu Dhir, Mamta Dahiya, Manomoy Das, Meenakshi Jha Banerjee, Meha Khanna, Nawal Kishore, Padam Chand, Prem Singh, Rajshree Verma, Ramchandra Pokale, Sanjay Bhola ‘Dheer’, Sapna Gupta, Sharyu Amoda, Shilpa Miridul, Sukhmani Kaur and Swati Goyal. SAF works throughout the year to provide opportunities to artists at different levels by organising exhibitions, workshops, camps, demonstrations, art talks, art competitions and performances. It creates a platform where promising and established artists can interact, learn and grow together, exhibit their talent and express themselves freely without any boundaries.

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Painted Footsteps

When he picks a brush in his hands, Vikash Kalra feels a sense of energy and motivation, one he never knew existed before he became an expert at forms and colour schemes of his own liking, says Yukti Narang

Vikash Kalra is a maestro of abstracts, blurred figures and surrealist ideas in art. Painting is equivalent to life for him, creating joy and beauty in every phase of his journey as an artist. He is a self-taught creator who went through a series of jobs and businesses before learning that art was his sole calling. No matter how much the artist paints, the thirst to create is not quenched but surges with each painting. As he started his voyage in art, he had no qualms about his vision or expertise, but his perspective towards paintings was different from what was ascertained. His paintings grew with him, an almost surrealist experience as they found colours, and myths turned into legends.

He takes inspiration from masters like Picasso, Tyeb Mehta, Francisco Goya and F.N. Souza. For him, there is a vast gap between a painter and an artist. Anyone can learn to paint, but only some can become real artists. With time, his paintings took the shape of his inspirations, a blend of motifs and reality merged with fantastical ideologies. Kalra had, as a result of these ideas, read a series of coffee table books created to understand the mind of art makers and revolutionary creators, especially when he owned a book shop as part of his former businesses. His works have been inspired from many religious hymns and sayings, holy books and scriptures, namely the Shrimad Bhagavat Gita and verses of the Bible. Biblical art has always stimulated a passion in him, urging him to learn more of modern art and practices.

When the artist picks a brush in his hands, he feels a sense of energy and motivation, one he never knew existed before he became an expert at forms and colour schemes of his own liking. He often swears by a quote by Picasso that states, “Art is a lie.” He seeks answers to the truth in art and warrants new movements, taking risks and making changes in the art expanse. He plays with the paint brush and paintings formulate their life on his canvas as a natural phenomenon. Giving examples of his work are like collecting soot out of a cold furnace, it is natural and baked, coloured and unending. Vikash Kalra’s ‘Head Series’ is a look into other people’s expressions, their ideas about one, and their plans for life. He now thinks that those paintings were never about those people, but his thoughts about them, making them a cursive idea of one’s imagination. Kalra draws inspiration from many people in his personal life, his partner and people he finds unique.

For the master himself, art phases choose him rather than him seeking new ways and forms. Landscapes and nature found him at a point in his lifecycle where he came face to face with emotional turmoil and despair. Kalra’s art is a burning furnace that cools, and ignites in bouts, but keeps asking for colour. This is one of the reasons he leaves a lot of his work untitled. He wants people to tell him their ideas of his art, rather than having one fixed idea about a painting. His newest series will be inspired from the ‘World Order Collapse.’ Research for this theme, as is the case with all themes set for his paintings, is ongoing and he has collaborated with a fashion persona to elevate the painting onto greater levels of exhibition and for a grand cause. His paintings are not only bought or auctioned, he also donates them as a contribution to the art universe and other causes he feels strongly about. Kalra has even found that nature’s elements, humans, birds, animals, grass, insects and the ecology excite him and form characters of his paintings.

He believes that art resides in him like a child in their childhood. You can grow out of it, but it remains in the mind, heart and memory. The artist now waits to give the world his best painting, the meaning of which he wishes to decipher as he learns from his own past, actions and painted pedestals.

The artist is represented by Easel Stories
Art Gallery, Noida

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Mapping climate change

Conceptual artist Atul Bhalla on a one-of-its-kind art initiative to map the history of weather from locations around the world through the imaginary line of 28N Parallel

New Delhi-based conceptual and performance artist Atul Bhalla is passionate about water. He has spent more than two decades addressing the physical, historical, political and religious aspects of water using photography, video and installation. He engages with the eco-politics of water as well as exploring histories and associative meanings of sites of everyday living, often building narratives through performance. Now the Professor and Head, Department of Art & Performing Arts, Shiv Nadar University, is undertaking an initiative titled ‘False Clouds and Real Deluges’, to collect photographs, videos and sound footage of weather’s history from locations along the 28N Parallel to compile a one-of-its-kind art initiative. “The world’s weather is not what it was. We all have an intimate relationship with weather. It shapes our everyday experience, and we have found words to talk about it – stormy, calm, heavy, icy – that describes climatic conditions in our external environment and what is going on inside us,” says Professor Bhalla, a Bachelor’s in Fine Arts from the College of Art, University of Delhi, and MFA from the School of Art, Northern Illinois University, USA. “For centuries, our shifting consciousness about the weather has been shaped by the speculations of scientists and the imaginings of artists, physicists, mathematicians and meteorologists, painters, and poets.” The 28N Parallel, an imaginary line that divides the global North and South, is a silent witness to the impact of climate change, anthropocene, anthropology and art. Starting from the great deserts of Sindh and Rajasthan, the 28N Parallel, cuts through Mount Everest in the subcontinent.

The year-long initiative that began on June 21, 2022, features a collective of photographs, videos and sound footage of locations around the 28N Parallel to map the impact of climate change. The project undertaken by the Professor under the aegis of the World Weather Network, Artangel and Khoj is bringing together a coalition of art organisations, environmentalists and communities in over 30 countries to use a multiplicity of forms to amplify the impact of climate change. The World Weather Network is setting up 30 stations across the world, each operating autonomously, to commission and produce its weather reports locally, in a range of diverse cultural forms and media, and sharing them globally on a new online platform. These weather stations can be an existing physical space like a lighthouse, a library, a boat, a forest, or a factory. “Given the extremes of weather, the public has to be made aware of how each one of us can contribute to keep the planet how it is, and to also resurrect a number of areas — whether they are forest, national parks, or a city’s green cover,” said Prof Bhalla. Throughout the course of the project, various teams will go on expeditions across the country and the world, including Nepal to monitor the weather changes. “I have given the proposal for us to be at the extreme locations in India on the summer and winter solstice. Gokal Pur, next to the Nepal border on the 28 Parallel, is a strategic location for us to map,” mentioned Bhalla while sharing that the project will culminate in June 2023 with an installation in Delhi comprising video, audio footage, and weather reports. India, home to 17.7 percent of the world population is staring at a serious water crisis triggered by unregulated modernisation and anthropogenic exigencies. Over 600 million in the country are already feeling the pressure according to data provided by NITI Aayog. The apex public policy think tank of the Government of India has predicted that the demand for drinking water shall exceed supply by 2030. The Himalayas located in the 28N Parallel, sometimes referred to as the “Third Pole” because of the largest accumulation of ice, after Antarctica and the Arctic, is also facing the heat of climate change. As the circumnavigation of the globe illustrates, one of the coldest places on earth shares the same latitude as many of the warmest, driest spots on our planet.

Compared to Saudi Arabia, Libya or southern Texas, which is located along the 28N Parallel, the Himalaya are considerably wetter and retain frozen reservoirs that irrigate South and Southeast Asia. For this reason, they are also called the “water towers of Asia.” One of the reasons they are especially vulnerable to climate change is because of their latitude. If Himalayan glaciers dry up and disappear, as some scientists suggest they might, the subcontinent and Southeast Asia would then begin to look like the sandy wastes of the Sahara. Born in 1964, Bhalla has explored the physical, historical, spiritual, and political significance of water to the urban environment and population of New Delhi through artworks that incorporate sculpture, painting, installation, video, photography, and performance. In Immersions (2008), Bhalla used sand taken directly from the Yamuna-river to make concrete casts of portable water containers. These casts were then placed in water-filled vitrines, drawing a connection between Delhi’s historical source for water and the spiritually absent disposable containers of today. Similarly, in his photographic works of “piaus” (water spigots)—a public source of drinking water—Bhalla examined water as both symbol and source of renewal and re-examination. He is particularly concerned about the relationship between the Yamuna – one of the largest tributaries of Ganga; lakhs of people depend on its water for irrigation, and municipal/domestic use. Venerated in Hindu mythology as the goddess of life, it is also one of the most polluted rivers in the world. With a focus on pollution and scarcity of water, Yamuna Walk traces the artist’s five-day walk around the portion of the river that encircles New Delhi. At times through this journey Bhalla was forced to climb fences and cross concrete overpasses to continue his quest.

These modern obstacles weave their way into the fabric of rural life—connecting and hampering its development as well as continuation. Bhalla’s first significant influence relating to water was his childhood memory of the sound of water drops hitting a steel bucket when he woke up in the morning. The water in that bucket was used for the family’s drinking, cooking and bathing needs and had to last until evening, when the bucket could be refilled. That bucket of water was also Bhalla’s first lesson in water distribution, storage and conservation.

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Art in Every Corner

Art in Every Corner

Every house in the Odisha village of Raghurajpur is a museum

of art and each household has at least one Chitrakar, who is

highly skilled and immensely creative

If you ever happen to be in Puri, or Konark, or nearby, you must visit the heritage crafts village of Raghurajpur situated on the banks of river Bhargabi, in Odisha. Located around 12 km from Puri, the coconut and palm-shaded village is home to around 500 chitrakars, who are experts in Pattachitra painting, an art form which dates back to 5 BC. Prime Minister Narendra Modi gifted French President François Hollande a pattachitra (a cloth-based scroll painting) made in Raghurajpur on silk titled Tree of Life reflecting the societal respect for nature in India on his maiden visit to France in 2015. Before Rath Yatra every year, the deities of Puri’s Jagannath Temple go on a 15-day sabbatical. During this period, a pattachitra – an ancient form of painting made on a ‘treated’ piece of cotton cloth using natural colours – takes the place of the original wooden idols. For generations, this pattachitra has been drawn by artists from the nearby village of Raghurajpur. Every year, during Debasnana Purnima, which marks the onset of one of the biggest festivals in Odisha — the Ratha Jatra — the trinity deities Lord Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra and Devi Subhadra take a bath with 108 pots of cold water to fight the heat of summer. After this, the deities supposedly fall sick for a period of 15 days known as ‘anasara’. During this 15- day period, the deities are absent from public view and pattachitra of the deities made by, chitrakars of Raghurajpur is placed in the Puri Jagannath Temple for the people to pay obeisance.

During this 15-day period of anasara, the deities are absent

from public view and pattachitra of the deities made by

chitrakars of Raghurajpur is placed in the Puri Jagannath

Temple for the people to pay obeisance.

Every house in this Odisha village is a studio and each household has at least one Chitrakar who is highly skilled and immensely creative. Along Raghurajpur’s two streets, amid coconut groves, there are over 100 homes covered in colourful murals — each a museum of art. Apart from pattachitra and palm leaf paintings, you will find artists making papier-mâché toys, masks, coconut crafts, wooden toys, etc. Each family has a distinct style of painting and the craft is passed down through generations. Most children who are 10-11 years old are taught the ancient art form, which their ancestors had been practising for generations. “I have been making pattachitra and palm leaf engravings for the past 35 years. It is my hereditary work, which I have also taught my children. They may not be as fine artisans as the older generation, but will hopefully keep our traditional art form alive,” says Avinash Nayak, who started learning the art when he was just 12.

Apart from the need to introduce synthetic colours, the art has remained unchanged. With art-loving travellers seeking out the craft, artists are replacing traditional long scrolls — that can sometimes be a few feet long — with smaller versions that can be framed in urban homes as souvenirs. The themes of the paintings remain true to their roots, featuring most popularly, the triad of Puri, followed by Lord Krishna. Paintings of the Dasavatars and the Dasa Mahavidyas are also common, as are scenes from mythological texts and stories. In the case of palm leaf engraving, palm leaves (commonly known as talapatra), sourced locally, are used and carved with needles or iron stylus to narrate a story. Pothichitra is a type of palm leaf engraving, which is in the shape of a pothi (book) and has both chitra and words written on it to narrate a story. Even as the village basks in its recent national and international glory, old-timers recall the efforts of Halina Zealey, an American researcher, and their very own Jagannath Mohapatra (winner of President of India’s award in 1965) to create a studio in every household. The village, about 50 km from Bhubaneswar, was initially home to five to six chitrakar families. The fortunes of these artists dwindled at the beginning of the 20th century with the entry of middlemen. Till then, they created pattis for the Lord Jagannath Temple and also sold these at the Bedha Mahal. By the 1950s, only a few old men continued painting. “In 1952, Halina Zealey organised a competition where artists from nearby villages participated. Mohapatra impressed her with a painting on Matsya Avatar (a fish incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu). But by then, most artists of Raghurajpur had turned labourers who supplied water to betel vines. Mohapatra eked out a living by working as a mason. When the neighbouring Dandasahi villagers joked about it, an aggrieved Mohapatra decided to create an artist in every home,” says Bhagawan Swain of Parampara, an NGO that coordinates the ground-level entrepreneurs of the village. Swain says Zealey understood the need to promote these products to sustain the art form. “She set up Banijya Vikas Kendra in Puri. Before leaving Odisha in 1954, she gave Mohapatra revolving fund to support the cause,” he added. Lakshmidhar Subudi, a Kala Puraskar awardee for his Thalachitra (carving done on palm leaves and filling it with black colour) for his art of Krishna Leela, says,”These days the art form has got commercialised. The artists have adapted to the modern society and their needs. They paint things the customer wants. Ultimately it is the struggle for bread and butter.”

In fact, the region is also home to the beautiful art form Gotipua, precursor to the Indian classical dance form of Odissi. It has been performed in Odisha for centuries by young boys, who dress up as women to praise Lord Jagannath and Lord Krishna. The dance is executed by a group of boys who perform acrobatic figures inspired by the life of Radha and Krishna. The dance form is a mixture of Odissi classical dance and Mahari style (which was once devoted by Devadasis, to Lord Jagannath). Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra, the much-awarded exponent of Odissi dance, was born in Raghurajpur. In his youth, he performed Gotipua. Later in his life, he did extensive research on Gotipua and Mahari style, which led him to restructure Odissi dance. He was the first to be awarded Padma Vibhushan from Odisha. At the far end of the village, stand two organisations that have been nurturing Gotipua with all its pristine flavour and glory—Dasabhuja Gotipua Odissi Nrutya Parishad and Abhinna Sundar Gotipua Nrutya Parishad.Dasabhuja Gotipua Odishi Nrutya Parisad was established in 1977 by Guru Maguni Charan Das, a Padma Shri awardee and recipient of Odisha Sangeet Natak Akademi award, and the dance school has played a lead role in the revival of the form. Sebendra Das, brother of Guru Maguni Das, currently runs the Dasabhuja Parishad. He explains the relevance of the dance form. “Gotipua is an amalgamation of two Odia words; Goti means single and Pua means boy. When the dance of the Maharis and the Devadasis of the Jagannath Temple at Puri disintegrated due to various reasons, young boys from various ‘akhadas’ were trained to take the tradition forward. Earlier, Gotipua used to be performed by a single boy, but over the years it evolved as a group dance.” Late Guru Laxman Maharana set up Abhinna Sundar Gotipua Nrutya Parishad, which has been working for the promotion and popularisation of the ancient dance form for 19 years. In 2000, Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) declared Raghurajpur a ‘heritage village’, which has helped the artists explore other traditional art forms as well. Near to Raghurajpur is another village named Dandasahi, which has the potential of becoming a heritage village of tomorrow. A small village of about 50 households, Dandasahi is on the side of the historical road, through which Sri Chaitanya had travelled to Puri.

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The Power of the Written Word

The Power of the Written Word

Pushpamala N’s latest solo show comprises two distinct sets of works

based on the common thread of scripts which seem contrary in nature;

one is like shasanas: a practice associated with power and the other with

resistance, says Saraswathy K Bhattathiri

One of the most thought-provoking artists in the contemporary art scene, Bengaluru-based Pushpamala N, who exhibits widely in India and abroad, works with various mediums like performance, photos, sculpture, curation and writing. In her latest solo show titled ‘Epigraphica Indica’ at Gallery Sumukha, Bengaluru, from March 12 – April 16, 2022, she displayed how the written word wields its power in everyday life. Two sets of exhibits were part of the show — ‘Atlas of Rare and Lost Alphabets (2015-2018)’ and ‘Nara/slogans (2020-2022). The former is a set of 100 installations, which was inspired by a vitrine containing ancient inscriptions incised on copper plates while on her visit to the archeological museum of Bengaluru. The act of transcribing the letters is articulated as a performative act reminiscent of scribes copying manuscripts in mediaeval libraries. She brings in references of anthropologist James C Scott’ s terminology and ideas on Hidden Transcripts, which is connected to mysterious languages of resistance and cultural preservation contextual in time. Nara is a set of 50 works that commemorates slogans and poems of recent popular protests in India. These are designed in various styles like that of Russian posters, books, dialogue boxes and graph pages using various typographies. In both the series, words and images are etched into copper plates and treated with brown and greenish patinas.

The former series takes an appearance of ancient scripts/alphabets of different languages like Kannada, Tamil, Malayalam, Urdu etc., refuting to assign to any essential meanings. She sustains a mysterious nature of the work which encloses an inability to decipher them. More than a linguistic challenge, this recalls the history of scripts that begins from primitive pictographs. Pushpamala’a work also recalls the last three decades of archival turn in contemporary art. Archives broadly are considered to be physical manifestations of history. These fabricated archives, which are mimetic versions of inscriptions, and manuscripts/shasanas, give a possibility of a humorous and fictive narrative of what happens if these were excavated in future and epigraphists struggle to decipher them. It lies somewhere between a wholesome fiction style of Eve Laramee’s works and Hanne Draboven’s notion of observing archival tendencies in cultural history. The ‘Atlas of Rare and Lost Alphabets’ moves contrary to artistic practices within the archive as it doesn’t use actual archive materials to advocate testimony or identity. The notion of authenticity/essentiality of ideas through script can see a wide range association with masculinity and hegemony embedded in the making of history and culture.

The artist associates these works with the subaltern voice, or probably a secret language formed as a resistance to hegemonic social structures that calls out for a disintegration of sound/script patterns. This is in concern that the language of the underprivileged was oral and fluid in nature. A disintegrated language is a ruin with epistemological mystery. Pushpamala recreates memoirs of Bengaluru based on the settings of ruins (of past and possible ruins of future) rather than a glorious past by taking inspiration from Walter Benjamin’s Arcades Project where he observes, Paris not as a developing city but as ruins.

Derrida in his essay Archive Fever a Freudian Impression connects ‘archive’ with both commencement (of subjects) and (gods/ men does) commandment. Rock edicts have been part of such archival practices and epistemological studies later on. Writing on rocks have therefore been historically connected to divinity or part of a hegemony related practice as in the case of Ten Commandments by Moses or Codes of Hammurabi. The Atlas series can be seen as a mutated version of what Derrida addresses. In Nara, the artist uses slates. Slate’s etymological references take us to French esclat, which means split piece: technically slates are splits of rocks. Nara’s slates address protests against discrimination and violence against women, minorities and proletarians in India in past few years. Its material influence is from rock inscription, which is older than copper plates but the sense of mobility adopted from the latter. These two works seem contrary in nature; one is like shasanas: a practice associated with power and the other with resistance. Here, the juxtaposition of these two series articulates that the slate seems to be split from monolithic rocks to give voice to the diverse and oppressed. Nara replaces erasable chalk with etching, which makes it a contemporary inscription and evokes a social discourse. Here she brings in a contrast of old ways of knowledge, which were grounded in centralised elitist attitudes and modern education, which attempts to consciously create equilibrium in future.

The Atlas series also has few botanical drawings, drawings taken from European mediaeval manuscripts, etchings of Francisco Goya and Indus Valley images. They decline illustrative assistance to the text but aids in recalling the extensive history of text and image links. Whereas in Nara, the images and texts are decipherable even for common men. This leads to linguistic contrasts as the former consist of mimetic versions of ancient Indian languages and the latter has English and Hindi; languages that contest with each other yet refer to a modern and collective sense of expression. It leads to questions like, is there a call for abandoning the past and realising the present? It fetches in an attempt for double discourse: archival as art and artworks as archives. While one can observe the emphasis on details like shaping the metal, etching, wax casting and threads on book format installations to simulate a museum work culture; which goes beyond mere representation, it faces the same issue as the reading of Freud’s Moses as historical novel based on which the implementation of archive cannot be sheltered. It seems to be in a liminus state of being an art or archive. If the work seems to call out for devising scripts for the scriptless, it might also seem to assert script as an essential aspect of epistemology.

The artist’s works are in the collections of MOMA (New York), Tate Modern (UK), NGMA, Kiran Nadar Museum of Art etc. She has also been a recipient of various prestigious awards.

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The Palette of Dreamss

Bright, sparkly, rippling with life and energy, bursting with love and longing, artist Samir Sarkar’s paintings are sheer poetry written with colours

For many artists, the idea that acrylics belong in a kindergarten classroom rather than an established painter’s studio begins in art school. Professors have been known to drill art students with unspoken rules like “don’t paint a large sculpture red,” “don’t put a circle in the middle of a composition,” and “serious painters use oils, not acrylics.” This final generalisation, passed down from one pompous painter to the next, is, in many ways, a grave misfortune. “For the past 25 years, acrylic colour has been the main medium for my paintings,” says Kolkata-based contemporary artist Samir Sarkar. “After doing the line drawing on paper or canvas, and many layers of colour, the subjects and people are slowly given shape using more layers of colour,” he says. Since he uses fast colours, Sarkar says his figures have a definite brightness about them. “They are inspired from Egyptian paintings; thus, the figures are drawn in the same form, the clothes they wear have long lines making them look taller and, in a way, Egyptian. Most of my paintings are of 42½X48½ size, which takes about 100 hours to complete,” he informs. If you look at his work, it’s like sheer poetry written with colours.

Bright, sparkly, rippling with life and energy, bursting with love and longing. Vivacious yet leaving you with a sense that real life would struggle to match up with those colourful renditions. Using strong visual elements and bright colours, his artwork makes you want to just sit there and get lost in the fantasy world. An Armyman’s son, Sarkar remembers having to change cities every two-three year’s during his childhood. While most teenagers would hate relocation because they have to leave their friends behind, move to a new school and start life all over again, it wasn’t the case with Sarkar. Being a born dreamer, to him the pleasure of travelling and seeing new cities was too strong to regret leaving the old behind. Relocating from one army base to another allowed him to explore many cities and its culture, while feeding the budding artist inside him. Each city that he lived-in, helped him grow his visual experiences, picking up bits and pieces before he moved along. Also, according to Sarkar, “Travelling so much as a kid forced me to get better at communication and understanding human behaviour.” This exposure to different cities and its culture has paid him good dividends, because it has allowed his work to connect with the people and reflect on the society we live in. He showed early promise when he started painting and sketching in school. “When I was in 8th standard, I had a classmate called Raju, who was brilliant at art. His work fascinated me. It made me wonder how he could use simple strokes to make beautiful artwork that brimmed with life,” he recalls. Inspired by his young friend, Sarkar started on his own artistic journey as a little curious kid looking for a medium to tell his stories. While he started learning by himself, living in Kolkata, he happened to be residing in the vicinity of some leading Indian artists. Persistent to learn and improve his work, he would simply land up at their house asking for advice and suggestions to improve his work. His dedication paid off and he joined a diploma of visual art programme at the Academy of Fine Arts (Kolkata). Soon, he was doing solo shows and exhibitions, building his own signature style. In 1996, he met Mother Teresa. He was so moved by what she was doing that he started working with her NGO, Tomorrows Foundation. Being one of its founding members, their goal was to help kids on the streets. Tomorrow’s Foundation is committed to all-round development of children from underprivileged backgrounds to help them become self-reliant and enjoy their right to a dignified life.

Sarkar was instrumental in the development of the ‘TF Card Project’, a way to bring about economic independence for the children from Kalighat brothels (a red-light district in Kolkata), streets and slums. Working with the organisation for many years helped him a great deal as an artist. It allowed him to better understand human emotions and the power of bringing a smile on someone’s face. According to him, “I never understood humans could have such humility and simplicity. When you work with these children, they will tell you stories, which are often filled with pain. It makes you appreciate life a lot more.” Experiences like these give you the strength to wake up every day and want to bring a positive change in the world you live in, and for Sarkar, the medium for change is his canvas. Besides the story and the bright colours, one of the most fascinating things about his artwork is the headgear. Sarkar believes that the headgear is a symbol of power. It helps an individual stand out; but it’s more than just a fashion statement. It puts an additional responsibility on the bearer, sending out a message to the world, giving hope to people from different walks of life. “All my paintings have people wearing some headgear that has a face painted on them, which depicts the double-faced nature of people. Like what we see in some professions where people wear uniforms like policemen, nurses, army personnel or the Pope. It’s the headgear that represents their identity. Likewise, in my painting, the headgears are the depiction of our true identity,” he explains. “It’s the true fact of our inner soul. And people can wear a face that may be different from the real one. People do carry multiple masks to hide their true nature, and eventually put up what suits them in this momentary world, concealing the actual character of their personality.” Like a story, Sarkar’s paintings have a lot of themes and messages, but they all revolve around strong emotions and relationships. He usually tries to depict these strong emotions through the human face he paints. He says that many of his paintings show two faces, which depicts multiple characteristics that each individual depicts when interacting with different people. “We are not the same when we deal with different people. Humans have learnt to react depending on who they are engaging with,” says Sarkar. According to him, “Music brings harmony to life and helps connect our senses.” As far as family is concerned, he says that “I have seen so many broken families that I try to show family bonding, affection and love, hoping that maybe my painting would bring about a positive change.”