by Ranjan Kaul
The India Art Fair (IAF) is finally back after more than two years of wait. The scorching heat failed to dampen the spirit and enthusiasm of the organizers, gallerists and artists to come together and put up a great show. Owing to the postponements and shifting of dates, there has been limited, almost negligible foreign participation (and those too with rather middling works); nevertheless, this shortfall has been partly covered by galleries making their debut. The first two days saw artists, collectors and art aficionados flocking to the exhibition ground despite the mercury hovering around 45 degrees. Meeting after the long pandemic-imposed hiatus, there was more than the usual bonhomie and networking and hugging among the participants and visitors. The collectors had been dying to see art physically, and one is informed that there has been brisk business to ensure that art in the NCR remains alive and kicking. After all, the IAF is primarily a trade fair!
View of the Fair
Limitations of time and space have not allowed me to write a more comprehensive and critical review of the Fair. I must also confess that the selection of works featured in this overview is governed by my sensitivities and my belief that, given humans are social and political animals, art, especially contemporary art, must reflect in some ways current socio-political concerns. Artists and writers are rebels who look at the world in a different way and they must carry their share of the burden of this responsibility. Besides breaking fresh ground in relation to innovation, experiments and use of materials and mediums, good art, especially for it to qualify as contemporary, must also include meaningful content that resonates with the time we live in. To this end, the organizers need to be commended for setting the tone with Shilpa Gupta’s T-shirt worn by those working at IAF (and also on sale) that says, “I LOOK AT THINGS WITH EYES DIFFERENTLY FROM YOURS.”
Apart from the usual artworks of traditional painting and sculpture, there is NFT and digital art and murals, installations and immersive works on display. As an aside, apart from commercial considerations and the argument that we need to promote folk art (I completely agree that traditional, indigenous arts must be kept alive), I’m not convinced about the rationale to devote more than the usual space to Madhubani and Pichwai art. I wonder if there were diktats to do this from the higher powers that be or is it that the tastes of collectors have so dramatically changed that they are now rooting for folk art even as they continue to pick up the leftovers of the Moderns of the likes of Souza and Husain, which of course are very much on display.
A large 50-foot mural titled The Future is Femme, which imagines a binary-free future by the Bengaluru-based Arvani Art Project, a trans-artist collective supported by Saffronart Foundation greets visitors to the exhibition. Related to this, inside the exhibition hall is a photographic collage titled Who Am I? My Name? by Dheeraj Kumar. This queer art and others alongside revolve around stories of the struggle and survival of the LGBTQ+ community.
The Future is Femme by Arvani Art Project
Photographic collage titled Who Am I? My Name? by Dheraj Kumar
I’m an unapologetic admirer of the art of Jogen Chowdhary, whose works I regard as a cusp between the modern and the contemporary with his distinctive elemental, linear and yet expressionist style rendered with criss-cross-hatching with ink on pastels and water colour. I was therefore enthralled to see his solo exhibition titled Enduring Forms at the Kolkata-based gallery booth of Art Exposure, who are making a debut at IAF. Two works of a kneeling man and another figure lying prone caught my eye for their reflection of humans challenged to live in adverse and traumatic conditions. The works of Anjan Modak displayed at Kolkata based Emami gallery also caught my eye for their portrayal of the human condition.
Expectedly there are works of other artists which reflect the suffering and trauma of common people, especially owing to the pandemic. The sculpture titled Home by Sudipta Das at Latitude 28 depicts how the forced lockdown pushed people indoors and became multivalent. Another work by the well-known sculptor, K.S. Radhakrishnan, titled The Heap, is his response to the pandemic. As he says, the work “depicts my concept of humanity having been drained of its individuality, people stripped of their uniqueness, and simply piled together as a heap . . .”
Man Kneeling (left) and Man Lying (right) by Jogen Chowdhary
Some other figurative works by Jogen Chowdhary (Photos credit: Ranjan Kaul)
Friends by Jogen Chowdhury, Pen and ink with Pastels
The Eye Catcher by Anjan Modak, Water colour and graphite on paper
The Bed of Nightmare by Anjan Modak, Water colour and graphite on paper, 48 inches x 60 inches, 2019
Home by Sudipta Das, Detail 4, Mixed Media (Paper, Watercolour, Stainless Steel, Wire Mesh)
K.R. Radhakrishnan with his sculpture The Heap (Photo credit: Ranjan Kaul)
Two evocative works by the late Jai Zharotia which he created in response to the pandemic just before his untimely demise last year are displayed at the Art Heritage gallery. Khadim Ali’s works exhibited by Latitude 28 are reflective of the ongoing political crisis in Afghanistan. Being from the Hazara community Afghanistan, his family was forced to flee. The trauma and loss owing to migration is a recurring theme of his work, which he handles deftly and aesthetically using gouache and gold leaf on Wasli paper.
Untitled work in acrylic by Jai Zharotia (Photo credit: Ranjan Kaul)
Evacuation 22 I by Khadim Ali, Gouache and gold leaf on wasli paper, 28 inches x 22 inches
Evacuation 22 II by Khadim Ali, Gouache and gold leaf on wasli paper, 28 inches x 22 inches
On display at Vadehra Art Gallery are Gulammohammed Sheikh’s drawing that responds to current world events in real time. Also on display are Shilpa Gupta’s cut-frames that navigate the wear and tear of borders and boundaries. Around the same theme, I was fortunate to be around to witness the performance art of Arpita Akhand titled 360 minutes of Requiem where she deconstructed a 360-feet-long barbed wire fence as a meditation on the partitions and divisions we have created in this world.
Refugees by Gulammohammed Sheikh, pen and ink, 11 inches x 15 inches, 2021
Requiem by Arpita Akhand, Performance at India Art Fair 2022 (Video footage: Ranjan Kaul)
Works by Shilpa Gupta (Photo credit: Ranjan Kaul)
Our honourable Central ministers have recently stoked controversy by proclaiming that Hindi should become the sole national language; this is indeed unfortunate in a country as diverse as ours where the state boundaries were drawn on linguistic basis and where our diversity and richness of culture must be celebrated. In fact, our regional languages and dialects are dying because of neglect and disuse. This is what Ayesha Singh and Abhimanyu Dalal’s collaborative installation titled Inversion, Inclusion, Immateriality perhaps alludes to. They identified over 100 languages spoken in India and included their alphabets in their installation, shaped as an inverted pyramid and using written scripts, including those that have fallen into disuse. The work generates a dark room of multilingual words, layering alphabet characters on one or more of the planes of the pyramid. These swirling, gibberish-like codes and characters on the planes with moving lights create an illusory movement reflecting the diverse world of languages around us. The characters diffuse as they are cast on the wall and fall, referring to the untimely death of these languages.
Inversion, Inclusion, Immateriality by Ayesh Singh and Abhimanyu Dalal
Many people may have forgotten the unfortunate incident where an artist at the 2020 Fair was compelled to bring down a work that was aligned to the anti-CAA protests in outside. But the organizers and gallerists seem to have kept this in mind and been understandably overly self-censorial to ensure that they do not display works that could provoke untoward acts. This notwithstanding there are indeed works that do respond to socio-political concerns, not directly, but in subtler ways using visual metaphor and allegories. Subterfuge and imagination always come to the rescue of sensitive artists! Among these works include the Abhishek Narayan Verma’s work on display at the Anant Art booth. The young and promising artist was in Vienna on a Residency when he worked on a series of 26 works titled Meanwhile during the lockdown –A walk to remember where the protagonist in the local red dress takes a long journey carrying a cloth bag with “Fakir” written in Hindi and a white flag. Injected with satire, humour and irony, the works depict the adaptability of humans and their compulsions to make compromises. Abhishek tells me that the whiteness of the snow fascinated him to the extent that he has used it as a metaphor of his own self. The works speak of the challenges of human beings to live and survive in an absurdist socio-political climate. Even though his protagonist himself looks despondent, the artist continues to live in hope. Somewhat related is a sculptural installation by Narayan Sinha titled Engulf placed right outside the exhibition hall, where she used scraps of silencer pipes as a metaphor to comment on today’s stifling environment. Not to be missed of course is the evocative work titled Suno by Faiza Hasan, a call to listen to the voices of the unheard, painted on a BMW, who have been the sponsors of the Fair since its inception.
Works by Abhishek Narayan Verma from his series, Meanwhile during the lockdown - A walk
Suno by Faiza Hasan, BMW car
To keep the viewers fully engaged and develop greater appreciation of the visual arts, there are talks, discussions, book launches, and even curated walk-throughs. Alongside the Fair site are exhibitions organized by most of the leading galleries in Delhi as collaterals or parallel shows in the Delhi NCR region – the KNMA is hosting two centenary exhibitions honouring Somnath Hore and Sayed Haider Raza; the Dhoomimal Art Gallery is running a show titled Lines and (By)lines; the Vadehra Art Gallery is showcasing two solo shows of N.S. Harsha and Manjit Bawa; there is a show at DAG, Claridges, titled Tantra; there are two shows in support by the Italian Cultural Centre organized by Engendered titled Techne Disruptors and Vita Nova which were both recently reviewed on artamour; a thought-provoking show titled An Unlocated Window of Myself is ongoing at Gallery Dotwalk in Gurugram; and many more. So, the art season is very much on, hot and happening, and there is much to see, experience and enjoy if you are in Delhi NCR. But do remain safe, the Covid numbers are rising!
(The images of the works are courtesy of the curators, galleries and the individual artists unless otherwise mentioned. )
Ranjan Kaul is an artist, art writer, author and Founding Partner of artamour.
His art can be viewed on www.ranjankaul.com