Visual cultures: colonies, contemporary Delhi and its artists

India, representation and colonial encounter has been at the fore recently following the opening of Tate Britain’s Artist and Empire exhibition. Whilst the show sadly lacked critical bite as has been reflected in reviews, the accompanying symposium and catalogue essays, particularly Alison Smith‘s, delved more rigorously into the problematics of aesthetic exchange facilitated by the broader political context.

The invitation to showcase my ETIC research along with other early career researchers opened up these discussions further. A range of poster presentations particularly Dr Fariha Shaikh’s (University College Dublin) explored the diverse narratives and multifarious responses to this period. Exploring narrative paintings and emigration texts as mediators of experience, the poster (FSTatePoster) emphasised not only the emotional facets of colonial experience but also the importance of cities  as cultural loci.

India now

Landing in Delhi as part of a final research trip supported by University of Liverpool School of the Arts, it was therefore affirming to see that the potency of this space does not desist. Whilst the Tate show failed to fully engage with contemporary art making in former colonial hubs, at the eighth India Art Fair these cities and their envisioning, reimagining and activation were key topics.

Taking up temporary residence at the NCP stadium from the 28th to 31st January 2016, the fair and its collateral events reflected the concerns of the ETIC project. A multitude of exhibitions, screenings, performances and speakers’ forum were engaging with concepts and the constituents of these polymorphic spaces. At times entirely pulling it terrain apart and digging very deep as per Asim Waqif’s extraordinary ‘Autolysis’ in a 200 year old Sarai (ancient village) in Mehrauli.

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Autolysis (2016), Asim Waqif

Coming to the close of the event, a panel discussion including Prasad Shetty (CRIT) and Matias Echanove (Insitute of Urbanology) impressed that India’s conglomerations are malleable, unexpected and form according to no-ones plans. As Shetty, a leading architect and writer concluded, ‘cities happen outside of the grid’.

Beyond the Art Fair, Select CITYWALK mall, a space thriving on expected movements, motions and routine behavior, was disrupted as the central atrium hosted a series of installations to mark its first Emerging Artist Award with Sushant School of Design, Ansal University.

Launched by the acclaimed artist Probir Gupta the exhibition and award, created as an extended part of the ETIC project, intended to emphasise, encourage and explore the use of historic documents in the making of contemporary art in India.

Drawing on the British Library’s visual archives and working closely with John Falconer (Head Curator), participants were asked to responded to a sketchbook made by Thomas Theophilus Metcalfe in Delhi during 1840. Prepared whilst stationed in the city, ‘Reminiscences of Imperial Delhi’, Metcalfe brought together over 130 gouache depictions with explanatory text recording and celebrating the family’s time in India.

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Gouache works by Thomas Metcalfe

 With these representations overwhelmingly focused on transport and movement, the installations responded to mobility in the contemporary city. Interpreting the theme through painting, photography and installation, the works fused old, new and emerging faces of Delhi.

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Method in Madness (2016), Shivika Chawla and Dhananjay Khaitan

Using transport debris such as rickshaw handles and bike chains and warning lights, Method in Madness (Shivika Chawla and Dhananjay Khaitan) spoke of Delhi’s lost narratives and the need to be reflective in a city absorbed with new-ness. Caged (Taranbir Sawhney, Bhavyaa Parashar, Ashi Jain and Neha Tomar) similarly explored the city’s dichotomies. Taking the form of a peacock, the piece contrasted hand-woven silk fabric and metal work to explore the city’s fascination with technology, which threatens its ecosystem and natural environment.

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Framing the View (2016), Preeti Kataria and Radhika Kaushik

Drawing on Delhi’s contemporary air pollution and recent number plate initiatives, Roots (Gunjan Walia and Tanaya Shrivastava) bound the legs of a chair in the colours of the city’s metro lines to suggest that this infrastructure sustained the city and should be the focus of these pollution debates. Providing a critical perspective on the city’s development, Framing the View (Preeti Kataria and Radhika Kaushik) a dense crossover of threads spun across a wooden prongs, skewed the relationship between development and degeneration. Stating this was a subjective view, the piece signified the codependence of these states and pointed to the Indian city as an inherently contradictory space.

The city as a place of contradiction was unavoidable stated DL 6 to 60 (Abhivandan Vats, Aashna Jolly, Saakshi Saini and Amit Raj). Depicting the city’s modes of transport succinctly with contrasting black and white acrylic paintings, the piece played with the energy, which manifested from the city’s dual parts; the old and new. Each image, created collectively, visually referenced Metcalfe’s earlier sketches and placed in the context of the mall emphasized the city’s perpetual motion between its parts and spoke of the inherent attraction to its past whilst simultaneously enthused by the new.

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Detail from Dil waalon ki Dilli (2016), Mallika Malik, Aashna Sharun and Aashna Mulchandani

Dil waalon ki Dilli (Mallika Malik, Aashna Sharun and Aashna Mulchandani) a reference to Delhi’s spirit and compassion for all, brought the city’s heart alive in three dimensional form. Encircled by the city’s roads and with the metro train at its core, the piece emphasized the centrality of this system and its fundamental role in keeping the city alive.

 

Whilst the majority of the works focused on internal travel within the perimeters of greater Delhi, India on the Road (Ibadat Singh) adjusted the perspective to the multiple migrations made in and out of city. Photographically cataloguing these journeys made between the city and Uttarakhand the installation contextualized the liminality and transience of these people and this extended space.

Transferred onto roughly cut wood and lowly set across a curved, irregular surface, the photographs encouraged a series of perspectives to emerge. Moving around the installation affronted with these intimate images and their blank reverse mirrored the diverse usage of the road and invisibility of Delhi’s outward connections.

And the winner was…

Following consultation with an international panel of art specialist and educators including the acclaimed Dr Veronica Sekules, Ann Marie Peña (Frith Street Gallery), Sajan Mani (Performance Artist), Dr Stephen Knowles (Curator, Knowsley Hall), Sarover Zaidi (Writer) and Stacey Gould (Neuroscientist, Artist) the inaugural prize was awarded.

India on the Road was the winning work receiving congratulations for its documentary feel, engagement with the theme and critical bite. The artist, Ibadat Singh, will receive a selection of photographic books thanks to Ansal University and Select CITYWALK.

2017 Emerging Artist Award

Given the success of this first award and overwhelming response to the show, the prize will return next year. For 2017 we will be seeking entries from design and art schools across India. For further details please follow the ETIC project on Facebook.

Further notes

Founders

Professor Mike Knowles

Professor Knowles moved to India to develop job creation and export projects and helped establish the In Group. In 2003 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and up until recently headed the India Fellowship. In 2008 he established a Skills Academy for the University of the Arts London in New Delhi and was conferred a Visiting Professor UAL in 2009. In 2010 he was given the responsibility of developing the Sushant School of Design where he was Dean for 5 years, growing the school from a handful of students to one of India’s leading Design Schools. He now heads the Creative Hub, SSD at Ansal University.

Cleo Roberts

Cleo Roberts is a PhD researcher whose work is part of the UK India Education and Research Initiative’s showcase project, Envisioning the Indian City. She is currently a Visiting Research Associate at Wolfson College, Cambridge. Since receiving a prestigious INTACH scholarship, she has lectured internationally at the CSSS, Royal Asiatic Society, Princeton South Asia Conference, Jadavpur University and was named a ‘New Voice’ by the Association of Art Historians in 2014.

Arjun Sharma

Arjun is the Chairman of Select Group, a business house that has diversified interests in retail industry, real estate, travel & tourism, hospitality & retail industry as well as private equity. Arjun, along with his partners launched Select Citywalk and, as a keen patron of Indian art and culture, has established and developed its diverse art and design programmes. Select CITYWALK is Delhi’s most impelling shopping & entertainment haven situated in Saket. Recently, it was concluded that Select CITYWALK is India’s No.1 Shopping Center with the highest sales per sq.ft. as well as rental yields.

Project Lead and Curator

Neha Grewal

Neha Grewal is an artist based in Delhi. She completed her Bachelors of Fine Art from College of Arts, New Delhi and thereafter, a Masters in Fine Art from The Faculty of Fine Arts at Jamia Millia Islamia. She continues her art practice at her Delhi studio and more recently has extended her interest in the sphere of art education, currently as Associate Professor at Sushant School of Design.

Reflecting Neha’s dedication in the field of art, she has received accolades such as the Ravi Jain Fellowship Award 2013 by the Dhoomimal Gallery and the Second, First and Second Prize at three consecutive Annual Art Exhibitions of Collage of Art, Delhi.

Judges

Dr Stephen Lloyd

Stephen Lloyd is Curator of the Derby Collection at Knowsley Hall on Merseyside. He was formerly a senior curator a the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh, where he curated many exhibitions on portrait miniatures and published on late eighteenth century and early nineteenth-century British art, including the work of Sir Henry Raeburn. His doctoral thesis was the basis of the exhibition, Richard and Maris Cosway: Regency Artists of Taste and Fashion, which he curated at the SNPG and the National Portrait Gallery, London (1995-6). He co-curated The Intimate Portrait: Drawings, Miniatures and Pastels from Ramsay to Lawrence at the SNPG and the British Museum (2008-9). He has most recently edited Art, Animals and Politics: Knowsley and the Earls of Derby (Unicorn Press, London, 2016).

Stacey Gould

Stacey is undertaking her PhD in Clinical Neurosciences at the University of Cambridge in collaboration with a local pharmaceutical company. She completed her undergraduate degree in Neuroscience at the University of Manchester where she spent a year working for another pharmaceutical company in Germany. She then accepted a Research Assistant position in Cambridge studying how chemotherapy causes pain. Whilst Stacey spends most of her time conducting scientific research, she also enjoys producing artwork with scientific themes. Indeed, Stacey has previously exhibited installations at Manchester Museum (as part of Science Stroke Art 2014) and St. Barnabas Church, Cambridge UK as part of the very first Pint of Science-related Creative Reactions event in 2015. Stacey aims not to explain science through art, but rather evoke a curiosity in it.

 Sajan Mani

Sajan Mani is a contemporary artist hailing from a family of rubber-tappers in a remote village in the northern part of Kerala, India. Sajan’s work voices the issues raised by the marginalised societies of Kerala. With degrees in Fine Arts and English Literature and Journalism, Sajan has participated in the Vancouver Biennale Residency, Project 560 – Found Space Festival initiated by India Foundation for the Arts and was involved in artistic and organisational levels at the first Kochi-Muziris Biennale. He frequently writes for Malayalam cultural magazines about contemporary art.

Ann Marie Pena

Ann Marie Pena is a producer, curator and Associate Director of Frith Street Gallery in London. She has taught Visual Studies at the University of the Arts London, and in 2011 instigated the Artist in Residence program at the Art galler of Ontario in Toronto.

Dr Veronica Sekules

Veronica Sekules is a writer, art historian and curator. After an early career as an environmentalist, she worked for 35 years as curator and founding head of education at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, University of East Anglia, including periods of freelance consultancy and secondment to Tate. She has published widely including ‘Medieval Art’ (Oxford History of Art, 2001) and Researching Visual Arts Education in Museums and Galleries (with M. Xanthoudaki and L. Tickle, Springer, 2004) and is currently researching a new book on Cultures of the Countryside and the Museum to be published by Routledge.

From 2004-6 she was on secondment to Tate Britain running Visual Dialogues in collaboration with four regional partner museums. She co-edited World Art Journal, for 5 years, published by Taylor and Francis. She is founding director of GroundWork gallery opening in 2016 in Kings Lynn, Norfolk, and dedicated to art and environment.

 Sarover Zaidi

Sarover Zaidi has studied philosophy and social anthropology in Delhi and researches and writes on architecture, design, material culture and religion. Her current iniative ‘six conversations on elementary forms and the city’ explores urban life through the format of basic forms such as lines, circles, triangles and squares. Prior to this she curated ‘The Hand of Fatima: production, consumption and circulation’ at Space 118, Mumbai.

 

 

 

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