Matters of Colour ;

Posted by-Kalki Team

It was a year that saw controversies, protests and records, and was marked by the demise of Indias leading modernists. Talk presents a portrait of the year.

Opening a Dialogue :

The recently concluded Serendipity Arts Festival in Goa might have pitched itself as “Indias first interdisciplinary arts festival” — with equal emphasis on performing, visual and culinary arts, but the sentiment and call for conversations between different disciplines was overriding through 2016. As early as January, India Art Fair tapped into theatre, film, literature, music and food. The Speakers Forum at the event featured a discussion on the relationship between literature and art with poet-screenwriter Javed Akhtar and painter-writer Gulam Mohammed Sheikh at the helm.

The non-profit space in Delhi, Khoj, launched Listening Room to bring the talented indie music artistes to the fore, the ones who find it difficult to get a platform otherwise. The Kiran Nadar Museum of Art hosted an evening with Dastangoi performance by Padma Shri Syeda Hameed and Askari Naqvi. But it was the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, curated by Sudarshan Shetty, that has, perhaps, best integrated the various disciplines, establishing a precedent for art in India. The Mumbai-based artist has invited poets, authors, architects and theatre people to engage with the audience at a forum that is primarily focused on fine arts.

So the Biennale has art enthusiasts wading through seawater in a warehouse inscribed with Chilean poet Raul Zuritas verses, and reading chapters from Argentine author Sergio Chejfecs novel Baroni: A Journey hand-painted across city walls (pictured). The emphasis on exchange between various disciplines also echoes the drift world over, as the year also saw Museum of Modern Art in New York City closing its architecture and design galleries, along with the other medium specific galleries including photography and drawing for renovation. In the meantime, works from these mediums will reportedly be interspersed throughout the museum.

Art Responds :

The most compelling and lasting artistic statements in response to the many disasters of 2016 emerged, ironically enough, from the ephemera of the internet. Besides caricaturing the developments in the US elections and Brexit, cartoonists and illustrators rallied to pay tribute to the victims of terror attacks in Nice and Brussels.

However, the lack of commiseration for lives lost in multiple attacks in Turkey and Pakistan generated considerable debate over why terror attacks in some parts of the world are mourned more than the others. Closer home, some of the most powerful works of art emerged in the wake of the unrest in Kashmir.

The use of lead pellets to disperse protesters and the resulting injuries, in particular, were addressed in works such as Orijit Sens Agony Map of Kashmir, which was widely shared online. The most visceral artistic response was embodied in Kashmiri artist Mir Suhail Qadris re-imagining of the Kashmir Ki Kali poster featuring Sharmila Tagore with a bandaged eye. The artist followed this with a series of works in which Indian freedom fighters and, later, icons of western art history, appear with pellet wounds and bandages.

In another kind of artistic riposte, British artist Stuart Semple has barred Anish Kapoor from using the worlds pinkest pink (pictured), created by Semple after years of working with paint manufacturers from across the globe. In 2014, Kapoor had shocked the art world when he acquired exclusive rights to use the worlds blackest black, Vantablack, in his art. Semple is willing to sell the pink to everyone, except Kapoor.

Protest Art :

Freedom of expression takes a few punches every year and 2016 was no exception. At the Dhaka Art Summit, the Chinese ambassador to Bangladesh, Ma Mingqiang, reportedly asked organisers to remove the artwork of Dharamsala-based couple Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam, which paid homage to the Tibetan struggle. This month, in an echo of events from 2015, protestors vandalised a painting at the Jaipur Art Summit. Lal Shakti, a womens organisation, and Rashtriya Hindu Ekta Manch objected to artist Radha Binod Sharmas semi-nude depiction of women, calling it “vulgar”.

The artists, too, took to the streets. In March, hundreds of artists from across India protested against the proposed adoption of Venkatappa Art Gallery in Bengaluru by Tasveer Foundation. And in New York in July, outside the Jack Shainman Gallery, American artist Dread Scott raised a flag to illustrate the dangers faced by African Americans and Latinos living in the US. His banner read, “A Man Was Lynched by Police Yesterday” (pictured). There was also international uproar when dissident Chinese artist Ai Weiwei recreated the heartbreaking image of three-year-old Syrian refugee Aylan Kurdis lifeless body washed up on a Turkish beach.

The photograph had many decrying it as “crude”, even as some, including the artist, maintained that it was a “powerful” tribute. However, what really riled the Indian art fraternity in 2016 was a nasty review of a Bhupen Khakhar exhibition — fittingly called “You Cant Please All” — at Tate Modern in London. The Guardians art critic provoked much outrage when he described the late artists work as “second-rate”

Going Public :

Statues of political and historical leaders are commonplace in intersections across India, looking over chaotic traffic, but now attempts are being made to introduce the public to art outside the white cube. In 2016, Indias first art district was arguably painted in Delhi, when St+Art beautified the walls of Lodhi colony, with Mahendra Pawars creepers and flowers and Niels Shoe Meulmans poems among others. The St+Art team also painted narratives in the streets of Bangalore and Hyderabad.

In Mumbai, meanwhile, Emilio Leofreddi stitched railway tickets into a carpet to design Flying Carpet, exhibited in Mumbais bustling Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, as part of the festival “Bori Bunder @ Platform 8”, which also saw participation by artists Owais Husain, Andrea Caretto and Teja Gavankar. In fact, art was ubiquitous at many of Mumbais busiest train stations, thanks to the beautification campaign Hamara Station Hamari Shaan. Initiated by non-profit groups Mumbai First and Make A Difference (M.A.D.) in collaboration with Western Railways and Central Railways, the campaign saw large numbers of citizens volunteer to give the usually-run down stations a colourful makeover. While Publica in Delhi had site-specific works embedded in the local context, Lalit Kala Akademi and New Delhi Municipal Council, too, collaborated on a public art project where sculptors were invited to create sculptures that are permanently displayed across the Capital.

Indians Abroad ;

It was a good year for Indian artists internationally, with a clutch of major shows at important art venues around the globe. There was, of course, the controversial Bhupen Khakhar show at the Tate Modern in London, besides “Invisible Reality” at Hauser & Wirth, which was Subodh Guptas first major solo in the UK. In the continent, Mumbai-based artist Manish Nai had his first solo in France. His works were showcased in the exhibition titled “Matter as Medium” at Galerie Karsten Greve in Paris. One of the more reclusive painters in the country, Anju Dodiya also had her second solo “How to be Brave” in the French capital, at Galerie Daniel Templon.

Mumbai-based artist Shilpa Guptas neon light installation “My East is Your West” was placed in the main square of Gagliano de Capo in Italy, where it will be exhibited for at least three years. Across the pond, The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York hosted the first museum retrospective of Nasreen Mohamedis works in the US, while Jitish Kallats immersive installation, “Jitish Kallat: Covering Letter” premiered in the country, after it was gifted to the Philadelphia Museum of Arts.

Steady, But Slow

In a year that saw a steady interest in modern and contemporary Indian masterpieces, but little by way of exciting sales, what made the most news was the sale of Akbar Padamsees Greek Landscape. The work was sold at a Saffronart auction in Delhi, setting the record for the modernists work at Rs. 19.9 crore. The sale of Mumbai-based artists Greek Landscape generated interest not only because it is a spectacular work from Padamsees “grey” phase, but also because of its provenance.


The plastic emulsion on canvas had, until that evening, been in the possession of fellow modernist Krishen Khanna. In an interview to The Indian Express after the sale, Khanna recalled that he had purchased this work in 1960 from artist and collector Bal Chhabda for Rs 1,000. The sale also saw two other records, one for Nasreen Mohamedi, whose untitled oil on canvas (1960) sold for Rs 2.40 crore, and for Gaganendranath Tagore whose Rubens Sketchbook sold for Rs 1.8 crore. Other high profile art sales failed to generate much excitement, including Christies annual India sale this month, which saw the prize lot — a 1975 untitled oil on canvas by Tyeb Mehta — fail to meet the Rs 10 crore estimate.

Change in Leadership ;

If 2015 saw the removal of the dynamic National Museum director Venu Vasudevan and Lalit Kala Akademi chairman Kalyan Kumar Chakravarty as well as the non-renewal of the term for Crafts museum chairperson Ruchira Ghose, 2016 too brought a change in leadership in the national arts institutions of India. After heading the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA) for 16 years, Rajeev Lochan vacated his chamber post the end of his term in June. Odisha-based sculptor Adwaita Gadanayak became the new face of the organisation. Private secretary to former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Shakti Sinha was, meanwhile, appointed as director of Nehru Memorial Museum & Library.

The post had been vacant since last year after Mahesh Rangarajan stepped down. This was after the NDA described his appointment as “illegal” . While Prasar Bharati CEO Jawhar Sircar submitted his resignation to the Information and Broadcasting Ministry four months ahead of the end of his tenure, Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts is also now headed by veteran author-journalist Ram Bahadur Rai.

In Memoriam

SH Raza

The artist, who famously said “I live to paint and paint to live”, left a great void in the Indian art world. Member of the famed Progressive Artists Group (PAG), SH Raza died in Delhi in July at the age of 94. Son of a school teacher from Mandala, Madhya Pradesh, Raza was the global face of Indian art. He left for Paris in 1950, only to return in 2010, but his practice remained rooted in India and its numerous elements – prakriti (nature), kundalini (primal energy), tribhuj (triangle) and bindu (circle/dot), among others. His paintings, Saurashtra, which sold for Rs 15.9 crore, and La Terre, which sold for Rs 18.8 crore, fetched record prices for Indian art at various auctions. “With his death we have lost one of Indias best colourists. He was a magnificent artist and we should be proud of the fact that this country produced him,” says fellow member of the PAG, and close friend Krishen Khanna.

KG Subramanyan :

It was under the tutelage of masters such as Nandalal Bose and Benodebehari Mukherjee that Subramanyan discovered his oeuvre rooted in Gandhian principles and one that borrowed from disparate traditions, bridging the gap between art and craft, the modern and the indigenous. He dabbled with numerous mediums, representing the complexities of contemporary times, and contributed not just through art but also by tutoring and mentoring several future generations of artists. Subramanyan died in July in Baroda at the age of 92. “He was able to capture the pulse of the people in his work,” noted Amal Allana at a condolence meeting organised for the artist by Art Heritage gallery in Delhi.

Yusuf Arakkal :

Born into the Arakkal royal family, Yusuf Arakkal fled home at the age of 16 to pursue art. He fended for his art education doing odd jobs and depicted the lives of city dwellers in his early abstracts. Even after he turned to figurative narratives, the artist continued to reflect on social issues and the human predicament. He died in Bangalore at the age of 71 in October. “He was very magnanimous and often helped young artists,” says artist Achuthan Kudallur, a close associate of Arakkal, who, among others, will be remembered for his much-acclaimed “Pipes and Pavements” series, which also won him the National Award in 1983. Inspired by Dutch artist Rembrandt, he often painted his canvas with dark backdrops. Christ and Krishna were recurring subjects in his works.

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