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Aesthetic Fiesta

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It is ironic that Chennai, the hub of ancient south Indian culture, should be relatively disconnected from modern Indian art. Seeking to address that imbalance was Art Chennai, a week-long art extravaganza in the city. Twenty-two galleries and 27 art shows showcased more than 2,500 works from India's leading and upcoming artists. There was also video art, art camps, live art, art conversations, and an art auction. "We tried to bring everything connected to art," says Sanjay Tulsyan, convenor of the show and managing director of Tulsyan NEC Steel. "We even brought in artists to paint live." The response was encouraging; Lalit Kala Akademi saw an average 900 visitors daily; other venues attracted more than 15,000 visitors.

All big galleries of Chennai — and some from Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Cochin — participated. From the far-flung, sylvan environs of Cholamandal Artists Village — a community of artists that gave birth to the Madras Movement of Art in the 1950s — to the rustic DakshinaChitra to top galleries such as Forum Art Gallery, Lalit Kala Akademi and Apparao Galleries, Chennai was treated to an art show on a scale not seen before in the city.

Lalit Kala Akademi displayed Rabindranath Tagore's original drawings and paintings sourced from private collections, including Lady and Untitled. Also on display were portraits of the master made by Jamini Roy, Abanindranath Tagore, Gaganendranath Tagore and Atul Bose. It also had a special exhibition of the late K.C.S. Panicker, founder of Cholamandal Artists Village. This was part of the ‘Dialectics of Tradition' section, showcasing the works of four influential artists (K. Ramanujam, Velu Vishwanathan and K.V. Haridasan being the other three) who shaped the Madras Art Movement. "The show blew my mind, such a wide array of contemporary art was on display under one roof," says photographer Varun Gupta, some of whose photographs from his body of work, ‘In Search of Solitude' were also on display. "It is an attempted dialogue between my urban self and the person I become when engulfed by nature." The pictures were taken in 35-mm and 120-mm format, and black and white film.

Apparao Galleries had works of modern favourites such as M.F. Husain (including The Tea Party and some untitled works) and Anjalie Ela Menon (including Vishnu and other untitled works) on display. "Chennai is definitely ready for something of this scale," says Sharan Apparao of Apparao Galleries.

Focus Art Gallery displayed the works of photographer Gauri Gill from her ‘Notes from the Desert' series. The photographs, with silver gelatine print as the medium, are inspired by rural communities of western Rajasthan.

There was installation art, too. At Lalit Kala Akademi, the grim ‘Bhopal — A Silent Picture', a multimedia installation that had a 20-ft long black container displaying 3D images and film with soundscape of the Bhopal gas tragedy, was evocative and thought-provoking. "My work went to the India Art Summit, then Kala Gora in Mumbai; this is the third step," says artist Samar Jodha. "Ninety thousand people have walked through it. Finally it will be installed permanently in Bhopal."

The other installation art, ‘The Ore', is a community project, the brainchild of Cochin-based artist Rajan Krishnan. "I worked with 200 artists for three months and created one million handmade pieces," says Krishnan. "It is  inspired by the landscape of Kerala." These miniature pieces, made of terracotta, included pots, elephants, dogs and abstract objects. 

The last three days of the show also had discussions among artists at the Taj Coromandel on topics such as what it means to curate exhibitions, how value can be determined in art, and artistic processes, titled ‘Art Conversations'. Speakers included cultural activist Ranvir Shah of Prakriti Foundation; Abhay Sardesai, editor of Art India; Mumbai-based art historian Arshiya Lokhandwala; art critic and curator Gayathri Sinha from New Delhi; and artist, academician, curator and writer Paula Sengupta from Kolkata. "The discussions were superbly organised," says Shalini Biswajeet, an artist and owner of Forum Art Gallery, whose sculptural works like ‘Woman, Cow and Lotus' were on display.

Overall, Art Chennai drew kudos from critics and students alike. Says art buff Alexander Zachariah of Rubecon Advertising: "To see such an amazing width of art showcased at one point of time is a fantastic experience." For architecture student Charanya K.L., it meant a break from clubbing and movies. "It was thought-provoking and interesting," he says. Adds Biswajeet: "For serious players, it provides ample opportunity to network and be noticed; I wish for it to be an annual affair that the art community and city can look forward to."

That is exactly what Tulsyan has in mind. Next year, he also hopes to rope in sponsors, and government support for access to spaces like the beach for large installation artworks. Chennai's art scene now has a new buzz.

Click here to view slideshow on 'Aesthetic Fiesta'

(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 11-04-2011)




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