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Strokes Of Wonder

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The art ‘season' this year has been a vibrant one, with significant events taking place across India. The season started with Anish Kapoor's celebrated avant-garde art displays stretching from Mumbai to Delhi. The shows brought together the artist's provocative sculptures made from steel/mirror and mixed-media.

While the India Art Summit in Delhi was perhaps the most visited among recently held exhibitions and fairs, individual efforts, too, abounded. The Kiran Nadar Museum of Art (KNMA), inaugurated on 19 January, deserves special mention. The fact that the KNMA is situated inside a mall — the DLF South Court Mall in Saket, south Delhi — means it is likely to be visited by a lot of people. The museum on the whole reinforces the emerging trend this art season: the return of the modern masters. The Bombay Progressive Artists' Group comprising F.N. Souza, S.H. Raza and M.F. Husain takes centre stage, with Raza's Saurashtra, Husain's That Obscure Object Of Desire, and Souza's bold nudes occupying pride of place.

"There is an increasing desire to buy rare works by the masters," says Dinesh Vazirani of Saffron Art Gallery. Across the country, works by modern masters saw strong demand as independent art houses paid tributes to their great works.

At Kolkata-based art curator Rakhi Sarkar's exhibition titled ‘Yeh Image Mahaan: India Meets Bharat', popular culture was documented through works such as Amar Sonar Bangla of Sumitro Basak. Sarkar put together an eclectic display of works ranging from Mahabharata drawings of Ganesh Pyne to Shakila's paper collages. "It is about showing the transition of Bharat to India, through works of young artists and women voices," she says.

A smaller exhibition was by Haren Thakur and Anup Karar at the Triveni Kala Sangam, New Delhi. While Thakur captures the wedding rituals of the Mundas, and festive motifs of the Hos and the Oraon houses of Jharkhand, Karar portrays the sufferings of humans, especially women, through his works. "Tribal art and their lifestyle, cottages, and their festivals inspire me in every sense," says Thakur. Karar's images of a rickshaw puller, a housewife before a broken mirror, and a pensioner in the bazaar are inspired by feelings of rejection.

Sculptor Neeraj Gupta's exhibition ‘Horizontals and verticals' showcased some brilliant carvings out of wood and marble. Gupta, who prefers wood, cement and marble for his sculptures, says he is immensely inspired by his roots. "I don't understand why we have to draw inspiration from western artworks, when we have such a rich heritage," says Gupta, who is particularly fond of his Transformation, a swirled sculpture carved out of marble depicting how life transforms at various stages.

Elsewhere, Gautam Bhatia's exhibit titled "Through the eyes of Gandhi" at Bangalore's Aparao gallery, portrayed Gandhi in various avatars — from a cowboy to a lawyer to an American marathon runner. And Ranbir Kaleka displayed his paintings with video projections over them at the Volte gallery in Mumbai.

The India Art Summit provided a good platform for young artists. Singapore-based Ketna Patel's art work titled Stop-Indian ahead (a pop-art rendition on Tata Nano) was highly appreciated. "It was intimidating to recreate an iconic object like the Nano, but we got a great response," says gallerist Suman Aggarwal. About 80 per cent of the works were sold by the end of the second day, with prices ranging from Rs 1.5-5 lakh. On the contemporary art front, Subodh Gupta, Farhad Hussain and Bharti Kher's exhibits drew attention. "Demand for contemporary Indian artists, which found interest in a lot of global buyers in 2007, saw a dip, but we expect to be back at the strong price points by the end of this year," says Vazirani. Diaspora came back in a big way. "The best part of the art summit was the inclusion of artists of Indian origin from around the world — from artists such as Anish Kapoor and Raqib Shaw to lesser known but interesting artists such as Gyan Panchal and the Singh twins," says art expert Amrita Jhaveri.

The dominant theme of socio-political issues captured through bold colours and metaphorical symbols was seen at all art events. Be it Arpita Kaur's Guantanamo Bay or Vishal K. Dar's A great deal more than a pinch of salt (2010) — a mixed-media installation that made waves across the art circuit.

Click here to view slide show on Strokes Of Wonder

With inputs from Malabika Sarkar and Pallavi Chakravorty

(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 07-02-2011)