Venice Biennale, 2011
Of all the art meets at the international level, the Venice Bienalle held in Venice, the city of gondolas, is by far the best rated among all. For India, the Venice Bienalle this year, is a historic occasion as it marks India’s curated national entry onto this prestigious platform of art. Established since 1895, this year marks the 54th session of the Venice Biennale. Ranked as the oldest and best known platforms of international art, it has now expanded to 128 participants with this year’s showing, with India being given due pride of place. While earlier sessions of this Bienalle has shown the works of Indian artists, this is the first occasion where India is being represented at a national level and befittingly, it is the Lalit Kala Akademi, the country’s National Academy of Art, which will be the organising body for the exhibition. According to Shri Ashok Vajpeyi, Chairman, Lalit Kala Akademi, ‘The Venice Bienalle is a historic
occasion for India as she will be participating in it for the first time. It is also getting Indian contemporary art a place on the international scene at a time when India is in focus on the international art scene.’
A debut showing of this calibre at Venice has put into gear a set of norms would mark a linkage between contemporary Indian art and the
current global art scene. In pursuance of this idea Ranjit Hoskote, its curator, states: ‘Normally the curated exhibitions at Venice are solo shows but we are holding a group show as the pavilion at Venice is intended to stretch the idea of India that is not territoriall bounded, but extensive in a global space of the imagination.’
That extensive care and attention has been paid by the curator to make
the show an attention getter is evident right from his choice of the title of the exhibition. Says Hoskote, ‘The exhibition is called: ‘Everyone Agrees: It’s About to Explode.’ This was a line taken from a text ‘Invisible Committee Resonant Energy,’ and I thought it was an apt choice as it spoke of reclaiming voice and space, a situation that is very relevant in Indian art today.’ Keeping the focus central to the idea of artistic sensibilities arranged around the idea of India, Hoskote began the conceptual process of this exhibition keyed on to creating ‘a pavilion as an enquiry into the art of India.’ That in fact, had led him to home on
to taking a group show to Venice as a departure from the usual practice of countries representing a solo artist at this platform. ‘It was to serve as a cultural citizenship for India and stretch the definition of art to represent group histories (instead of single viewings)’ he contends. Artist choices for the showing therefore were pinned to these objectives. They include such practitioners as Zarina Hashmi, Gigi Scaria, Praneet Soi and Sonal Jain and Mriganka Madhukaillya. Of these, Zarina Hashmi was born in Aligarh and now lives in New York. She is a well known print-maker, and mixed media artist. Gigi Scaria is a painter, sculptor and video artist who was born in Kothanalloor in Kerala, but now lives in New Delhi. Praneet Soi, also a painter, sculptor and video artist, was born in Kolkata, but now lives in Amsterdam and works out of Kolkata and Amsterdam. The Desire Machine Collective is a media collective based in Guwahati where the duo, Sonal Jain and Mriganka Madhukaillya, have been working across film, installation and public space projects.
Says Hoskote: ‘In selecting the artists I have focused on practices that are conceptually and aesthetically rich. They represent a diversity of locations, cultural histories economies of image making and several generations.’ About his choice of Zarina Hashmi, he states that the raison d’tre behind his choice is because her works represent the post-Partition diaspora in them. Speaking of the choice of Gigi Scaria the curator explains: ‘He has moved to the metropolitan city from his home in Kerala and his art speaks of the cultural repercussions of this move. He questions about whose space a metropolitan city really makes. Thus his works address the public curiosity,’ he surmises. Praneet Soi’s connections with erstwhile maritime cities like Amsterdam and Kolkata forms a strong link.
Recently he has been working with the potters of Kumortuli and thus his art delves also into the contribution of marginalised economies coming into cultural production providing thereby cultural honour to the marginalised.’ The film production says Hoskote, ‘draws attention to making things visible, defining the place where the art is coming from.’
The works on exhibit consist of Zarina Hashmi’s work entitled: ‘Home is a Foreign Place’, a portfolio of 356 woodcuts with Urdu text and printed in black, on handmade Indian paper. The symbolic forms in each of these assembled squares are pictorially appealing at the visual level, but carry an in depth conceptuality that is essentially global, as the phenomena of displacement is a global one as well. ‘Her other work ‘Noor’, has a spiritual overview. The light illumination particularly, harks back to mystical traditions of several groups.’ It consists of Maplewood with formulated gold leaf and leather cord in 13 sets of three units each, making a set of 39 units in all. The work, ‘Blinding Light’, done on Okarawara paper cut and gilded with 22 carat gold leaf, carries further her theme of mysticism and spirituality, furthering the idea of translocations.
Artist Praneet Soi has a mural project that was made in situ at the venue. The artist was at work on his project weeks before the opening. Projected on the gallery wall was his work from a slide show encompassing images of a printer, from the days of the letter press technology, where facets of this era have been represented through different slides. The video installation of Gigi Scaria titled: ‘Raise Your Hands Those Who Have Touched Him,’ is loaded with meaning. It depicts images of the elderly, a familiar image in the urban milieu, while his work; ‘Site Under Construction’, also a three-channel video installation, carries glimpses of metro connectivity in an image suggestive of multi-storey living. The images that reflect: ‘Political Realism, 2009, is a single channel video with sound and has captive images of city high-rise architecture, boxed into the space of a doorway. The sole film titled ‘Residue’, is a 39-minute exposure shot on the outskirts of Guwahati and depicts a power plant, focusing on the idea that constructed signs can never be replicated or remembered, in the relationship of matter and memory.
Speaking on the real challenges that faced him in the course of curating this show Hoskote confided: ‘The real challenge was to select a few powerful statements of contemporary art... The selection was intended to make people think of this country as cosmopolitan India defined in diverse places, an India that was transcultural. In doing so, the art became the “secret histories of the marginalized communities”, as in the case of Praneet Soi who works with makers of letter press printing equipment, residing in the potter neighbourhood of Kumortuli in Kolkata. Above all, Hoskote was determined that the art at the Biennale was ‘a non-male collective, In other words, the selection was neither on male or female grounds.’ Such an exercise has yielded an entirely novel approach to the selection of artists, a definite departure from the well-trodden path of using gallery recommendations and art auction sales as yardsticks for the task. ‘The selection is asserting a certain view of Indian
art,’ claims the curator, ‘a counter view if you like.’ Thus having deliberately steered away from conventional gallery choices, he claims: ‘Artists who have emerged through the important gallery systems present a certain kind of argument about what Indian art is known about. My choices are from a curatorial point of view and thus they become a kind of laboratory to float a new set of questions to work towards a notion of cultural citizenship. The India Pavilion at Venice is the unit of measurement of this take, on Indian art.’
The location of the India Pavilion, where the art works from India will be on display, is the Arsenale, in its Artiglierie section, which lies at its south east end. This area enjoys the highest number of visitors among the Biennale venues, as once one enters the site, there is no way one can exit the premises without passing by this space. Hence the numbers of footfalls to the Pavilion are estimated to be one of the highest. Area wise, too, the space encompasses 250 sq m and is in the shape of a quadrature. According to the curator, ‘The shape has a sublime meaning, as an enclosed form has reference to Buddhist, Hindu and Islamic beliefs, in the mandala and the charbagh concepts. Within the area there is a balance of closed and open areas where the different artworks will be arranged making for a variety of visual experiences.’ Significantly, the Arsenale itself has high historical importance in Venetian history as it was once the weapon store for the navy of the Republic of Venice from the 15th to the 19th century and served as a rope making area for the navy. The Biennale, in its restoration work since 1999, has been particularly attentive to all the restoration works undertaken in this area.
To make the work flow smoothly the curator and the entire support staff at LKA worked along strict timelines for its realization. Costs incurred for the event were scrupulously budgeted and arranged under different cost heads. Thus pre-production costs, post-production costs as well as professional fees were catered for and strictly adhered to. Also, timelines for achieving signposts onwards to the final goal of opening up one’s doors at Venice to the world of international art lovers was meticulously followed. Thus when India made its debut appearance, the red carpet was rolled out in style and India and her art made a smooth and telling entry on 2 June and will be on view till 28 November 2011, making her mark not simply as an art display but as a landmark arrival, that the world of art will long remember with pride and interest.
The National Art Museum of China, at Beijing will be the venue of the Fifth Beijing Biennale scheduled to open on 28 September, 2012. India’s participation at this major art showing is being viewed as a special affair as India has been invited to take part in an India Special Exhibition at the Fifth Beijing Biennale. The Members of the Executive Board of the Lalit Kala Akademi have jointly chosen a team of 12 eminent Indian contemporary artists to participate in the exhibition. These artists have been handpicked from all the major disciplines of contemporary art and have created special artworks for this prestigious show at Beijing. A special catalogue brought out by the Beijing Biennale Office of the China Artists Association have even published a catalogue containing a 3000-word write-up of the India Special Exhibition. In this catalogue the image of the works specially created for the exhibition by Indian artists, has been printed so that much before the exhibition opening, genuine art lovers will have access to this unique aesthetic experience.
The theme of the above-mentioned exhibition at Beijing is ‘Future and Reality’ and the main forms in which this theme has to be interpreted by the Indian contingent to Beijing is painting, sculpture and video works. On the whole, the work of this handpicked team is highly representative of the country and showcases the level of development in Indian contemporary art. Thus none of the works are old creations as artists have specially created works of this showing.
Artist K S Radhakrishnan has created a total of two sculptures on the lines of his miniature works with forms that the artist has fashioned after his characters Musi and Maiyya. Another sculptor participant, Balan Nambiar, has created a stainless steel sculpture where the geometric proportions of the circular discs of stainless steel sit with an exactitude that suggest well thought principles of construct, where mathematics and aesthetics partner together to deliver elegance and lightness. In the balance, the work resembles a ballerina on stage. For artist Seema Kohli, who has included a sculpture as her third entry into the exhibition, her work is representative of the opening of inner channels and merging with nature around. Of the paintings specially created for the show, Deepak Shinde’s works investigate the passion aroused for marked territories by both man and animal. He uses the form of a tiger to bring home the idea, also focusing on the powerful animal’s precarious condition, thereby focussing attention on the ecological system. Using film and video as categories for depicting their art, are Riyas Komyu and Chittrrovanu Mazumdar. Komu’s projection of Kannagi the archetype of womanhood who never lets injustice pass unnoticed by her, draws from the symbolism of modern politics and military industrial style music to narrate modern evils such as injustice, war, indiscipline. The loud volume of his videois a deliberate and symbolic indicator of the situation, for according to the artist, we have all become lifeless and dumb beings. Mazumdar’s work, also a selection of two digital prints on archival Hannamule Rag Paper, captures oblique recipients of light and dark noticed by him in puddles of water, on the floor of a temple. Above this concentrated image is the vast sky, which in his interpretation acts as a catalyst of nostalgia for a time that came before. While one of these works can be seen on a wall, the other can be viewed on a sloping wooden structure in a darkened room.
An interesting work exclusively for this exhibition has been realized in the art of N N Rimzon who utilizes the magnetic draw of symbols to effectively present challenging ideas. His symbols are derived from his pastoral roots in the verdant countryside of Kerala. In the work titled ‘A House under the Tree’ the compact space defines the rural home within a compound-like setting with an overhang of tendrils from a giant tree form. On second thoughts this seemingly pastoral idyll gives way to a more sinister throttling symbolism, where the tree seems to represent within its form an eerie and undercover cynicism.
The art of Suman Gupta takes shape to glorify the individuality of man. For this purpose the artist chooses the ordinary individual in his moment of relaxation, when he is freed of the burdens of existence and seeks refuge in temporary spurts of happiness. In the works of K K Muhamad, the role of violence in enhancing the power of art is a recognized fact, and his art is a response to this powerful theme. Examining the historical and religious context of violence, his mixed media work assembles a multiplicity of lines, strata, machines and bodies sourced from nature, architecture, and technology, all of them creating an expansion of possibilities.
The calligraphic creations of artist Poosapati Parameshwar Raju who is known for his modern take on the ancient art of calligraphy, in his work titled ‘Sun’, celebrates the winter solstice or Makar Sankranti. The vibrant strokes of his work generate a rhythm suggestive of the beginning of life, its continuance and its end. In an overlay of calligraphic lines suitably adopted to create forms instead of lettering, a whirl of energy is exuded in the stylised play of ink on paper.
The minimal and consummate art of Anju Dodiya showcases her uncanny knack to use the most striking sources for obtaining symbols to express her personal agenda. In the work, titled ‘The Dark Milk of Dawn’, the convolutions and lines on the surface suggest an insight into moments when the artist is in a private and silent conversation with nature at dawn. Moving away from the purely personal on to a more socially recognizable domain is the work of Vijay Bagodi titled ‘Between Shades and Shadows’. It depicts the factual contradiction emanating from the much-touted philosophy of advising the viewer not to speak, hear or see evil. Made in the intaglio process on zinc plate and aquatint, it sharply points to the compromising of this issue in today’s circumstances.
With so many vibrant and creative inputs, the India Special Exhibition at Beijing is set to emerge as the very crucible from which Indian art practices of the future will emerge.
The Indian participation at the 15th Asian Art Biennale, Dhaka, marks another chapter in the ever-growing artistic closeness between our two countries under the aegis of our respective national art bodies. The first of these initiatives, namely the joint celebration of the 150th Anniversary of Rabindranath Tagore had seen the Lalit Kala Akademi, New Delhi, and the Shilpakala Academy, Dhaka, jointly collaborate on an art initiative, co-hosted by the heads of our respective states.
In the second of these art initiatives, at the venue of the 15th Asian Art Biennale, Dhaka, once again, the Lalit Kala Akademi, India’s National Academy of Art, has come forward to feature a unique amalgam of art experiences through an exhibition specially collaborated for this prestigious platform. This handpicked convergence of art, even as it strives to present the latest interventions of Indian art trends, also pre-supposes a level of reciprocity being carried to the next level, with Bangladesh coming forward to participate in the forthcoming Triennale, India, at Delhi.
The works on display at the current showing have at their crux an Indian multi-dimensional art base, exhibited as much through established forms as through a nascent art buzz. As is obvious, the offering is a bird’s eye view drawn from senior, medium and upcoming practitioner levels, so that the overall viewing insight makes way for interactive dialogue at local, national and international levels.
Moved by the overwhelming response that this exhibition has received from all quarters, we acknowledge that the success of this endeavour would not have been possible without the cooperation received from the Ministry of Culture, India, the High Commission of Bangladesh in India, the High Commission of India in Bangladesh, the Shilpakala Academy, Dhaka, the members of the Lalit Kala Akademi, among others. We extend to them our sincere gratitude and thanks for making the event come to a successful fruition.