Art News & Views

Image-making to Image-circulation: Implicated Image(ry)


(Mainstream Indian visual art post-1990s)
by H A Anil Kumar

The most comfortable mode in which the mainstream visual art activities of India, since 1990s, can be categorized is by taking note of its position as an 'implicated imagery'. By this, I mean that the art before or till 90s was considered as a purer or purist image(s)ry and the discourse and institutional processes that occurred (a) around it and (b) in the making of it (note the irony between (a) and (b)) gave us an imagination of 'a visible space within a frame as an art image', by and large. Everything that happened around it (criticism, appreciation, sale, auction, hegemonic placing of (only) 'one' work as superior to the other; hierarchy, awards, gallery-artist-work nexus and the like) served as an appendix 'to' it, in the popular imagination of 'Art', even among the specialists who spoke and wrote about it [1].Or, the utopian glorification-of-mere-static-image-minus-its-politics-for-art lingered by and large, till the 90s. On a second thought, this is how the aftermath of 90s art circumstance might be imagining its immediate past! Further, did such a pronounced 'imagination' of its immediate past become an 'inevitable necessity' for the art-after-90s, or for the art between 90s-2010, for its 'own' existence!

Hence, to imagine as to what happened to  the art-as-an-image post-90s is also to take note of whatever happened to the concept of 'image-as-artwork' before that, in the due course. In other words, image-making was metamorphosed into image-circuit, as an optimist might wish to position it in a positivist mode. Playing a devil's advocate, I would like to bring in the way the art community closer to the theoretic blend currently imagines the hierarchy between paintings and the new media works.


Those that were seen as mere appendix to an art image(ry) a la artwork, before 90s, began to demand an autonomy of a certain kind, for its own self. Today, it is almost next to impossible to imagine a celebrated (hence genuine! And might not be the other way round) work of art, beyond its agency that circulates it! When was the last time a genuine artwork existed on its own, beyond the politics of agencies of endorsement like museums, collections and galleries? Or, is this very question based on a belief that whatever occurred before 90s need to be imagined in a utopian/idealistic mode, to raise such a question! Was there an artwork or a picture frame which was received/recognized/appreciated beyond its politics, for its mere so-called aesthetic values, before 90s?would be a counter question. This brings us to the question and notion of agencies and institutions of art (from Lalitkala Academies to Better Known Art Schools (BKAS) like those at Baroda, Santiniketan[2]; to art groups ranging between Cholamandalam to Khoj) and to the intentions or the lack of any of the agency that publishes articles that raise such questions! The paradoxes, contradictions and ironies inherent within such set of questions were the reasons due to which such questions were aborted before 90s mainstream Indian visual art context.


Why should the 90s be the turning point? For one reason, most prominent artists of the country, whom we refer today in the context of curatorial projects, Biennales and Triennials were emerging out of institutional training in the early 90s. There could be a lot of anomalies as well. (a) The open economy system that occurred within the politics of Indian history, (b) the artist-in-residency opportunities that took artists to unknown geo-political zones outside India, (c) the hypertext and the world wide web (www) that availed a bypass to the artists throughout the country deconstructed a clear cut hegemony implicated by the Academies and then by the white cube system, that earlier played a major role in regulating (i) the visuals, (ii) the opportunities and (iii) choice of one artwork, artist, art groups over the others. Even international funding agencies (IFA, Bosch) spread the feel that contesting the pre-90s context of 'image-making' in order to stress on 'image-circuit' split the image-maker into two. Hence there are artists who traverse between the familiar painterly grammar and the new media, owing to the cajoling nature of the funding system [3].


(a) Implicated Imagery, (b) image-making and (c) image-circuit are the three important characteristics of art since 90s. Through this, the process of circulating image(ry) has been behaving as if it is a part of image-making or vice versa. Residencies and workshops have replaced art camps, thus watering down a pre-existent hegemonic order, paradoxically evoking its own hint of hegemony through a renewed usage of techno-suave media and an inflow of artists from deviant geographical premises [4]. The result of this is that the notion of the nation has been divided, proving that the imagination of the imagery itself is subject to context-bound articulation. In other words, while an exhibition titled “Indian Summer” can happen outside the country (Paris), the thematic concern of the current international affairs becomes a prime theme for artistic congregation within the country. India, as an artistic theme, within and without the country it is named after, is articulated, thus dislodging the pre-90s imagination that the notion of nation is and an everlasting, uncontestable premise [5].

Thus the image post-90s, was born with a memory of the past as a compulsive aspect, to be 'contested' (not endorsed) and 'yet retain' them as a thematic aspect. In other words, the Indian art world before  the 90s is aesthetically colonized to serve as a mere thematic concern which finally amounts to its own sophisticated outlook, which has been used as re-served themes differently for internal and international circulations. Hence the newly acquired aura of the post-90s image(ry) does not shy away from its outlook which is newly built upon the older blocks. They seem familiar, but address something that its own seeming-nature does not imply! Art historically speaking it resembles the Roman architecture (re)articulated to exist as a Christian church. What the post-90s image(ry) preaches is based on what it considers as banal, to begin with. What it actually preaches is a totally different story. If 'issues' like gender, queer, subaltern, contemporary-postcolonialism and avant garde are at the heart of the art post-90s, the way it seems is more important than it is! In other words, everything that the art after 90s has been and addressed are both not only constructs, but duly acknowledges that they are constructs. Constructs that agree to be what they are can be dislodged. This is also the difference between the art before and after the said date.

Altogether the 'implicated imagery' post-90s is a construct that de-powers the rest of the art around it, yet being created. Surfacially it seems to be that the art in the familiar media is the one that is being de-powered. However a whole lot of practices, applications and institutional policies that stayed in the margin, before, owing to the priority to image-making (as different from image-circulation) have been empowered and those that were futile have been disconnected, including, say, the national(istic) phenomena.


One of the final features of the post-90s Indian art involves the 'packaging' involved in the implication of imageries: It might be very mean to use such a mundane word (packaging). However, there is an art without the support system of pedagogy, discourse and curatorial practice that yet continues to sustain from past two decades. Most would jump to the conclusion that I am speaking about the painterly/known media expression. It is half true, for, the other half is false. The 'pleasure of endorsement' availed to certain art-imageries through agencies are already being patternised, after being patronized. In fact, such practitioners are performers of their own kind. The rest of the art, which seems to be unaffected by the critical agencies, has found an alternative spaces to exist. These are the rat-holes of democracy [6]. They seem to be the offspring of the pre-90s: single frames considered as art, traded, merging with the surrounding elitist architecture and nurturing the promise of longivity. Often this image-'made' (in line with ready-made) art as against the 'circulated'-image seem to believe in a utopian premise for art, wherein the aftermath of the physical creation of an 'artwork-as-single-frame' is left to its own fate. However, without being appreciative or apologetic, it is important to note that the circulatory enthusiasm of imagists, post-90s has already began to faintly resemble the preparatory enthusiasm of the image-makers from the pre-90s. Even avant garde is problematic if it is predictable! On the other hand, the unpredictability of an image can also become a quizzical aspect of democracy. Consider the details of MF Husain's migration to Doha, Baroda's Chandramohan's institutional controversy, Subodh Gupta's overseas popularity and Anish Kapoor's nationalism and its ambiguity. Post-90s Indian artistic practice is leaping out 'from' the imagination of the socio-political construct of its own nation, which is much acknowledged but its new grounds of settlement is rather an uncertain site, as per now.

Foot notes:

[1] The important texts that can be considered about 'modern' period of Indian art should include Geeta Kapoor's “Six Contemporary Indian Artists”, “Moving Focus” by K.G.Subramanyan and the articles by R.Siva Kumar written before the 1990s, apart from the Central Lalit Kala publications and their predecessors like Jaya Appaswamy and a whole list of art critics and art journalists. One of “Art & Deal” magazine's issue selected 25 prominent artworks and were individually appreciated by various writers, which implies the aptitude and attitude of the editorial outlook to endorse this 'single' work as a point of perceiving art (Edited by Siddharth Tagore, published by Art Konsult, New Delhi). Even seminars, conferences and talks, such choice of 'individual' works, apart from serving a point of reference, contain the memory of 'left over' works and goes unanswered as to the criteria to do so. Such and other 'silent zones' have prevailed between the pre-90s to post-90s discourse of art (i.e. being theoretically endorsed). This is one mode in which a traditional revaluation has occurred since 90s. (a) Packaging the 'Past' in a certain way; and (b) driving certain inevitable matters of art into silent zones are two important characteristics of Indian mainstream visual art since 90s.

[2] I have earlier discussed about a possible hierarchy between Lesser Known Art Schools and BKAS, without shying away from the commonalities in between.

[3] This point whether a painting/painter is theoretically substandard, in comparison to the new media artistis either vaguely referred to, or easily refuted in the writings on Indian mainstream art, post-90s.

[4] Consider the activities of Bangalore Artist Residency (BAR1), Samuha and No1.Shanthiroad, Khoj and their interactions with its offshoots and look-alikes at Bangladesh and Srilanka. They often marginalize the pre-90s institutionalization, including the pedagogic ones by shifting the image-circuit from 'making' to 'participation' of sorts.

[5] The 'relation' between the traditionally acknowledged media for Indian art and the material re-articulated from the mundane world to the artistic one and the difference in the 'circulation' of the notion of 'nation(al)' within and without India is arguably mutually related.




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