Musings from Chennai
The Month that was
September – October 2011
by Vaishnavi Ramanathan
After 17 years, Chennai hosted the National Exhibition organised by Lalit Kala Akademi. The 53rd National Exhibition was inaugurated on 27th August by the Governor of Tamil Nadu in the presence of K R Subbanna, Vice Chairman, Dr. Sudhakar Sharma, Secretary and other officials of the Lalit Kala Akademi. This year's exhibition received a record number of 7723 exhibits from 3048 artists. A new trend this year has been the increased participation of artists from regions such as the North East where participation was previously low. From these entries over hundred works were selected for the exhibition and ten of them were selected for the award. Gayatri Apte's award winning ceramic Porcupine was an evocative work where the surface was handled with great sensitivity, thus bringing out the prickly nature of the porcupine while also highlighting the vulnerability of the animal. Niraj Ahirwar's sculpture consisted of organic forms where the play was on texture and colour of the stone. S.K.Srinivasan's metal sculpture Celestial Landscape captured the awe inspiring quality of the universe and the childlike wonder of gazing at the nightsky. The other award winners were Arvind V. Patel, Jyotika Sehgal, Mohan Dattatraya Shingne, Prasanta Kalita, Rajesh Prasad Srivastava, Shitanshu G. Maurya and Vibhuti Sharma. However, despite the increased participation, this year's exhibition ended up being a let down-many of the works were unremarkable and were also not the best works of the artists. While quite a few of the works had ambitious titles and themes, there was a lack of sincerity in engaging with the themes, making many of the works heavy and pretentious. The only thing that prevented the viewer from going back totally disappointed was the promise seen in artists such as Mohan Kumar.T, S.K.Sahni, Hement Rao, Puran Prajapati etc. Apart from these, the works of print makers such as Soniya, B.Kanakasabamani, Naini Arora, Vinita Kumari, Gurmeet Singh Marwa and Jagdeswara Rao are also something to be watched out for in the future.
This month was special for art lovers in Chennai because Cholamandal Artists' Village along with Lalit Kala Akademi published Art Trends, the collected volume of the quarterly magazine Art Trends that was published from Chennai/Madras. The book was released on 2nd September by Jennifer A.McIntyre (Consul General of the United States of America). Art Trends, one of the first art magazines of India, was published between 1961 and 1967 and later between 1971 and 1982. The magazine was brought out by the Progressive Painters' Association of Chennai with Prof. Joseph James, the chronicler of the Madras Art Movement also playing an important role. Speaking at the time of the book launch, artist V.Vishwanathan spoke of the context in which the art magazine; as a medium to engage with art and art history in the absence of classes for the latter. Apart from writers such as Joseph James, Ghulam Sheikh, Keshav Malik, Gita Kapur etc, artists especially K.C.S.Paniker, who also wrote under the pseudonym Sunanda, contributed articles. Therefore a wide range of topics ranging from techniques of bronze casting, contemporary approaches to colour and trends in art education to discussions on identity and tradition and the development of the art market have been covered. With poems by/relating to artists, letters and passionate arguments and discussions on art, the tone of the magazine is often intensely personal. What is also unique about this book/magazine is the relatively flexible layout where images of art works and quotes by artists are placed at unexpected intervals presenting the reader with surprising insights and inspirations. Especially, at a time prior to the information revolution where images and discussions on art were relatively scarce, the visual and theoretical impact that such a magazine would have had cannot be overestimated. So unlike most other magazines where the documentation comes after the event, one might say that the Art Trends magazine itself inspired and predicted the direction of the Madras art scene. Another interesting thing about the magazine/book is the way it mirrors K.C.S.Paniker's ideology of having an art that is 'Indian in spirit yet worldwide contemporary'. While the thrust is on artists in Madras and in the rest of the country, the magazine was extraordinarily up-to- date in carrying reviews and discussions of art trends abroad. So, Art Trends not only helps understand the Madras Art Movement better but also paints a vivid picture of the cultural climate of that time. Furthermore, like masterpieces in art, that continue to be alive and open to interpretation even after centuries, the writings in the magazine continue to hold relevance even today. This is evident in passages such as the following-
“One of the maladies that has dogged the steps of the contemporary artist is his apparent need to keep himself in the lime-light without a break for survival. He has to please continually, all through his life, inorder to sell and live. Truly, an artificial situation considering human limitations, - it does not seem to allow for the perfectly normal slack periods of creativity in man.… Cezanne, it is recorded, withdrew from public exhibition of his work for a period of seventeen years while he was at the height of his powers….. The spiritual significance of such self-imposed and periodic withdrawal from public exhibitions of one's work by a potentially creative painter does not appear to be very much understood. It can possibly give the artist clarity of mind and vision and help him to find himself, - to arrive.”
- Art Trends, Vol V, No 2 and 3, Jan-April 1966