[The Month That Was]
Musings from Chennai
by Vaishnavi Ramanathan
Art Chennai is back in the city with its second edition! Like last year, there are exhibitions organised by city based galleries and visiting galleries, art conferences, auction and an art camp. Though the shows span a variety of themes, the art conference and exhibition, To Let the World in: Narrative and Beyond in Contemporary Indian Art, curated by Chaitanya Sambrani, will focus on Narration. Apart from these, a new feature of this year's Art Chennai is the performance and public art initiative under which music and dance performances and installations in public spaces are being organised. While this is arguably a more inclusive approach, the absence of several senior artists from Chennai in Art Chennai's events is rather surprising. Furthermore, unlike last year where there was a fine balance between iconic Indian masters and relatively younger artists, this year, except for the Itinerant Bengal exhibition, which in no way came close to last year's retrospective of Rabindranth Tagore, K. Ramanujam and A.P. Santhanaraj, the focus this year appears to be more recent trends in art.
Solo shows - Art Chennai
Focus gallery is presenting Blind Poet and Butterflies, a series of paintings and installation by C. Douglas. The artist reflects on the dichotomies of human existence by using motifs of butterflies with eye like designs on their wings and images of the blind poet surrounded by fragmented words. His techniques, such as crumpling the paper, tearing it, applying sand on it etc. further capture the fragile existence of the butterflies and the precariousness of vision itself since the butterflies 'see' for the poet. Another impressive solo show that is taking place now is R.B. Bhaskaran's exhibition at Art World. While the exhibition includes his couple, cats and nudes series, the most appealing are his small still life paintings where he balances black and white tones with colour as well as different kinds of surface finishes with one another. The aspect of drawing continues to remain central to his work as he uses it both to create forms into which colours can be filled as well as to remove colours from painted areas and create images.
DakshinaChitra is hosting an exhibition of M. Senathipathi's works where the artist explores themes such as Mother and Child, mythological figures etc using a vocabulary that combines the 'tradition' of cubism with Indian elements. Paresh Maity's show at Sumukha also uses a semi cubist vocabulary with colour applied in layers over a textured surface. Also on view are his installations that reflect a fascination with light
Benitha Perciyal in her exhibition at Spaces continues her exploration of the handmade and the natural to ritually re-enact the communion between the self and nature. Rather than the visual element, the most intriguing aspect of the show was that of smell since the aroma from the clove curtain and the tree of incense created the nostalgic feel of entering a place of worship. Unfortunately, the show would have had greater impact had there been more works on display.
The other solo shows that were part of Art Chennai were Prokash Karmakar's show organised by Art World, C. Krishnaswami's exhibition at Ashvita Arts, Ruth Bisping's solo exhibition at Goethe institute, Forum Gallery's exhibition of Biswajit Balasubramaniam's cartoons and Calcutta arts club's show of Zaw Win Pe's paintings at Vinnyasa Premier Galery.
Group Shows- Art Chennai
Gallery Art and Soul is presenting pREpellers an exhibition curated by Kavitha Balakrishnan, that focused on the alienation, destruction and pain that characterises life in the globalised world. The exhibition is a combination of personal narratives on neglect (Morose by Monali Meher), destruction (Mansi Bhatt's photo-performances) and the body (Barbara Ash and Chila Burman) as well as statements on violence in socio-political spheres (Abul Hisham, Zakir Hussain, Waswo.X.Waswo etc.).
Gallery Sri Parvathi is presenting works by Chennai based artists Aneesh K.R, Saravanan Parasuraman, Sunil Kumar Sree and Kumaresan Selvaraj who explore themes such as silence, desire, pain and growth using mediums. While the use of new media itself in a place like Chennai is exciting, the artists also need to work on developing more individual languages.
Forum gallery is presenting Materials and Metaphors, an exhibition by Shalini Biswajit and Puneet Kaushik that is dedicated to exploring the potential of materials. In contrast to Shalini Biswajit's works where the combination of steel and painted canvas appear forced, Puneet Kaushik uses the element of craft through techniques such as croquet and bead weaving to create a body of works that are by and large evocative of his concerns in culture. Working Title an exhibition of digital medium works featuring artists Murali Cheeroth, Ravi Kumar Kashi, Kanchan Chander, Harsha Biswajit, Praveen Goud, Clare Arni, Birendra Pani and others is another exhibition on display at Forum Gallery. The most noteworthy works in the show are Bandeep Singh's digital photographs which use the image of the pot to draw parallels between the human body, the earth and the process of creation
Several other group shows are being presented as part of Art Chennai. This includes Cholamandal Artists' Village's group show of artists S. Nandagopal, K.V. Haridasan, P. Gopinath, D. Venkatapathy and others, Ayya Gallery's group show of artists like A.P. Santhanaraj, Atin Basak, Laxman Aelay etc, Lakshana Gallerys's exhibition of Pablo Bartholomew and Varun Gupta's photographs and Asharaa's photography show Lost in Tradition.
Under Art Chennai's public art initiative, installations and exhibitions were organised in different public spaces and IT parks across the city. Some of them were Sheba Chhachhi's Bhogi/Rogi, Bose Krishnamachari's Ghosts: Transmemoirs and White Builders and Red Carpets, Riyas Komu's Last Pass, Samar Singh Jodha's, Discord and Natraj Sharma's Construct of These, Ghosts: Transmemoirs set up in a mall was very popular with the audience. The installation, which has videos playing inside tiffin boxes, links the dabawallas who sustain Mumbai with the spirit of Mumbai, the city of dreams. A more time and site specific installation was Catastrophe curated by Koumudi Patil on the Marina beach featuring installations by Jacob Jebaraj, Subodh Kerkar, Vaishali Narkar and others. Since the installations explored different aspects of nature and its power, the works were either meant to be washed away by the sea or destroyed by the artist/public. Another public art initiative was the Chennai-centric photography exhibition organised by Goethe Institute along with Travelling Lens at the MRTS railway station.
With the exhibition To Let the World In and Art Assemblage featuring galleries such as Galleries 88, Latitude 28, Nature Morte, Open Eyed Dreams, The Guild and Project 88 as well as the conference that includes speakers like Ranjit Hoskote, Shivaji K. Panikkar, Gulam Mohammed Sheikh, Jitish Kallat, Pushpamala.N, Anupam Poddar, Suresh Jayaram and others all set to begin in the next one or two days, Chennai's art world is abuzz with activity.
Other exhibitions in Chennai
Vinnyasa Premier Galery presented an exhibition of paintings by Gita and Murali Nagapuzha. The exhibition was a study in contrasts as Gita's works were textured semi abstracts while Murali Nagapuzha's smoothly painted canvases were lush landscapes. Though Gita's works were inspired by elements from Indian culture, the application of colour, use of line and division of space reflected an effortless connection to nature and the natural unlike Murali Nagapuzha's works which though based on wildlife had a more 'constructed' feel.
Focus gallery presented a solo show of K.S. Radhakrishnan's works. The artist has once again worked on the Musui- Maiyya theme creating composite sculptures that play on the idea of scale. The most significant feature of his sculptures was the sense of dynamism as the movement within each miniature figure and in the overall composition recreated the chaos and fullness of life.
DakshinaChitra presented Edge to Edge, an exhibition of works by young Chennai based artists, S. Suresh Kumar, V. Saravana Raghavan, S. Kalaiselvan and Kasa Vinay Kumar. Of these, the Vinay Kumar works with a unique technique that uses watercolours with images created through a tracing sheet. This technique of combining one method of image making (a 'unique' painted image) with another (multiple 'originals') brought to attention the issues of tradition and modernity he engages with. The dialogues set forth in his work provided an ideal starting point to view the rest of the works, most of which were predominantly in the digital medium. However the tempo set by Vinay Kumar was not carried forth by the other artists as they were yet to explore the critical possibilities of the medium.
Apparao Galleries presented a solo exhibition of Raghu Rai's photographs from the 1980's onwards until the present. His black and white photographs of musicians M.S. Subbalakshmi and S. Balachander not only captured people in front of the camera with a rare sensitivity but presented a equally unique portrait of the one behind the camera; the photographer as a music lover. The framing of the musicians against backdrops of skies and sculptures magnified the music to mythic proportions and ultimately created a sense of silence that in any other photograph on music would have appeared inconsistent. Raghu Rai's more recent photographs of popular tourist spots in Chennai were in contrast to his early photographs as the colourful images were dedicated to capturing the here and now.
One of the best events in the last month was the exhibition of ceramics following a month long ceramic residency camp organised by Lalit Kala Akademi along with Indo Korean centre (InKo), Kalakshetra Foundation and Arts Council Korea. The residency provided young artists from India and Korea an opportunity to learn new techniques and give new direction to their works. This was evident in the work of Bangalore based artist Hareesh Malpannavar. While he consistently explores the theme of sexuality in his sculptures, the medium of ceramics helped him arrive at an imagery that was more subtle and powerful. The familiarity with the medium and ability to use it to produce startling effect was seen in the works of many Korean artists. For example, Jin Kyoung Kim's works questioned the idea of beauty and the body by reworking the fine porcelain traditions of the East to create garments made of ceramic pieces. Subverting the notion of utility and the medium of ceramics were Kyu Ri Pyon's glazed bowl and kettle like forms into which words inspired by her Indian stay were cut in. Shitanshu Maurya's works had a similar critical element wherein fragmented architectonic forms were used to create a sense of unease. There was also an element of violence in Jae Joon Lee's ceramic fish mounted on iron rods. In contrast to the finality in Jae Joon Lee's ceramic were Rashi Jain's ceramic installations that explored the concept of growth and regeneration. The other artists who participated in the show were Kyung Ran Yeo, Shantanu Jena, Gayatri Apte, Jun Young Jung, Kyoung Youn Kang.
Lalit Kala Akademi also organised the Regional Art Exhibition featuring the works of young emerging artists. Some of the works in the exhibition were engaging for the way they played with technique, material and form. The self was the central concern for many of the artists in the exhibition. This included N.Srinivasa Reddy who explored the consumerism driven world using currency images and self-portraits, Pradeep D.M who combined pop culture and Lambani tradition to express his fantasies and K. Aishwaryan in whose works the self transformed into a hybrid, sinister creature. Sonatina Mendes' work had a surreal feel as the blurred forms and dim light created a sense of floating, weightless sensation. Abstraction was also popular in the exhibition with artists like V. Anamika, P. Suresh Kumar, G. Gurunathan etc exploring it. While nature formed the starting point for G. Gurnathan's abstracts, the destruction of the environment in the politics of development inspired Loretti Joyce Pinto's charcoal drawings.