Magazine article Art Monthly

Rediscovering Ourselves

Magazine article Art Monthly

Rediscovering Ourselves

Article excerpt

In 1996 at a conference in Bombay, now Mumbai, on 'The Post-Modern Art Object', I heard the artist Nalini Malani's vehement rejection of the term post-colonialist: 'With the arrival of the multinationals in India, we rediscover ourselves in a neocolonialist situation.' Has the art world changed, 17 years on? Art education is lively, production is intense, marketing is volatile, commodification is rife (contradicting Geeta Kapur's prediction that installation and video would be resistant), so where are the radical politics?

A major preoccupation is curatorial practice, dubbed by critic Girish Shahane as 'curatorism'. Curatorship programmes have been set up in the main art schools with the aim of developing a critical vocabulary around practice. Because of the inertia of state archiving and museology, alternative art practices have initiated pedagogical experiments through workshops based on an activist rather than an academic approach. Their Bauhaus pragmatism, however, is haunted by the traditional Indian respect for scholarship. This predicament tends towards the mystification of art practice through a reliance on discursive theory that stymies the need for accessibility within a context of vast regional, linguistic and class diversity.

Two papers underlined this issue in a session at the Delhi Art Fair Forum entitled Art in the Age of Uprising. Chus Martinez, chief curator of El Museo del Barrio in New York, recounted how a sense of critical anachronism was the curatorial inspiration for 'Documenta 13' and the sociologist Ravi Sundaram proposed that the revolutionary tool of mobile-phone videos in the Syrian war imposed a new media ecology: a political ecology of the senses.

A group show of 15 artists at the Vadehra Gallery was curated by Gayatri Sinha under the title 'Peak Shift Effect'. This reference to the scientist Ramachandran's (hardly irrefutable) hypothesis that artists intuitively make use of heightened visual stimuli was packaged as 'the newer tendency in Indian art: to assume an inter-media position, with a world view that is both anti-heroic and self-reflexive'. The works represented such a diversity of genres that they could easily have served another theme; a dilemma frequently witnessed in western exhibitions where the 'independent' critical view often relies on the curatorial construct.

The Kochi-Muziris Biennale was impressive. 'Against all Odds' (Reviews AM363) has proven its worth and deserves to be sustained. Largely local audiences were enthusiastic in spite of the opaque labelling and endless listings of the artists' qualifications. The Indian obsession with references has been parodied in Indian fiction but not in the art world, possibly due to the dangerous liaison between art and business. Corporate patronage is seriously humourless, as the ubiquitous advert trumpets: 'At YES BANK we are passionate about Art, for both its aesthetic appeal and its investment value.'

The 'Nasreen Mohamedi (1937-1990)' exhibition, curated by Roobina Karode at the Kiran Nadar Museum in Delhi, is stunning in scale and quality. Her ascetic vocabulary, inspired by the aesthetics of Islamic architecture, Sufi poetry and Zenga painting, evokes the reductive line from Kazimir Malevich to Agnes Martin, thereby disrupting hegemonic assumptions about Minimalism. The understatement of this show contrasts with the glaring hues of Amrita Sher Gil's self-portraits nearby, oddly discordant in their gay confidence. …

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