Friday, 23 September 2022

KNMA’s Somnath Hore retrospective closes on 30 September; time to give the master his due


All images from the KNMA exhibition, 'Somnath Hore | Birth of a White Rose'

In the month of May, I had the good fortune of spending a couple of hours at the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art (KNMA) in Saket, New Delhi, browsing through an exhibition at leisure that deserved nothing less. The exhibition was, 'Somnath Hore | Birth of a White Rose'. I wrote a piece on it for the Bizz Buzz supplement of The Hans India newspaper, which I'm reproducing in parts below. It can also be accessed in entirety here
Ever since I visited the exhibition, I have exhorted all the art-sensitive people I know in my circle to visit it definitely, or else, they would miss out on one of the most seminal exhibitions of modern Indian art. For anyone who has heard of Somnath Hore but doesn't know about this master's work well enough, there is still time to check out the exhibition that gets over on 30 September. If anyone needs any entry point into it, my write-up for Bizz Buzz would be of help (some excerpts below).
'It's time to give due recognition to Somnath Hore for his masterpieces'
... I would like to bring focus on the exhibition, 'Somnath Hore | Birth of a White Rose', currently on view at the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art (KNMA) in Saket, New Delhi. What makes this show the most important of the entire year, perhaps, is its potential to catapult the oeuvre of this seminal Indian modernist — currently not as well-known outside the art circles as he should be — to the heights he truly deserves.
Hore (1921-2006) is celebrated well within the artistic-academic circles, but in light of his outstanding contributions to Indian modern art, he deserves to be feted equally well by the market; and with as much fanfare as has been accorded to his contemporaries such as S. H. Raza, M. F. Husain, F. N. Souza, and V. S. Gaitonde to name a few.


The importance of a retrospective
What can an exhibition do to an artist's career, a layman may rightfully ask. Several factors go into the making of the complex rigmarole that makes and builds an artist's career, helping him succeed and rise above the ordinary. One important factor amongst these is the role played by a museum/ gallery in building the right interest in an artist's work, an interest that his/ her art truly deserves (and not due to any media frenzy). Curated by Roobina Karode, the Somnath Hore retrospective needs only one comprehensive visit to prove to the viewer the excellent and rigorous scholarship that has gone behind this vast show on the artist pedagogue, whose practice coursed the routes of social realism as well as humanistic modernism, mentoring generations of students and artists. 
Named after Hore's eponymous work that won him the prestigious National Award of the Lalit Kala Akademi in 1962, the exhibition covers a huge arc of the artist's career, from his earliest years to the last, presenting a humungous range of works — from prints and printing plates to painting and bronze sculptures. 

It has been seen that when an exhibition backed by such scholarship brings focus on an important artist such as Hore, and removes cobwebs from the understanding of his work by common admirers of art, a domino effect of appreciation is put in motion, which eventually leads to a nod by the global market too.
The most recent case of renewed appreciation of an artist's worth by a market has been that of V. S. Gaitonde (1924-2001), one of whose works currently holds the record of the most expensive Indian painting — it is an Untitled oil on canvas by Gaitonde, made in 1969, which was sold for Rs 42 crore in February this year at an auction by Pundole's in Mumbai.
An important artist from Bombay who was highly regarded for charting an individual course of abstractionism, and who was also associated with the seminal Progressive Artists' Group, Gaitonde did not enjoy the spotlight in his lifetime like his art is doing now, even though he was admired and collected by true connoisseurs then. He came under global focus most prominently after his landmark retrospective was hosted by the prestigious Guggenheim Museum in New York from October 2014 to February 2015. Gaitonde was pushed into the very centre of the spotlight, where he continues to shine. 
As an admirer of art and someone perceptive to the intellectual perspicacity of an artist to his environment, and the effort required to translate all that he sees around him in his works, this writer sincerely hopes that the current KNMA show will prove for Somnath Hore what the Guggenheim show did for Gaitonde.

The significance of Somnath Hore
Somnath Hore, who would have been 100 last year, was born in Chittagong in present-day Bangladesh. Exploration of the human suffering through his art remained his lifelong leitmotif. His coming into his own as an artist coincided with some epochal events in the Indian subcontinent — the Bengal Famine of 1943, the Tebhaga peasant uprising of 1946, the Partition and the consequent violence — which deeply affected his art, leaving an impression for a lifetime.
Like many young men of his times, including the artist Chittaprosad, Hore too joined the Communist Party for a while, and his early sketches of human suffering appeared in the party's journals. Though he dabbled in a variety of media, he is best remembered for his prints, a genre of art that he contributed to immensely, setting up the printmaking department at Delhi Polytechnic and later heading the same at Kala Bhavana at Santiniketan. A novel style that he essayed was visible in his Wounds series of works, where he foregrounded the suffering of the deprived through slashes and lacerations on paper. 

Somnath Hore's art (along with that of Chittaprosad's) is a grim reminder of the mammoth human tragedies — engineered by those in power — that humanity has a way of forgetting before long. His art also emphasises the need for art to portray all that exists, beyond the beautiful and the aesthetic, and be the voice of the people when they find none. His art is like an important document that only gets more valuable with each passing era.

A quick scan of the top auctions reveals that not many Somnath Hore works have been offered at sales, but those that have been offered, have almost always been sold for way beyond the highest estimate. Some of his top works sold at auctions include an Untitled bronze (1988) of a slain animal at Sotheby's in 2007 for $60,000 (approx. Rs 46 lakh at current conversion rates), and Draupadi and Shakuni, another bronze (1992), sold by Christie's in 2017 for $118,750 (approx. Rs 92 lakh at current rates). There's no reason why Somnath Hore cannot achieve greater prices at the market.


Saturday, 18 June 2022

Hindi Diaries / 1. Why do we love to hate Hindi?


This is a question that has bogged me since ancient times. Since as long as I can remember. Since the time I was a student at Carmel Convent School, Bhopal, where the insane emphasis on speaking English is the reason that almost all its graduates waltz through this department like the early morning breeze over tender, green ears of wheat in a field.

I have had discussions on this question at home umpteen times, especially since a certain variety of language Nazis became part of our large, extended family through marriage and started measuring familial relationships on the weighing scale of languages deliberately not known. Confused about what that means? Well, you will discover gradually as you read along.

Going back to Carmel, one of the best things that I remember about my school is its equally insane emphasis on Hindi. Teachers and newly-minted parents of this age would be shocked to know that it was not just English, but Hindi and Sanskrit too which were taught with the zeal of a missionary by, well, the Christian missionaries who ran the school (pun, intended!).

One of my earliest favourite teachers was a Christian nun whose mother tongue was Malayalam, and who taught Hindi when I was in Class V, right up till Class VIII, if I remember correctly. She was born and brought up in Kerala but had acquired excellent command over Hindi — and professional expertise too — after shifting to Madhya Pradesh. Within a few years, she had gained command over the most arduous of Hindi muhavaras and lokoktees (idioms and proverbs). The most endearing part of her speech was the slight, barely-noticeable Malayali inflection at the end of her Hindi sentences, that made it totally charming.

I regret I cannot recall this dear teacher's name just yet though I remember her face distinctly, standing at the head of the class with a book in one hand, and the fingers of the other gently pressing the words in air, as if playing an imaginary tune.

She is the one I remembered when I sat down to prepare questions for Daisy Rockwell (#Daisy Rockwell) , the most famous speaker of Hindi at this moment, for an interview. Those who don't follow books and authors wouldn't know who she is but is well worth knowing about. Rockwell is the American translator of the Hindi novel, Ret Samadhi by Geetanjali Shree (#Geetanjali Shree), which in its English avatar, the Tomb of Sand, won the International Booker Prize 2022 on 26 May in London. (I had spoken to Geetanjali Shree when the book had appeared in the longlist in March, and to Daisy Rockwell when it eventually won the prize in May (These stories / interview can be read here, here and here). 

It may sound cheesy to say so, but one often gets reviled for calling spade a spade. The truth is that Hindi is suddenly feeling a current of positivity thanks to that uniquely Indian aspiration — a validation from the West. For the language, this validation has come as a double whammy in the form of the International Booker and Daisy Rockwell.

"Two angrez entities rooting for it??!! There must be something in it!!" I could almost hear a lot of pseudo-angrezs of India say this (if at all they would have head of this news in the first place, that is...)

And so, the occasion became ripe enough for me to finally seek an answer to the question that has troubled me for centuries. Why do you have to hate Hindi to know/ speak/ write good English?

I have made a living out of writing in English for more than two decades now and feel vainglorious in admitting that I happen to know it well enough to have survived this tough industry (though not as well as some of my peers). Yet, I didn't have to hate Hindi and Sanskrit to be good at English. My Hindi and Sanskrit were equally good in school, and mercifully, Hindi continues to be as good as English. Ever since leaving school, when I stopped studying Hindi academically, I have remained in very active touch with the language as organically as possible, without making any extra effort at all, and am proud of the Hindi books in my collection as I'm of the English books.

How does one, then, make an extra effort to not know a language, when it is being thrown about your ears all day long? How can you not pick up Hindi if living in Delhi, or not pick up Bangla in Calcutta, Telugu in Hyderabad, or Kannada in Bangalore? You really have to be living in an insulated, gated community (again, pun intended!) to be sheathed against a language in such a way.

As far as common scientific knowledge goes, language as an individual's attribute is controlled by a specific part of the brain, which sadly for the pseudos, doesn't discriminate between  languages. If that part of your brain is highly active, you will be good at languages, no matter which language you choose. If not, you would not be so proficient in languages.

Many areas of the brain such as Broca's area, Wernicke's area, Angular gyrus, and perhaps a few others, work in tandem to decide a person's ability to process a language. That is what I have known.

I wonder what part of brain helps obliterate Hindi altogether while helping one absorb English? I think this must be a sui generis component of the brain because English has not worked in such conflicted ways with any other language in the world.

So, a big chunk of Gen Now in my big circle of family, friends and acquaintances is growing up shutting its ears to the local language of the Indian city they are being raised in. They only English, unfortunately, and only as a shallow multi-media import from the US. How can one gloat on one's limited knowledge when one's proficiency in multiple languages is an asset any day?

I remember a joke that was shared by an American acquaintance whom I used to know a decade ago. He was Bruno Blumenfeld who had chaperoned the IVLP (International Visitors Leadership Program) group of four of which I was a part, on our month-long tour of the US in 2012, courtesy the Department of State. The five of us — Anita Naidu, Bruno, Renu Oberoi, Sukhesh Arora, and I — were talking about languages as Bruno believed (and rightly so) that Indians were a multi-lingual people and every Indian he had met knew at least 2-3 languages, if not more.

He asked us: "What do you call a person who can speak many languages?"

We answereed: "Polyglot!"

Bruno: "And a person who knows two languages?"

Us: "Bilingual"

Bruno: "A person who knows one language?"

We looked at each other.

Bruno: "American!"

A generation of Indian parents so badly wants to live the American dream without having managed to go to the US (that's another aspirational story, by the way), that they have shuttered out every other language from the universe of their children. The consequences of this misplaced elitism, good or bad, will become evident only in the years to come, but what's the harm in knowing a language for which one doesn't have to make any effort, or investment, or clear an exam, except for keeping their ears open?

I know of people who have forbidden family members from speaking in Hindi at all with their growing children. It's ridiculous how it has become the community's responsibility to prevent the young ones from being exposed to Hindi, not even by mistake. 

I'm not even going into the debate of Hindi being imposed on the rest of the country as the national language. I think promoters of Hindi must first deal with the apathy towards the language by its own native speakers. What's the point of forcing it down the throat of non-Hindi speakers when those born in the milieu of the language are shunning it like an infection?

Frankly, in my personal range of acquaintances, all those who have eschewed Hindi to be able to speak better English (or any English at all) are none the wiser for it. At best, their English remains sketchy, colloquial and a sham that betrays not only their farcical love for America but also a studied indifference towards their own reality. They speak SEO English — they know the catch / key words and phrases well enough to retch out glib sentences with confidence, however shallow the entire content may be. It's almost like the din of nondescript narration one hears while travelling in Delhi Metro. [Sshh! They watch Bollywood movies and fully understand too.]

Why do native speakers of Hindi love to hate it so much? Why don't Bengali, Malayalam, Tamil, Marathi and other language speakers not fight shy of their mother tongue even when they are brilliant in English?

There are several other issues that plague Hindi's relation with its own native speakers, some of which get addressed every once in a while, by creative individuals through their writings, songs, films, etc. But that's another story, or stories, perhaps.

The biggest crisis of Hindi is not that the non-Hindi India abhors it. It's the hostility and loathing it elicits from those born in it that is most disheartening. Geetanjali Shree deserves another monumental prize for restoring at least some dignity to this highly misunderstood language. 

Thursday, 9 June 2022

Reading Dalpat Chauhan

I think of Preetha (#Preetha) when I sit down to write this as I haven't come across a more receptive interlocutor when it comes to discussing books in my entire life. How I miss the days at Mail Today when we would spend hours discussing books beyond what was officially covered by the newspaper for its books pages. And how often, I would goad dearest Priyanka (#Priyanka) to join us, whenever she would manage to take some time out of her busy editing/ writing schedule.

So, this is for you, Preetha and Priyanka, and how I wish we could actually sit down and discuss this in person some day.

For various reasons, I had not read a book fresh-off-the-press in a long while. I guess you read freshly produced stuff regularly only when 'covering' books for a newspaper/ magazine. So, while I continued to read as is one's wont, I was actually reading what I wanted to. Only recently did I lay my hands on a freshly-published book, Vultures by veteran Gujarati writer, Dalpat Chauhan. It's the English translation of his 1991 Gujarati book, Gidh, done lovingly by Hemang Ashwinkumar.

After reading the book, I spoke to the author. I had only one question in mind though we ended up talking for nearly two hours. The only question I wanted to ask him was: Why is he identified and promoted as a Dalit writer? Doesn't it defeat the very purpose of democraticising life, when even literature is getting classified as such? 

His honest answer was not only disarming but also a chilling reminder that securing and safeguarding rights in the country's Constitution only goes that far. He said: "Yes, it defeats the purpose. But who will write about us, if we don't? Our stories, our lives, our struggles, when told by one among us, have a ring of authenticity. An outsider can never translate that authenticity without experiencing it. I have lived what I write. Therefore the need to be identified as a Dalit writer."

Chauhan, 82 and based in Ahmedabad, began writing after he retired from a job with the Gujarat government, and has written about 25 books so far — novels, short stories and plays, all throwing light on the lives of Dalits. 

Vultures or Gidh is based on a real story of the murder of a Dalit boy by Rajput landlords in Kodaram village in Gujarat in 1964, for his involvement with an upper caste girl — a familiar tale that could be placed anywhere in India. Chauhan recreates this story through Iso, a young boy from the community of tanners, who, as the book jacket says, 'faces the brutal sword of caste patriarchy.'

It's a touching tale, told with great emotion by Chauhan, that I would recommend all my like-minded friends to pick up if looking for a thought-provoking read.

As I shut the back flap of the book on its last page, I felt very heavy in heart. The events described in the book had taken place in 1964, a time so long ago from our current reality, yet seemingly so close today especially when there is tremendous polarisation in our daily lives. We are removing the dirt from old fissures that had remained so neatly buried all these years... how can we expect new realisation to dawn on us at such times? 

I would rather use the words of Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar to sum up my sentiment, from his speech that appears at the opening of the book: 

'As experience proves, rights are protected not by law but by the social and moral conscience of society. If social conscience is such that it is prepared to recognize the rights which law chooses to enact, laws will be safe and secure. But if the fundamental rights are opposed by the community, now Law, no Parliament, no Judiciary can guarantee them in the real sense of the word.'

As a community, we are yet to grow up to be worthy of our own Constitution.

Friday, 9 July 2021

 An Outsider In The City

© Archana Khare Ghose

This January, I completed 20 years in Delhi. It was a landmark that I barely noticed myself simply because one gets so caught up with the daily activities of life, especially when one is as old as I am. Yet, its importance was never lost on me. That’s because, even after a mighty two decades, I still feel like an outsider. 

A few days back, I finally took up pen and paper to give shape to a personal project that has been within the faintly lighted corners of my heart for a long, long time. I finally decided to bring it out in the open, under the sunlight, so that I mentally process my journey for myself, and in the bargain, perhaps, find kindred spirit who would identify with it. The aim is only to write and perhaps, be read, even if by only one person who has had a story similar to mine. 


Part I/ Building A Life in Delhi – The Beginnings


The ways and people of the city I have called home for the past 20 years surprise me ever so often — as if I am still ‘fresh off the boat,’ ready to be startled by the slightest of sounds, barest of sights, most common place movements…

I still remember it so clearly even now. It was a chilly evening of January 5, 2001, when I called up the secretary of my would-be editor at Hindustan Times to find out the status of my transfer from HT Bhopal to Delhi. I didn’t carry a cell phone then (not many did, in fact), and I had been asked to call up the editor’s office at 5 pm to know if the transfer had been approved by the management and the editor. 

I had settled near a PCO (short for Public Call Office, for people like my son and his generation who are not likely to know what it was) well before time, with fingers crossed and heart pounding. It was one of the many PCOs at the Chanakya Cinema area where I was ambling aimlessly, or rather enjoying the Delhi winter. In trepidation of what that phone call had in store for me, I had already treated myself to some really unhealthy but extremely tasty chow mein. 

Working for a national daily in the nation’s capital was a wish I had nurtured strongly in my heart since college days — strong enough to have refused the offer of a teaching position in Barkatullah University as I had topped in the master’s programme with marks that did not have a precedence! (This sounds so nauseatingly vain! Yet, the truth must be told to highlight the importance of my little wish that I was hoping would be fulfilled that January evening). When I had refused to take up the teaching position, the professors offering it were so shocked and disappointed, they called up my father. He tried to reason (meekly, as he knew the outcome), telling me that a future professorship wasn’t a bad idea and would leave me with lots of time to write… I refused to speak to him for a week and cried buckets… Now, I look back and tell myself: ‘Yes! This is what I was crying buckets for!!’

Well, the most important call was made and I was told I was supposed to join in a week’s time and no later. 

And my life changed. 

For good or for worse… the jury is still out on that…

Back then, the biggest happiness was that I had landed in the profession where I had always wanted to. I had never harboured dreams of going to Delhi. The dream was always about working at a national daily and building my life as a journalist/ writer. If Delhi weren’t the mecca of journalism in India, I wouldn’t have come here, I would have gone wherever that mecca would have been. 

Ever since, whenever I have thought about why I have continued to feel like an outsider in Delhi, I have always known the big difference — I took to Delhi journalism like fish to water, but not to the city. There are several reasons, why. 

A big one that I can recall is perhaps the welcome I received at my workplace on Day 1. It is still fresh, again, like many other memories one would rather forget, but one doesn’t! It’s good that these memories don’t faint over the years because they ultimately build you up, make you the person you are. 

That’s what I’m going to write on next. 

(The image above is of the arches at the Feroze Shah Kotla, the 14th century fortress built by Feroze Shah Tughlaq, the Sultan of Delhi from 1351-1388. It lies on the present-day Bahadur Shah Marg, a stone's throw away from The Times of India office). 

Monday, 23 September 2019

Japani Shyam: Her Father's Daughter

It's not unusual for children to pursue the same profession as their parents, specially if the latter are highly successful and have made a mark globally. What's unusual is a career option becoming a legacy to shoulder under tremendous pressure and social vigil, because the parent has passed away prematurely.
Does the legacy, then, become a burden? Does it affect the child's own growth as a professional? Do such children succumb to the pressure and end up becoming could-have-beens? It has happened quite often in the film industry, examples too well-known to quote here.
I had these questions popping in my head as I prepared for a meeting with Japani Shyam. Even those who don't know her but know enough about the art world know about her — the daughter of India's most famous tribal artist, who earned global fame in his short life and whose works continue to be placed on the same pedestal as those by top-notch Modern and Contemporary artists.
Jangarh Singh Shyam, the Gond tribal artist, was famously 'discovered' by another legend, J. Swaminathan and brought from his village in Mandla district of Madhya Pradesh to the state capital Bhopal to embark on a career that took him all over the world. He is the gold standard in Indian tribal art of our times.
Being his daughter is Japani's biggest identity, yet in all the years since her father's passing — she had just stepped into teenage then — she has slowly and gradually carved a niche for herself. She was interested in her father's work right since she could remember. She shared that she enjoyed watching him work, and doing a big of painting herself. But the tragedy that struck Shyam's family — his wife Nankusia and son Mayank are also well-known artists — left young Japani with a very mature question — how to carry on painting in "Jangarh Kalam," a style developed by her father, yet not become do something distinct, "and make my own name?"
"I realised early on that my father's legacy was too big. Yet, I wanted to do something that would not be a copy of what he did. He wouldn't have wanted me to be a copy artist," Japani, now 30, shared with me in a recent meeting in Bhopal, where she is based. Her solo show is currently on view at Shobha Bhatia's Gallerie Ganesha in New Delhi.
Japani is a fabulous artist and makes canvases that are a delight to connoisseurs, and visually mesmerising to novices interested in learning about art.
I wrote a piece on Japani and her current solo for that can be read here
Images of her works, pasted below, give ample idea of the talented artist who knows how to blend her Gond heritage with her city upbringing.

All works acrylic on canvas. All images courtesy Gallerie Ganesha.

Thursday, 19 September 2019

Bright Colours From Sabia's World

This lovely oil-on-canvas above, a triptych, is by New Delhi-based artist, Sabia. In the picture, she is seen with our common friend, artist Rahim Mirza.
I had gone to meet Rahim at India Habitat Centre the other afternoon. We met outside the Visual Arts Gallery. I had no plans to walk in to the gallery just then, a little later, perhaps, to check out any show that may be running there. But with a particularly muggy day, I was more interested in heading towards our lunch destination, Eatopia.
Just then, the corner of my eye caught a blaze of colours at the far end of the gallery. It was this canvas, at the opposite end, that forced me to stop. And then, Rahim told me about Sabia and her show.
We returned soon after lunch to let Rahim introduce me to the artist and the fabulous colours and people of her world, whom she transports beautifully on her canvas. I'm pasting below some truly stunning works by Sabia (she goes by the mononym) and let those do the talking about their creator.
Basic details: Sabia paints in oil, is a free-willed, independent thinking painter who learnt early on that she would rather focus on painting than trying to be in good books of the movers and shakers of Delhi's art world, most of her shows are sold out (obviously!), wears her Chandni Chowk upbringing with pride, and gives it life on her canvases too. Her "Ghalib" series, especially, is a veritable trip to the undisturbed bylanes of old Delhi.
Check out her works below.
I also wrote a review of the show for Blouin Artinfo, which you can read here.

An untitled oil on canvas from Sabia's "Ghalib" series, 84 x 84 inches.

An untitled oil on canvas from her "Game" series, 66 x 54 inches.

An untitled oil on canvas from her "One Hundred and Eight" series, 48 x 48 inches.

An untitled oil on canvas from her "One Hundred and Eight" series, 36 x 48 inches.

Friday, 26 July 2019

Monisha Ajgaonkar's Sensitive Photo Story on the Coming Out of a Transgender

An image from Monisha Ajgaonkar's new photo series "Blossom," on the coming out of a transgender. Image courtesy: Monisha Ajgaonkar.

It isn't often that one comes across a subject that floors you instantly. When I received a detailed mail from Monisha Ajgaonkar's rep on her new photo series, "Blossom," I knew there was a sensitive and a beautiful story waiting to be explored.
          Monisha is not an unfamiliar name in the wedding photography circles of Mumbai. She is also an LGBTQ activist who doesn't mince words when talking about this subject, but does it with great panache, as I discovered while speaking to her over phone on "Blossom." She says she has her hands full at any time of the year with wedding photography, but once annually, she does take some time off commercial work to create something straight out of heart, something that satisfies the creative individual inside her.
           "Blossom" is the result of her creative escapade from commercial photography this year. She undertook it in the month of June, the universal Pride Month, which incidentally was also the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in the US that gave birth to the Pride Movement. Want to know more about Stonewall Riots and the Pride Movement? Wikipedia has it all but one of the most easy to understand write-ups is on Encyclopaedia Britannica at this link.
          What's outstanding about "Blossom" is that it is a lovely unravelling of the process of coming out of a transgender, posed by Monisha's friend and an LGBTQ activist and Mr India Gay 2014 Sushant Divgikar (in the picture above).
            Please check out my interview with Monisha at here.
Do check out the slideshow too as the whole series so beautifully reveals the gradual coming out of a transgender. Provocation is not always needed to underscore an important message.

Above and Below: Other images from "Blossom." Images courtesy: Monisha Ajgaonkar

That's Monisha. Image courtesy: Monisha Ajgaonkar

Friday, 19 July 2019

Valay Shende's Slice-of-Life Sculptures: True Spirit of Bombay

"Dabbawala," from Valay Shende's series of works celebrating Mumbai, titled "Spirit of Bombay" Image courtesy: Valay Shende

I recently had a wonderful opportunity to interview Mumbai-based Valay Shende. I've been an admirer of his art ever since I had seen images of his works many years ago. The first time I saw a Valay Shende sculpture in person was a few years ago at the India Art Fair. It was "Virar Local," a life-size sculpture made of stainless steel discs, depicting commuters hanging by an imaginary pole on the well-known local train of Mumbai.
"Virar Local" is part of Shende's most famous series, "Spirit of Bombay." As is obvious, it is a creative take on the maximum city's sprightly spirit, and "Dabbawala" sculptures (created in many versions) are some of the most loved.
The biggest "Dabbawala" rendition is outside the Haji Ali crossing in Mumbai, and anybody passing the street cannot miss it whatsoever. 
Right now, six works from the "Spirit of Bombay" series are on display at the Palladium mall in Mumbai.  

"Virar Local," from the series "Spirit of Bombay." Image courtesy: Valay Shende

It's not just the subject matter of Shende's life-size works that has a stunning impact, it's also the technique that he employs to create these works that dazzles — quite literally tonnes of small stainless steel discs are soldered together to create these works. As the works are hollow, it becomes relatively easier to transport these to venues all over the world — of course, only relatively easy when compared to a similar-sized bronze work. I'm told the work titled "Transit (Truck)" took almost a year to assemble.

Valay Shende with his installation, "Transit (Truck)" that is a comment on the immigrant workers coming to Mumbai daily in big numbers to build their lives. Image courtesy: Valay Shende

In my interview with Shende for Blouin Artinfo, he speaks about his works, his technique and how he strives to give creative expression to India's socio-political realities through his art. Check out the interview here: 

                       A glittering "Buffalo" from the same series. Image courtesy: Valay Shende

Thursday, 11 April 2019

Shridhar Iyer's Solo "Tambulam" at Art Konsult Gallery Is An 'Offering' To Nature

Shridhar Iyer with his installation "Still, I love you," at his ongoing solo show, "Tambulam" at Art Konsult Gallery, Hauz Khas.

Shridhar and I share a common background — Bhopal, and we both shifted to Delhi almost around the same time, two decades ago. Yet, this is my first ever interview of his for a publication! 
Currently on view at Art Konsult gallery, Hauz Khas, New Delhi, the show is titled "Tambulam" and is curated by Rahul Bhattacharya. 
What resonated the most with me was his telling installation, accompanying his poem, "Amiya aur Champa ke Ped." 

Shridhar Iyer, "Amiya aur Champa ke Ped," 2019, mixed media, size variable, visual-sound installation.

The title of the poem, and the installation, were like a memory from a time long gone, something that I had seen growing up but had forgotten because I had not seen enough of it in my home for the past two decades — New Delhi.
No, this is not a rant against a big city life. I like living in New Delhi and this is the city that has given me my livelihood through a profession that I love being a part of — journalism and writing. Yet, one has been so caught up in the race for survival for the past two decades that sunrise, sunset, trees, chirping of birds, the soft smell of wet earth... all went out of life as hours increasingly got consumed sitting in front of a computer in an air-conditioned space that shut out reality of all variety.
Slowly, the time one got to sleep and recover for the next day at work also reduced, forcing one to catch up on sleep, and give rest to the tired mind over the weekend. 
So, even though there are enough options in and around the National Capital Region to stay connected with nature, one really didn't manage to do that.
Shridhar's installation and the poem not only connected me with Bhopal, but with a time when life was a little less complex and allowed freedom for simple pleasures like just wandering in the BHEL social forest near Sports Club listening to the soft crunching sound of dry petals under your feet, the smell of raw bamboo, an odd toad croaking somewhere... 
Besides his installations, the canvases are also rich with nature's plush colours — as forests tend to look, freshly bathed after a monsoon shower. Plus, they are an ode to the strand of Abstraction that developed in the vast stretches of Madhya Pradesh, producing one of the greatest masters of Modern Indian art, Syed Haider Raza. 

Shridhar Iyer, "Jatra" series, 2019, mixed media on canvas, 48 x 96 in, 2018.

Most importantly, these canvases are his sub-conscious ode to his mentor, Jagdish Swaminathan, the great master of Modern Indian art, under whose tutelage Shridhar acquired his spurs. These canvases are his ode to the new roads he got to travel to discover art in the deepest corners of Madhya Pradesh. After all, the world knows and fetes Gond tribal art and pays heavy sums to buy works by the late Jangarh Singh Shyam only because Swaminathan took pains to reach those villages and bring out the great artists from its milieu for the larger world to see.
That's a long story to be told elsewhere.
Please see my review of Shridhar's solo and other images here, published in

All images: Archana Khare-Ghose 

Wednesday, 3 April 2019

Kiran Nadar: A Vanguard of Indian Art

Kiran Nadar doesn't need an introduction. So, why now?
Writing for the New York magazines Art+Auction and Modern Painters, both published by Blouin Artinfo Corp, I have come to realise how West-centric and Euro-centric the art world in general is, and that includes art coverage as well.
If there is one big story from the Indian art world that needed to be told to the entire globe, it is Kiran Nadar's work that has totally changed the game for the subcontinent. That's why I did her interview once again (I had first interviewed her for The Times of India in 2012), to take the story of her incredible collection to the global readership.
This interview was published in the March 2019 edition of Art+Auction magazine, and later reproduced on
Please take out some time to read it here:
The biggest take away for me from this interview was the first hand encounter I had with some of the most precious works of art from Mrs Nadar's collection at her residence; this interview was conducted at her home.
How amazing it must be to live with such fantastic art works all around!
As the usher opened the door to her sprawling living room, there was an F.N. Souza oil on the left, while a Mrinalini Mukherjee sculpture gazed from the far end of the corridor leading to inner quarters.
On the right wall was a massive M.F. Husain oil and further up was an oil by Manjeet Bawa. From another living room on the right peeped an oil by V.S. Gaitonde while an oversized 'blade butterfly' by Sunil Gawde held my gaze as I settled on the sofa waiting for Mrs Nadar.
I was sitting in awe of the butterfly and its superb positioning — it was stuck on a wall right next to a big glass door leading to the garden, and its wings, made of steel blade, were catching the sunlight filtering through a gently-swaying Gulmohar tree and the glass door, almost as if dancing to a slow, melodious tune. I was mesmerized. And then, Mrs Nadar arrived.
I hope you enjoy reading this interaction.  
Image Courtesy: Kiran Nadar Museum of Art

Monday, 1 April 2019

Indigo Gets A Museum All Its Own, In Ahmedabad 

Sanjay Lalbhai, chairman and managing director of Arvind Limited

In January this year, I had the good fortune of visiting the upcoming Indigo Museum in Ahmedabad. It was a fabulous experience because the cross-pollination between creativity and the dye indigo that Sanjay Lalbhai, chairman and managing editor of Arvind Limited (formerly Arvind Mills), is promoting, is spellbinding.

Varieties of indigo dye on display at the launch of the museum

My story on this museum appeared on Blouin Artinfo Corp's flagship website,, and also in the March edition of BlouinShop magazine.
Here is the "good-looking" story — it looks good mostly because of the amazing images of indigo-inspired, indigo-integrated art works that form the first exhibition of the museum, whose physical space is coming up soon.
It would be wonderful if you read the story and let me know your thoughts on it.

An untitled work by Alwar Balasubramaniam as part of his "Alchemy" series of works at the Indigo Museum.

In the foreground, an indigo installation by British artist Annie Morris.

"Index" by Tanya Goel, pigment on wall panels, 48 x 96 in (each panel), 2018.

Nibha Sikander, "Nature Construct/ Deconstruct," Indigo-dyed paper, 8.5 x 11.5 each, 2018.

All images © Archana Khare-Ghose