unwinding the threads of tradition
When we speak of the contemporary art of modern India, we refer to a tradition that goes back a good ninety years. Its source is the Bengal Art of the twenties with artists like Abanindranath and Gaganendranath Tagore, whose linear and delicately coloured works with their haunting quality strike an echo in those of Anjolie Ela Menon, Sanjay Bhattacharya and Bratin Khan who evoke a sense of nostalgia for the survivals of the past in a fast-changing future.
The other trend was to adapt that voice of the past that carries within it elements of the future as Jamini Roy did when he abandoned his French impressionist style and took up that of the popular Bengal scroll-painters but without abandoning French cylindrical drawing. This trend finds echoes in the works of T. Vaikuntam, Shakti Burman, Jayshree Burman, Bhagat Singh, Shuvaprasanna and Shipra Bhattacharya, to name only a few.
In the late forties a more powerful trend emerged with the Progressive Artists Group of Mumbai, influenced by the break Picasso made with a posturing and pretentious art of the global empires. This break coincided with the triumph of the Indian national movement culminating with an independent India capable of interacting boldly with global art with a new found confident approach of accepting influences and influencing the outside world as equals.
This trend gave us some of our most powerful artists who led India’s entry into global contemporary art, like F.N. Souza, M.F. Husain, Somnath Hore, Krishen Khanna, Akbar Padamsee, Bhupen Khakhar, Balraj Khanna and K.G. Subramanyan, to name a few of those who were able to blend modernist artistic aesthetics with post-modern concerns. This trend is even today the most powerful among our younger artists like Neeraj Goswami, Paresh Maity, Om Pal, Meena, Suman Roy and Maya Burman, to name only a few. This trend appears to be the most powerful in expressing the individuality of the artist, concerns of form, colour and texture, as well as the contradictory emotions that a world of changing territories and borders and persisting traditions give rise to.
In Indian contemporary art, there was no iron wall between the abstract and figurative, as in the West. That is why V.S. Gaitonde, our most powerful abstractionist, declared his art to be ‘non figurative’ rather than ‘abstract’, as all such art draws on nature, uses its pigments and creates concrete objects of art. This genre is wide in its expression, ranging from symbolic signs as in S.H. Raza, Shobha Broota, Manish Pushkale and Namita Malik to an assemblage of objects as in the work of Kishore Shinde and Faiza Huma, going on to the geometric in S. Harshvardhan and beyond it to the flow of colour in Krishnamachari Bose.
Another extension of our artistic expression that encompasses elements of the mural, the relief and the icon, moving on to the borders of the installation, is our modern sculpture. We have elements of all these in the sculptures of Venkat Bothsa, Navjot Altaf, Shiv Verma, M.J. Enas, G. Reghu and K.S. Radhakrishnan.
To mark its tenth anniversary, the Harvest exhibition of Arushi Arts has chosen to show the works of artists from some of the countries whose aesthetic traditions our contemporary art has interacted with. Therefore this show includes an etching by Pablo Picasso, who was born in Spain and lived in exile in France, a painted assemblage by Jean Wells of Britain and paintings by Maiti Delte of France, Nickolaus of Austria and Wu Qiong of China, because today Indian voices speak in unison with other voices of the world on an equal footing.
Art Critic, Writer