An exhibition showcasing the diversity of contemporary Indian art practice.
I am a voracious consumer of art,” says Geetha Mehra, director and founder of Mumbai’s Sakshi Gallery. “I enjoy everything from figurative to abstracts, new media, video, sound.” Mehra’s wide span of interests is reflected in the artists Sakshi has shown over the years — from established modernists like Anjolie Ela Menon and M F Husain, to new-age trend-setters such as Ranbir Kaleka and Mithu Sen — and the diversity of its shows. “Scratch”, the exhibition celebrating Sakshi’s completion of 25 years and on now at Delhi’s Lalit Kala Akademi, shows a similarly broad range.
Mehra founded Sakshi gallery in Chennai in 1984 and shifted to Mumbai in 1992 because she felt “all the action was here”. In recent years, Sakshi has emerged as a leading gallery, expanding abroad with a branch in Taipei and taking part in international art fairs. In 2005, Sakshi set up one of India’s first art funds, Yatra, following it up a year later with Yatra II.
All the works at “Scratch”, curated by prolific collector Swapan Seth, fall under the “new media” rubric, but there’s a very wide range of artists and practices on show, and not just from India. There’s a painting from the well-known “Navin and party” series by Navin Rawanchaikul, a Thai artist of Indian origin. A canvas painted in the style of Bollywood posters of the ’60s and ’70s, it advertises a film called “Navins of Bollywood” that Rawanchaikul made a few years ago with a lot of men from the Mumbai film industry who were called ‘Navin’. The short, nine-minute long video is now being run as part of Sakshi’s three-month-long exhibition at Taipei’s Museum of Contemporary Art. Among the other notable international participants are Safaa Erruas from Morocco; the Nigerian photographer Uche Iroha; and Jorge Mayat, the Cuban artist whose “uprooted” huts suspended midair were presented at a major show in London’s Saatchi Gallery last year.
As for the Indians, there’s Sunil Gawde, who’s been a regular with Sakshi since 2001. Here he shows ‘Like in Love Perhaps’, a striking installation of a spiral staircase paved with red roses that are replaced with iron nails as you go up — only the effect is lost by the unimaginative display. On the other hand, Rohini Devasher’s ‘Ghosts in the Machine’, a single-channel video projected on a wall-mounted black circular frame, is displayed to great advantage.
“Scratch” is an eye-opener to the sheer diversity of contemporary art practice in India and round the world. There’s installation: Mithu Sen, Harsha N S; video: Rashmi Kaleka, Priyanka Dasgupta; performance: Anindita Dutta. It’s evident that Indian artists are experimenting widely and viewers and buyers are more accepting. Which works very well for Mehra. “For a long time I felt that while we were consumers at a global level, when it came to contemporary art, we were not liberal enough in attitude and temperament,” says Mehra. “I am happy to see that things are opening up now.”
Scratch, Nov 12-19, Lalit Kala Akademi