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India returns to Venice Biennale after 8 years, Nandalal Bose's Haripura posters part of show


Press Trust of India New Delhi
In 1938, Mahatma Gandhi commissioned Indian modern artist Nandalal Bose to create paintings portraying different aspects of Indian life to be displayed at the Indian National Congress' session in Haripura in Gujarat.
More than eight decades later, 16 of the 400 Haripura posters that once adorned the Congress pavilion will go up on the walls of the India pavilion at the 58th Venice Biennale that begins on May 11.
This will be the second time India will have a pavilion of its own at one of the biggest art events in the world. The last time was eight years back.
The overarching theme at the biennale this year is 'Our Time for a Future Caring', and India has decided to field its favourite leader Mahatma Gandhi to ensure a memorable show at the art event.
Curated by the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, the pavilion, themed "Hundred and Fifty Years of Mahatma Gandhi", is being spearheaded by the Ministry of Culture, co-organised by Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and commissioned by the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA).
Gandhi's idea behind commissioning these posters was to make art accessible and relatable to the common people of the country.
The works, which were painted on paper, stretched on cheap strawboard, capture the ordinariness, in flowy paintings, of the way of life at the time. There are images of a mother feeding her child, women cooking, husking or pounding rice, a drummer, a tailor and more.
This will also be the first time Bose's works will be exhibited in Europe.
"We haven't taken a literal translation of Gandhi. It is more indirect than direct. We have taken dialogues of Gandhi with various people... we have taken an assimilation of Gandhi in different spheres," KNMA founder Kiran Nadar told PTI.
The Haripura posters are among the 50 works that will be part of the show at the India pavilion.
The exhibition will weave together artworks that either emphasise a historical moment, in direct collaboration or association with Gandhi, or stage imaginary encounters that reflect contemporary critical thinking, creating an opportunity for a renewed search and investigation into received notions of agency, action and freedom.
Also travelling to Venice from the NGMA collection will be Maqbool Fida Husain's 1955 work "Zamin".
In the panoramic oil on canvas, peppered with images of all things rural -- a rooster, a wheel, bulls -- Husain attempts to explore the relationship between a peasant and the earth, a subject that was close to Gandhi's heart.
"Gandhi used to believe that one's art should be connected to their roots," NGMA Director General Adwaita Charan Gadanayak told PTI.
Among the works by contemporary artists will be Jitish Kallat's immersive installation and video projection titled "Covering Letter".
Projected on a traversable curtain of cascading fog, the work presents a letter that Gandhi wrote to Adolf Hitler a few months before the second World War began.
Mist diffuses Gandhi's projected text, echoing the fate of his message, which went unheeded.
"The India pavilion will elucidate the premise that Gandhi's presence is far from being fixed in time and space. His ideals are difficult to ignore in an increasingly violent and intolerant world," Nadar said.
Works by Atul Dodiya, Ashim Purkayastha, G R Iranna, Rummana Hussain and Shakuntala Kulkarni will also be part of the show.
India last showed at the Venice Biennale in 2011, but Nadar said the practice did not continue because of the Culture Ministry's "limited" interest in "art and art related things".
"They have promised now that we will have a permanent pavilion," she said.
She added that the country's absence in the international art event was also to be blamed on the "short sighted" decision to refuse a permanent pavilion.
"I was told we were offered a permanent pavilion at a very reasonable rate some 30-40 years ago. Now what we are paying is huge at the Giardini (Biennale venue)," she said.
The Venice Biennale will continue till November 24.

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First Published: Apr 29 2019 | 1:10 PM IST

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