Though the Indian presence at the ongoing Art Basel in Hong Kong is limited to four galleries — compared with 26 from the United States and 20 from China — it is enough to allow a bird’s eye view of Indian art’s past, present and future. While Vadehra Art Gallery and Chemould Prescott Road are showcasing the masters of contemporary art through the works of Atul and Anju Dodiya, Atul Bhalla and Nalini Malani, Sakshi Art Gallery is showing unconventional formats and the evolving language of contemporary art through the artworks of Sunil Gawde, and Valay Shende. Apart from booths in the main fair, the Discoveries section also features an Indian name — a solo show by Experimenter Gallery featuring the work of Berlin-based artist Nadia Kaabi-Linke. Delhi Art Gallery, for its part, has taken 43 premier modern artworks to Hong Kong, including those of masters such as MF Husain, SH Raza, VS Gaitonde, Akbar Padamsee, Ram Kumar and Krishen Khanna. Drawn from the gallery’s mammoth collection, — it is, in fact, the largest such repository of Indian modern art anywhere in the world — the aim of the selection is to showcase works that span various genres ranging from abstracts, figuratives, fragmentative and sculptures.
A walk through the hall offers a glimpse of the evolution of modern Indian art — from the influence of European landscape painters in the 18th century, artists reclaiming their Indian heritage during the nationalist struggle to the birth of revivalism under the Bengal school and the emergence of the Progressive Artists’ Group. While there are several magnificent Husain and Raza works on display, the gem of the collection belong to the brushes of artists like J Sultan Ali, Avinash Chandra and SK Bakre.
Ali’s Neela Nagini stands out for its play of colours, strong Indian idiom and iconography. Bakre, one of the founder members of the Progressive Artists’ Group, brings a sense of depth and fragmentation into his painting The Lake. Influences of Vincent Van Gogh in the use of colour can clearly be seen in Avinash Chandra’s Untitled. From elegant line drawings, his paintings evolved to feature coloured drawings, heavy on sexual imagery, often reducing the female anatomy to amorphous shapes as though suspended in space.
A strong use of colour is evident throughout the collection, one of the most striking of these being the sudden explosion of light in Biren De’s Untitled. Throughout his career, De used deep blues and blazing reds to depict the metaphysical. Then there is the work by master printmaker and painter K Laxma Goud, which like most of his works, brings a sense of nostalgia, a whiff of memories and rusticity to the canvas while keeping the sophistication of modern art intact.
While some artists have reacted to the people and environs around them, like sculptor DP Chowdhury, there are others who have responded to the socio-political events of their times. The works of Prosanto Roy fall in the latter category and feature exquisite tonal degrees and gradations. Mentored by veteran cubist Gaganendranath Tagore, Roy was deeply attuned to the ills of the time — for instance, one of his paintings was a response to the bombing of Hiroshima.
It is not everyday that one can see such veterans of modern art under one roof, bringing to the fore a delightful play of contrasts, colours, tonalities and content.
Delhi Art Gallery’s collection will be on view at Booth C10, Hall No 3, Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, 1 Expo Drive, Wan Chai, Hong Kong till May 18
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