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A brush with the best
GAYATRI SINHA Curator and critic
VIVAN SUNDARAM Black Gold SUBODH GUPTA Untitled boat
I would like to address an art site that we saw virtually at the end of the year. At the inaugural Kochi biennale's fulcrum site Aspenwall - a disused 19th century factory - Vivan Sundaram's Black Gold and Subodh Gupta's Untitled Boat shared a space that had a striking continuity. Sundaram's work refers the ancient port of Muziris, a site for rich trade in pepper and spices with Europe, now defunct. The evocation of the historic ruin through the terracotta shards of ancient pottery excavated at Pattanam extends to all sites of globalism and the historic decay of material cultures. Subodh Gupta's 65-foot-long boat, a massive testimony to the migration from Kerala and by extension India, recalls the movement of indentured labour, and the movement for employment. From village to qasbah, to town, to metropolis, this is a theme Gupta richly excavates. The coincidence of these two works, of human toil, of cities razed, foregrounded sculptural installation by cross-generational artists, their approach to space and materiality. The accidental coming together of these works was an affirmation of the power of these artists, and how they repossess the critical space of ideas and concepts.
RANJIT HOSKOTE Curator of the Indian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, 2011
MICHAEL RAKOWITZ What Dust Will Rise?
One of the most memorable works I saw this year was What Dust Will Rise?, an installation by the Chicago-based artist, Michael Rakowitz, presented at Documenta 13 in Kassel. It was a profoundly moving evocation of the cycles of image-making and destruction, epiphany and nightmare that shape our experience of history. Working with traditional stone-carvers from Afghanistan and Italy, Rakowitz produced a series of adjacencies between various scenes of conflict and the costs these exact on our collective memory. 'What Dust Will Rise?juxtaposes books newly carved in stone with mediaeval manuscripts from long-vanished scriptoria. Significantly, almost eerily, the manuscripts come from the collection of the Fredericianum (a key Documenta venue, where this work was shown) and were severely damaged during the Allied bombing of Kassel in 1941, while some of the stones used to carve the 'new' books were quarried in Bamiyan, site of the colossal Vairochana Buddha statues, venerated by pilgrims for 1500 years and destroyed by the Taliban in March 2001. Part Iraqi Jewish himself, Rakowitz is keenly aware that humankind's legacy of thought, imagination and creative expression is always fragile;our past comes to us through transmission lines that are always vulnerable to the threats of cataclysm and genocide.
YASHODHARA DALMIA Art historian and curator
SUDHIR PATWARDHAN Sainik
The painting that remains impacted in my mind is, astoundingly enough, one that has been made for the first time. It is a portrait of a Shiv Sena worker simply titled Sainikand made by the artist Sudhir Patwardhan. As I walked into the Guild gallery in Mumbai to see the his solo show Route Mapsin December this year, it was the first painting that struck the eye. Made by dense strokes of nuanced brown and grey, it reflected a man whose face depicted dissatisfaction, turbulence and a sense of being victimised. This quality would be enhanced by a swathe of brown which cut across his forehead diagonally and seemed to reflect his divided world.
Seeing this work soon after the death of the Sena leader, Bal Thackeray, it seemed to be very appropriate for the prevailing sentiments. The disturbed inner world of the sainik reflected by this vivid portrait would also be one which was galvanized by the Sena chief to create aggression and fear. In this micro study, Patwardhan is able to draw out a diabolical aspect of city life - the innards of the mobster.
JYOTINDRA JAIN Art historian and curator
GANGA DEVI The Cancer Years
This year, I went back to see renowned Madhubani artist, the late Ganga Devi's four-part work, The Cancer Yearsat the Craft Museum in Delhi. Created in 1988, it is one work which haunts me even today. After having been virtually discarded by her husband to marry a younger woman, and the following years that she spent in utter poverty and pain, Ganga Devi created path-breaking works such as The Cycle of Life, and The Cancer Years. In 1987, Ganga Devi was struck by cancer. During the following four years, until her death in 1991, while undergoing chemotherapy at AIIMS, she created the four paintings, the Cancer Series, which became landmark works of a folk artist depicting her personal subjectivity and individual predicament in her work. The first painting, The Village Quackresults from her memory of a village quack trying to extract money under the pretext of curing her breast ailment. The second, Brother's Death, shows Ganga Devi's delayed visit to Delhi for treatment on account of her brother's sudden death and the funerary rituals. The third, Journey to Delhi, related her tedious journey from her village Chatra to Madhubani, then to Delhi via Patna, amidst heavy rains and floods. The fourth, The Cancer Wardresults from her prolonged stays in hospital which conditioned her to lie flat and stare at the ceilings of the hospital rooms in moments of utter loneliness and boundless agony. The ceiling fans, hospital lights, temperature charts figure prominently in this painting.
This work has left a lasting impression on me as it moves from the collective tradition of Madhubani painting to individual expression.
GIRISH SHAHANE Art critic and director of The Skoda Prize for Indian Contemporary Art
RASHID RANA Anatomy Lessons
I One of the most memorable artworks I viewed in 2012 was Rashid Rana's video, Anatomy Lessons I, part of his solo show at Chemould Prescott Road Gallery in April. The piece looks, at first sight, like it is full of glitches. It turns out that each 'glitch' is a small video loop showing a body part in motion. One now thinks of it as a moving jigsaw puzzle and tries to mentally unscramble it, but soon gives up. No coherent singular picture can be constructed out of the fragments. Taken as a whole, it looks like a gay orgy, but three prints accompanying the video, which are progressively less pixilated, reveal that it depicts a group of wrestlers in a Lahore park. The piece alludes to voyeurism and exhibitionism;a culture saturated with sexual imagery;and the deceptive nature of representation. I find it memorable also because it sparked the most intriguing discussion I had at a show opening this year. Anatomy Lessons I is definitely a conversation-starter.
ARSHIYA LOKHANDWALA Art historian, curator and director, Lakeeren Gallery, Mumbai
ANITA DUBE Splitting the Subject
This site-specific installation made for India's 1st Biennale, Kochi-Muziris, is one of the most effective artworks produced this year. The year 2012 prophesied by the Mayans as the end of the world, nevertheless allowed us a time to contemplate our realities, the world we live in. In a similar manner, Anita Dube's Splitting the Subject forces us to revisit some of these issues by physically challenging the viewer to inhabit two spaces at the same time. Located within an abandoned warehouse, Pepper House, the artist used the existing space of the attic and hall below to engage the duality within us. The floor of the hall area is covered with peppercorns. Seven ladders lead into the attic. The individuals peeping into it could see each other's faces, but are unable to view the entirety of the others or themselves. In the dark attic, they encounter a sound installation amidst a sphere, pyramid, and a cube alluding to Euclidian Geometry, allowing for a haptic, surreal, other-worldly experience to take place. For me, the success of Dube's piece draws on the split-subjectivity evoked within ourselves, that engaged the 'real' /'imaginary', 'premodern' /'modernity all at the same time through an experiential, spatial encounter. Splitting the Subjectalso drew on our olfactory, sensory, auditory and visual senses that allowed us to make the journey inwards so as to regain a part of ourselves. Dube's addressal of this rupture and disconnect within us and lives makes the work critical and relevant to our times.
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