Contemporary Istanbul 2009

Contemporary Indian art is at a point of becoming. At this moment, it is weaving its way into global narratives of Art History, filing into blanks and revealing other gaping holes in its wake. The original threads of this history emerged from the fracturing of the Indian subcontinent, which in 1947 posed the questions that would bring the nation and its artistic production into a dialogue of where it had come from and where it should go. The Progressive Artist’s group from Mumbai and schools from Bengal and Baroda emerged, experimenting with new languages and giving expression to the paradigm shifts that took place after India’s Independence.

The questions of a post colonial identity and how to define it have continued to evolve into the present day, where their shadows loom in the background of new pressing questions of a global economy and the manic pace of urban development. Cities continue to grow, and as the skylines of Mumbai are ever-increasingly lined with monuments to this progress, the slums which find their spaces in between also stack aluminum roofs on top of another. This differentiation marks the cities of India with the tension of inequality. Religious intolerance also mars the city streets, punctuating its history with outbreaks of violence and terrorism.

The artists here are all taking part in these complex interactions, clutching at the various pieces to tell their stories. Bose Krishnamachari's frenzied colours dissolve the distinctions between figure and background. Hema Upadhyay incorporates stitching into her works to reshape issues of feminine identity. Gigi Scaria uses architectural forms to determine the shape of modern irrationality. The body is broken into a series of cuts and stoppages in Chittrovanu Mazumdar's images. Riyas Komu considers the slippery trajectory of violence in everyday life, which originates even in the seemingly harmless. Farhad Husain strange compositions and raucaus colours belie an unwholesome sexuality that undercuts urban domesticity.

Comical and deadly serious, these images uncover a bodily engagement with urban life, which moves in and out of a suspension with the quotidian. The artists are both witnesses and engineers of various moments, working through processes of identification and evolving their own practices. The trajectory of contemporary art in India is a moving and changing discontinuity which is by turn docile and rebellious. It is both contained and elusive, gaining form by imposing and undoing constraints, and by placing the body on the unstable ground between boundaries and boundlessness.

Avni Doshi