The art of mapping freedom

An exhibition where 69 artists will tell a year-by-year story of independent India

India as a canvas: Rutuja Mali’s work depicts the launch of the EDUSAT satellite in 2004.
India as a canvas: Rutuja Mali’s work depicts the launch of the EDUSAT satellite in 2004.

The 1962 India-China war can hardly be remembered with a smile. Yet Rituparna Sarkar has given it shape in a lighter vein in her art panel, which is in the form of a graphic novel.

“I picked this topic because my father-in-law is a retired major general, and I’ve heard quite a few insider stories from him since he was based in Tawang, Arunachal Pradesh, for a fair bit of his work life (though after 1962). What I’ve especially noted in most of his anecdotes is his wry sense of humour in retelling them, and that is something that appeals to me personally, the ability to laugh at your own situation,” says Sarkar, whose work draws inspiration from the red-and-white Communist posters popular in the 1960s-70s.

Mumbai-based Sarkar is among 69 contemporary artists whose works will tell the story of independent India at the seven-day Indianama exhibition, which opens today in New Delhi.

Organized by Delhi-based creative agency Animal to mark 69 years of India’s independence, Indianama will include paintings, graphic novels, installations and sculptures—all created within a map of India. “The brief to the artists, each of whom have one single year to represent in their work, was to highlight what they believed was the most important event of that year,” says Animal’s creative director Kunel Gaur, who will present video art on the death of Congress leader Sanjay Gandhi in 1980.

A few months ago, Gaur, along with the studio’s art director, Sharon Borgoyary, invited artists from across the country to choose a year and the topic they wanted to cover, and create an artwork. They then shortlisted the works on the basis of the visual aesthetic and the artist’s work portfolio.

Delhi-based Pranav Bhardwaj’s installation, for instance, depicts the 1949 hanging of Nathuram Godse, who assassinated Mahatma Gandhi. Through his digital print, Hari Krishnan, also from Delhi, symbolizes the start of a cultural movement in 1967 with the printing of Amar Chitra Katha—India’s first comic book series. Ameya Narvankar’s art print shows the White Revolution in 1970, and the 2013 Mars Orbiter mission is the subject of Arushi Kathuria’s digital art print.

“Some of the works are representative of the stir they caused among people,” says Gaur. Furqan Jawed’s graphic print, for example, is based on actor Sharmila Tagore’s famous bikini shoot for the Filmfare magazine in 1966, which led to an uproar in Parliament, while Rohan Jha’s print marks Coca-Cola’s re-entry into India in 1993. “Though people might remember 1993 as the year of the Bombay blasts, I wanted to show something positive. Coke’s re-entry made sense because it showed a happier side and it’s part of my childhood memory,” says Mumbai-based Jha.

A lot has been written about India since its independence. But not much has been documented as far as art is concerned, says Gaur. “We are attempting to tell the story through art.”

Indianama will be on till 18 August, 11am-8pm, at the Kona exhibition space in Jor Bagh Market. Prices, Rs.5,000-65,000. Half of the proceeds from the sale will go to the artists and the rest to Karm Marg, a home for underprivileged children.

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