There is no easy way to understand the phenomenon that is Indian contemporary art—and while an artist’s age may have little to do with it, it is often among the young artists, tucked away in residencies or working solo in studios, that we see conceptual analyses, experiments with procedure, innovation with material, and cultural engagement, all of which makes Indian contemporary art terribly interesting. From an artist currently in Beirut, wondering how art can produce itself, to the young man behind the Adarsh Balak phenomenon, from a woman whose artistic project includes growing vegetables, to an artist who prefers to use only natural material for her work—the men and women we introduce you to in this piece are working in wide and varied idioms. Many of these artists have not yet sold a piece of work; a few among them separate the works they sell from the art they make. Some have not yet shown in a gallery. What they do have in common is that they are all below 40, and cannot but think about the world and express it in new and exciting ways that evolve constantly. 

To see some of the artwork please go to the slideshow

To make this list, we also consulted four art experts: Meera Menezes, a Goa-based art writer and critic; Roobina Karode, director and chief curator of the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art in New Delhi; gallerists Tara Lal and Mortimer Chatterjee, who run Mumbai’s Chatterjee & Lal contemporary art gallery; and Priya Jhaveri, director of the Mumbai-based Jhaveri Contemporary. 

Aarti Sunder. Photo: Courtesy Aarti Sunder
Aarti Sunder. Photo: Courtesy Aarti Sunder

Aarti Sunder, 29, Chennai

One of the widely accepted signposts of contemporary art is an artist’s deep conceptual engagement, through which innovative ways of seeing the world emerge. As you read this, Aarti Sunder, who is at a nine-month residency at Ashkal Alwan—The Lebanese Association for Plastic Arts in Lebanon, is thinking about art, its language, and how self-reflexivity can be made intrinsic to it. “My project is to look at how art can produce itself," she explains in a conversation over Skype from Beirut. “Where does contemporary art limit itself as a method of function, how can art think about itself through this lens (of self-reflexivity), and then come up with something that it can use to construct itself?" she adds.

According to Tara Lal and Mortimer Chatterjee, Sunder’s “use of drawing and video in performative modes mark her out as one of the most interesting voices in the contemporary Indian art scene". Sunder’s works also include writings. Indeed, she finds that the medium or form follows the concept.

The Chennai resident studied at Mumbai’s Rachana Sansad academy of fine arts and craft and, later, at the Netherlands’ Dutch Art Institute. Earlier this year, she was one of the artists in residence at the International Studio & Curatorial Programme in Brooklyn, US, after receiving a fellowship from the Inlaks Shivdasani Foundation. Sunder has been working on a project titled Drawing On A 1:1 Scale for two years. “I have attempted to articulate ideas around the personal and the universal, the subjective and the objective and the overlaps that are created. Each version of work produced under this title attempts to address these ideas from a different angle, and using different mediums, including performance, video, drawings, sound and text."

Sunder points out that the art market is no longer about the gallery, but also includes publications, funding and residencies—“a market for not getting paid"—and that she is “present in some form within this".

Prabhakar Pachpute. Photo: Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint
Prabhakar Pachpute. Photo: Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint

Prabhakar Pachpute, 30, Pune

Prabhakar Pachpute spent part of his childhood in Sasti, the small village in Maharashtra’s Chandrapur district where he was born. By the time he left the village to pursue high school in the neighbouring town of Rajura, some 9km away, the landscape of his youth had transformed. Mining companies, which first came to the village and its surrounding areas in the 1980s, bought farmland from the residents, including the Pachpute’s family. In return, they were given jobs as coal miners. By the time Pachpute left for Rajura, the village was surrounded by mines—the fields growing cotton, jowar and seasonal crops had all but vanished, says the artist. 

After graduating from the Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda, Pachpute assisted artist Tushar Joag and, in 2011, joined the Clark House Initiative—an artists’ collective which comprised Sachin Bonde, Nikhil Raunaq, Rupali Patil, Yogesh Barve, Poonam Jain and Amol Patil besides curators and co-founders Sumesh Sharma and Zasha Colah. Besides the thought-provoking conversations, Pachpute found the “equality between curator and artist, refreshing". Within a collective, each artist would help the other out.

One of Pachpute’s more memorable exhibitions was at the Clark House space in Mumbai—human-scale drawings of coal miners on the walls, site-specific installations with found objects, and an innovative use of light and darkness informed this exhibition. These and other wall drawings, says Roobina Karode, “bring out the subsuming of the individual into the larger labour force".

He exhibited at the National Gallery of Modern Art in Mumbai in April-May, where his wall drawings of miners, farmers and other working-class men was accompanied by a stop-animation video piece, and has had several group shows internationally. He has also taken part in the 14th Istanbul Biennial, the Nanjing International Art Festival in China and the Asia Pacific Triennial in Brisbane. Over the years, he has sold paper works, drawings on canvas, even an installation on a makeshift wall. His works on canvas have sold for Rs4 lakh and more.

Besides charcoal, Pachpute works across a range of media, including terracotta, ceramic, fibreglass and paper pulp. Lately, Pachpute has been thinking about land that has been abandoned. “What happens to places where mining is over?" he asks.

Hardeep Pandhal. Photo: Dan Weill
Hardeep Pandhal. Photo: Dan Weill

Hardeep Pandhal, 31, Glasgow

Hardeep Pandhal, a second-generation British citizen of Indian descent, has been tackling the theme of his South Asian identity whilst operating in the Western art world. A graduate of the Glasgow School of Art, Pandhal is taking part in the Colombo Art Biennale, which began on 3 December. This is his first international exhibition, and some of the works include drawings done in the style of satirical political cartoons, from the Resistance Through Rituals series, as well as a sock with a hand-knitted face made by his mother. This piece is titled Bhagat Singh Draught Excluder By Mum.

Pandhal’s collaboration with his mother, Davinder Kaur Pandhal, goes back to 2014, when he had his first UK solo at the Castlefield Gallery in Manchester. There, the artist showcased a work titled Baba Deep Thing By Mum, 2014—a woollen sweater that depicted the decapitated Sikh saint and martyr Baba Deep Singh, his severed head at the end of the left arm, a bloody sword stitched to the right.

Pandhal’s engagement with constructed cultural identity informs all his works; the gap between his experience growing up in the largely South Asian and Afro-Carribbean neighbourhood of Birmingham, and his parents’ experience of being migrants, translates into Pandhal’s own understanding of himself as an artist. The artist takes on multiple and often competing histories—the colonial past, contemporary migration, of Sikhism, and from his own life, growing up with English as his first language, while Punjabi remains his mother’s—only to question what we think of as the truth. Priya Jhaveri finds his works “satirical, transgressive", saying they “question the perception of British Asian identity". 

Pandhal also annotates his works with several texts on psychoanalysis, post-colonial studies and sociology. Besides showing in galleries, he has been part of artist residencies in the UK.

Dheer Kaku. Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint
Dheer Kaku. Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint

Dheer Kaku, 27, Mumbai

Though trained as a painter, Dheer Kaku, by his own admission, stopped painting the moment he graduated from Rachana Sansad, Mumbai.

His interest lay in the nuts and bolts of digital media, long-exposure photographs, sensors, video-editing—and through it all, a questioning of the way viewers see art. Kaku has spent the last three years being part of several residencies, including the Peers programme at the Khoj International Artists’ Association in New Delhi, Space 118 and What About Art? in Mumbai, TIFA’s Artel residency in Pune and the Heritage Hotel Art Spaces in Goa. He received the Inlaks Fine Arts Award in 2015, and has also assisted performance artist Nikhil Chopra.

Kaku is not represented yet by a gallery, but his works have been showcased at residencies. Kaku has not sold any artwork, as yet.

One of the more interesting art pieces that Kaku made was shown at the What About Art? international residency, held in Mumbai’s Bandra area, last year. It was a sensor-activated video installation that would change screens each time a viewer passed by.

“The viewer can never see the artwork as it is, art will always be influenced by what the viewer sees," explains Kaku, who modified an open-source program that allowed multiple interactions between the screen, Webcam, and motion sensors. Mortimer Chatterjee and Tara Lal say this installation was a “particular highlight for us". 

“Conceptually, at this stage, my work doesn’t exist as a thing of beauty that can be picked up as an object," says Kaku. 

His latest project is a video work, made from the footage of his documentation of Chopra’s recent collaboration with Japanese Butoh artist Yuko Kaseki, among other performers.

Madhu Das. Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint
Madhu Das. Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint

Madhu Das, 29, Mumbai

After he graduated from the Karnataka Chitrakala Parishath in Bengaluru, a master’s in fine arts was not top of the mind for Das—though he did one in Hyderabad a couple of years later. What was important to him was to find a place to paint. “After five years of working and living out of a studio, the day after graduating, it no longer belonged to me." His choice of place was an odd one—an abandoned water tank in Chitradurga district, 150km from Bengaluru and famous for its 18th century fort. Freed from the walls of a studio, Das began his journey of thinking about the human condition in terms of public and private space, the constitution of borders, and the way people interact with space. He went to Vadodara and took part in the Sandarbh residency in which, once again, his work was pivoted on the way people interact with art in public spaces—he photo-documented 300 trees which had been physically transformed because of the metal guards placed around them. He then displayed the photos inside a cage-like stand, and carried the installation around Vadodara, using it to engage and interact with the public. For Mortimer Chatterjee and Tara Lal, Das’ most significant display to date was at the TIFA Working Studios, Pune, “where he produced work in a range of media, including a site-specific installation using a stack of wooden blocks seemingly surmounted by a whirring fan. It was a stand-out work." Das attended the Sethusamudram artist residency in Colombo in 2010, participated in the Kochi-Muziris Biennale in 2012 and won the Inlaks Fine Arts Award in 2015. Das has also been selected as visiting artist at Harvard University’s South Asia Institute—he leaves in March. Since 2013, Das has been working on a photo-documentation series of votive objects, such as saris made as offering to the Ganga river, exploring their iconic, indexical and symbolic meanings.

Priyesh Trivedi. Photo: Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint
Priyesh Trivedi. Photo: Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint

Priyesh Trivedi, 26, Mumbai

Priyesh Trivedi didn’t train as an artist, or go to art school—his technical training lies in animation film-making and game design, and he worked in the gaming and animation industry for four years after graduation. Trivedi, who says he has been painting ever since he can remember, was bored and didn’t feel creatively challenged. Then, in May 2014, he uploaded a watercolour poster he had painted the previous year. Using the character of Adarsh Balak—the ubiquitous boy in a blue shirt and indigo shorts common to educational posters on moral science, hygiene and other subjects—he drew him sitting and rolling a joint. “Let’s tok", said the poster. “His caustic wit became an Internet sensation in the last couple of years," point out Tara Lal and Mortimer Chatterjee. The series centred around the boy indulging in activities that were decidedly non-ideal, thus offering an incisive critique of socio-cultural expectations. 

Since then, Trivedi has showcased his Adarsh Balak paintings in two group shows, sold several (unsigned) prints online, through his Facebook page, and attended two residencies—at the TIFA Working Studios in Pune, and recently, Gasworks in London. “Through Adarsh Balak, I got what I really wanted—to get into the gallery scene," says Trivedi. He, however, sells the original hand-painted works on handmade paper through galleries and digital prints, online—recently, Trivedi began using oil paint for this series. “Most of the people on my Facebook page are young, between the ages of 18-24. I know what it’s like in your first job, there’s not much money. So I want to keep my art affordable." 

His latest work, b-side, was a five-channel video installation that showed the connection between the acid house scene in 1980s London and tribal cultures. 

Parag Sonarghare. Photo: Sacheen Khawle
Parag Sonarghare. Photo: Sacheen Khawle

Parag Sonarghare, 30, Vadodara

Parag Sonarghare was born in Nagpur, Maharashtra, and trained as a painter at the Government Chitrakala Mahavidyalaya before graduating in art history from the Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda in 2010.

His oeuvre is an amalgamation of performance and canvas, and defies easy categorization. As a newly minted postgraduate, he received a scholarship from the ministry of culture and attended the Khoj Peers residency programme, which resulted in a performance titled Being The Other, in which Sonarghare sat in a room surrounded by wheat flour in a spontaneous-gesture performance that stretched on for 10 days—he drew on the floor, on the walls, fought with the flour. “My idea was to give myself to the food for 4-5 hours—sweat, tears, hair, time. At the end, our elements were exchanged; the atta on me, me in the atta," says the artist. 

Sonarghare has inserted himself into many of his paintings as well—his brightly coloured body sometimes juxtaposed against normally clad men, or surrounded by dogs, as in The Smart Contemporary (2012), or oftentimes, alone on the canvas, doing a disappearing act such as in Imagine It Done (2011), based on a performance in Odisha’s Raghurajpur village. In his newer works, he has moved away from himself but retained his focus on the body. His choice of subjects—particularly in his 2016 show Portraits Of The Self, shown at the now closed Gallery Maskara in Mumbai—bring the marginalized, often old, sometimes piecemeal male body into sharp focus through hyper-realistic portraiture. Gallerist Priya Jhaveri finds these works “astonishingly powerful portraits of men—typically crouched, naked, and confronting the viewer with fiery eyes."

“With their monumental realism, they are among the most brutally honest and jolting I have seen from a painter in a long time," she says.

Shweta Bhattad. Photo: Lalit Vikamshi
Shweta Bhattad. Photo: Lalit Vikamshi

Shweta Bhattad, 31, Nagpur

On 7 December last year, Shweta Bhattad wore a pure white sari, got into a coffin (with an exhaust fan fitted) and buried herself for 3 hours in Paris to draw attention to the plight of farmers in India.

This year, in May, she worked on a portrait of Prime Minister Narendra Modi (alongside is the message, “Dear Prime Minister Please Grow in India") composed out of vegetables—the work was spread across 8,000 sq. ft in Paradsinga village, Maharashtra.

In 2014, she was selected to be part of the Vancouver Biennale’s residency programme. Her project, I Have A Dream, explored fast-diminishing farming land, not only in India, but also globally.

Now she hopes to create sustainable public toilets in rural India: Her first solo exhibition at Gallery Latitude, Delhi, in 2015 had a separate section on the problems women in India face when they have to defecate in the open. 

“Art is a lot more than something that is displayed in a gallery," believes Bhattad, “In fact, I think art outside the galleries has more potential and reach." 

Bhattad, who has a master’s in sculpture from the Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda and refers to her work as art performances, refuses to be held hostage by a medium. Art’s potential lies more in the concept and the questions it raises, she says. 

A great deal of her art is rooted in agrarian communities. “I come from that sort of background," she says, adding that many family members and friends are in the profession. “Farmers are suffering so much," she says. “I want to use my art to tell these stories."

According to Meera Menezes, Bhattad is an “artist who walks the talk". “Shweta is a very talented performance artist whose practice is deeply enmeshed with the issues that farmers face. This is no superficial posturing and her commitment can be seen in her land art projects as well as her engagement with rural communities." 

Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint
Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint

Hemali Bhuta, 37, Mumbai

Space has always been a crucial aspect of Hemali Bhuta’s work. “My attempt in current practice is to explore the idea of a hybrid space, in between the studio and the gallery, in between randomness and composition and, most importantly, where the form ceases to become space," she says. 

A student of interior design, her understanding of space came early. “My mother, an architect, and my father, a civil engineer, have been very instrumental in introducing me to being observant to minute details and to develop a keen/refined sense of design," she says, adding that her training helped. However, she also believes that training is not crucial to this understanding. “Shreyas Karle, my husband, can design interior spaces better than me—he doesn’t work with set stencils like how we were trained to. I have learnt more from him," she says.

Her work has a disruptive quality, challenging the ways of the market and deceiving the audience. “I treat my work as experiments," she says. Her recent solo exhibition Measure Of A Foot, held at Project 88 in Mumbai was a reflection of human impact on the landscape we live in. “I enjoy exploring concepts that address issues of hierarchies, of geology, of materiality, of market, of ruins, of excavation, of failure, of gestures, of navigation and of exhibition," she says.

Meera Menezes admires Bhuta for her “very fine minimalist and restrained sensibility", adding that she is known for her use of unusual materials to create sculptural works. 

Rohini Devasher. Photo: Priyanka Parashar/Mint
Rohini Devasher. Photo: Priyanka Parashar/Mint

Rohini Devasher, 38, Noida

Rohini Devasher is one of the more prolific contemporary artists in India today, and also much celebrated—she has won the Inlaks Fine Arts Award twice in a row (2007, 2008), received the Sarai Associate Fellowship, and won the Art India Skoda Breakthrough Artist award. Since 2001, after graduating from the Winchester School of Art, England, where she did a master’s in printmaking, she has also been part of multiple residencies, such as at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin, the Khoj Art+Science residency in Delhi and the Wasanii International Artists Workshop in Kenya. 

Devasher explores the overlaps between science, biology, technology and the Internet. Her most recent exhibition, Speculations From The Field, at the Dr Bhau Daji Lad City Museum in Mumbai introduced the element of speculation in the field of astronomy, and drew heavily from chaos theory and deep time , like geology. 

“Her current body of work is a collection of ‘strange’ terrains, constructed by observing, recording, fictionalizing, and re-imagining objects and spaces that exist at the interface between science, nature and culture, perception and production," says Roobina Karode. 

Conceptually and procedurally rigorous, Devasher’s work also spans mediums. Her 2006 Ghosts In The Machine, to take one instance, was a single-channel video that sought to explore the generative possibilities of video feedback by showcasing a phytoplankton-like creature constructed by overlapping 165 layers of video, generated through a video-feedback loop, and then cut up and re-stitched. Besides video, Devasher also works on large-scale wall drawings, text, prints, found objects and works on paper. The artist makes little distinction between method and material.

Benitha Perciyal Photo: Sai Sen/Mint
Benitha Perciyal Photo: Sai Sen/Mint

Benitha Perciyal, 36, Chennai

Nature, identity and memory are central to Chennai-based artist Benitha Perciyal’s work. Born in the town of Tiruvannamalai in Tamil Nadu, which is dotted with temples and surrounded by the Anaimalai hills, Perciyal’s origins seep into the material she works with. 

“I don’t remember (using) anything plastic till I came to the city," says the artist, a postgraduate from the Government College of Fine Arts, Chennai, who uses only natural substances like coal, sand, leaf, incense and seeds, among other things, to create her art installations. “I wanted to use material that was not alien to me, material that carries memories and is a part of me," she says, adding that her work is often a metaphor for her own life and transformations.

For instance, her installation titled The Fires Of Faith, which was created for Whorled Explorations, the second edition of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, drew on her Christian identity. Sculptures moulded out of special incense derived from materials central to faith and tradition, including frankincense, myrrh, cinnamon, cloves, lemongrass, cedar and bark draw inspiration from the story of Christianity’s permeation in Kerala. “The material used drives a message of transformation and transcendence," she says, “I wanted to bring a sense of Kochi in another form through this." 

Says Roobina Karode, “Benitha Perciyal’s highly experimental practice emerges from her sustained engagement with materials and their unique cultural lives, and her own journey to discover the multiple facets of faith and its material manifestations."

Pratap Morey, 35, Mumbai. Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint
Pratap Morey, 35, Mumbai. Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint

Pratap Morey, 35, Mumbai

There is a sense of fury in Pratap Morey’s engagement with the city, and this spills over to his work. Soon after his training in fine arts from the Vasai Vikasini College of Visual Arts (followed by a postgraduate diploma in Indian aesthetics from Mumbai University), Morey started off as a formalist painter—from self-portraits on large canvases, he started working on paintings related to his immediate world, from the ceiling fan to the corner of his studio, to the play of colours on the floor. This engagement with his environment led him to what has now become the chief concern in his practice: rapid urbanization, the resultant displacement and alienation among people, and “the enforcement of a new culture". Morey’s memories of displacement begin in his childhood in Mumbai, when his family would move every couple of years or so either because of his father’s transferable bank job or compulsions of rent. This has continued into his adulthood, with him constantly having to vacate his studio or home in old buildings (“all I can afford right now") so they can be broken down to make way for the new. More starkly, he has been witness to the changing topography of the city, with chawls suddenly making way for “awe-inspiring" malls and a vertical city that only creates “an illusion of space", where one can never seem to belong. “I questioned this idea of redevelopment and the invading of private spaces," he says. Along with photographic documentation, he developed his visual language through the architectural element in his drawings and engravings, which sell upwards of Rs50,000. While his work Between The Two Voids (2015)—a dizzying view of a vertical city—recreates the feeling of a loss of balance and alienation in urban environments, in his Superimpose series he makes drawings inspired by “common people’s houses on to images of ‘redevelopment’ sites in Mumbai". They will resonate with every resident of an urban sprawl.

Prajakta Potnis. Photo: Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint
Prajakta Potnis. Photo: Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint

Prajakta Potnis, 36, Mumbai

A group show, Imagined Futures Reconstructed Pasts, on till Sunday at Bikaner House in New Delhi, features two photo works by Prajakta Potnis which were part of her exhibition When The Wind Blows, held in January by Project 88. They show staged scenarios within an old freezer—against the ice building up are everyday objects, pressure-cooker whistles in one, a lighter in another. In the photographs, the magnified scale allows a separate narrative to unfold in the viewer’s mind—an apocalyptic landscape, “of something on the verge of being blown up". When The Wind Blows was an extension of Potnis’ interest in showing the connection between the private—through the use of quotidian objects—and the political. The title of the show itself was derived from a graphic novel from the 1960s, which deals with the fear of the atom bomb. “The fear is still there, and it’s even scarier with (US president-elect) Donald Trump," says Potnis. The series was inspired by “The Kitchen Debate", a “hilarious, heated debate between (Ronald) Reagan and (Nikita) Khrushchev in front of a washing machine, at a time when the US was trying to show off their modern kitchen appliances to the Communist world. It was like watching two little boys fighting, each propagating their own ideology," says Potnis. Capitalism, the impact of war, environmental degradation, genetically modified food, loss of privacy, the works of Potnis, who did her master’s from the Sir JJ School of Art in Mumbai, are inherently derived from contemporary anxieties. So, if a still-life painting of a cauliflower takes on the form of a mushroom cloud, in site-specific works she developed the idea of the wall as “a membrane between the inside and outside space". From hanging threads giving the perception of cracks to keyholes drilled in walls or frills hung as skirting to give the impression of a curtain—opaque spaces appear “fragile, giving the sense of being watched".

Manish Nai. Photo: Dinesh Parab
Manish Nai. Photo: Dinesh Parab

Manish Nai, 36, Mumbai

Mumbai-based Manish Nai has had a hectic past few years. When we last met him at the opening of his show at Studio-X (in 2014), he was preparing for the second edition of the Kochi biennale, as well as a solo show at Galerie Karsten Greve in St Moritz, Switzerland. In the past year, he has had two solos—at Chicago’s Kavi Gupta Gallery and the Paris outpost of Galerie Karsten Greve. On 10 December his works were part of an exhibition curated by Girish Shahane, at a collateral event of the ongoing Kochi biennale. Nai’s compression pieces, made with threads of jute softened with glue and compressed into shapes in wooden moulds, are well-known. Around 2011, Nai also began to take photographs of empty billboards, half-torn down, while travelling. Using these images of what he calls “ready gestures", he would merge them digitally. His recent works showcase close-cropped versions of these billboards.

Nai’s attention to procedure and technique is remarkable, whether of unthreading jute, or applying heat to prints, or even in the digital processes of making his works.

According to Roobina Karode, “Manish works in a redemptive rather than radical mode. His abiding concerns and experiments with humble materials and unusual media and with process expand the possibilities of art rather than revolt against its basic conventions—an attitude which places his work in relation to the artists of the Arte Povera movement."

Asim Waqif. Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint
Asim Waqif. Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint

Asim Waqif, 38, New Delhi

An architect by training, Asim Waqif’s art practice stems from his interest in the built environment and how it influences people. Waqif’s work, though, is not art for art’s sake; he’s also actively attempting to influence the viewer, particularly on issues of ecology and sustainability. But this “activism" is delivered with a touch of humour.

Take, for instance, Seedbombing (2014), where organic pellets containing seeds were to be pelted at a crumbling building opposite Khoj in Delhi—“the long-term plan to infest the building with invasive creepers". Waqif says one of his aims is to bridge the gap between modern and vernacular practice with his work, from those based on his research on water-harvesting techniques in the pre-colonial era, to sustainability. “But I felt I was getting typecast as a romantic traditionalist, when I was trying to take advantage of modern science and traditional technique," he says. Recent works make use of reclaimed material, from construction sites as well as trash found on site. This started at Palais de Tokyo, Paris, in the backyard of which he chanced upon discarded material which he reused to create Bordel Monstre. With works that allow viewer experience to be enhanced through their interaction with it, Waqif also attempts to stir debate on questions of accessibility of art, from its commercial value to the idea of simply touching artworks. “Nothing will happen to a stainless steel work by Subodh Gupta if we touch it. But as a work’s commercial value rises, its experiential value gets curtailed," he says.

Most of his works, especially site-specific ones, are not designed to sell, says Waqif. Even though it’s important for him that he makes a living from art, his mischievous nature comes to the fore again when in the works that can sell—archival prints on acid-free paper, which traditional buyers adore because they can last an age—he decides to actually use acid to break apart the image. 

Paribartana Mohanty. Photo: Nithin RK/Mint
Paribartana Mohanty. Photo: Nithin RK/Mint

Paribartana Mohanty, 34, New Delhi

Having trained as a painter at the Dhauli College of Art and Crafts in Odisha, Paribartana Mohanty’s early works were oil portraits of individuals belonging to specific groups—for instance, a waste collector in Found Object, Kabadiwala And Conservator, which shows a man holding a vintage camera. The camera itself is now an important medium for him. In video and performance works, he explores the idea of crisis. “Crisis is a theme that he repetitively engages with, both as an act or incident and as a psychological and emotional space," says Roobina Karode. The title of his solo show of romanticized portraits at Delhi’s Vadehra Art Gallery, Kino Is The Name Of A Forest, came from his visit to the house of a Swiss collector of cameras (kino in German), where he felt like he was inside a forest of cameras—a metaphor, he says, for contemporary life where we are surrounded by cameras. Mohanty has since stopped portraiture, bored by the demands to stick to a tried and tested structure. His recent visit to Fukushima in Japan led him to document the radiation zone; he is now creating docu-fiction videos on the idea of victimhood. This is an idea that he explored in his performance work, Act The Victim. “This is related to the social and political life in India, where everyone feels like a victim, of corruption, pollution, etc." He held “auditions" where he would get people to act out their feeling of victimhood repeatedly. “Through this repetition, I deconstructed the idea of victimhood." His collaboration with artist Inder Salim, says Mohanty, gave it additional meaning. Salim made Mohanty leave the director’s chair and carry him on his shoulders, which not only inverted their positions of power but left Mohanty with an intense sense of humiliation. “I realized art is not separate from life," he says.

Parul Gupta. Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint
Parul Gupta. Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint

Parul Gupta, 36, Delhi

The line is Parul Gupta’s visual language, her artistic medium. A commerce graduate from Delhi University, Gupta pursued a master’s in fine arts from Nottingham Trent University in the UK. Hairfall, a video documentation of her falling black hair building up on a white sheet over several days, forms the genesis of the idea of the line; the video even featured in her recently concluded exhibition, Let’s Proceed In Parts, at the Instituto Cervantes in Delhi. The straight line continued to remain the material with which she later started to explore architectural spaces and how our bodies understand them. We are all performers when we navigate such a space, she says, with the architect as the director who has preconceived where we enter the space and where we turn. “I try to break that perception, create a rupture in what we know," Gupta says. In Let’s Proceed In Parts, she elevated the floor and also had a pillar that disrupts our perception of the exhibition space by moving ever so slowly. In spatial drawings, using light against thread, she allows viewers to move into it through the shadows created, in an attempt to break the notion of a drawing as a still object. In her site-specific work at the Sarai Reader 09 show at the Devi Art Foundation in Gurgaon, she says her attempt was to respond to the given space rather than occupy it. The exploration of space is taking her conceptual art, which can be priced from Rs50,000 to Rs5 lakh, in varied directions. In one of her recent performative pieces, she gave herself instructions: Sit in a room and work from 10.30am to 5.30pm for 10 days. The idea was to explore how programming works on the brain and the tussle between the conscious and subconscious mind—when tired or in pain, Gupta found her conscious mind urging her on. She made a 22ft drawing in five parts. “It was to question the idea of a collection. So each collector will only have a part of the work, never the whole." 

Shreyas Karle. Photo: Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint
Shreyas Karle. Photo: Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint

Shreyas Karle, 35, Mumbai

Borders are passé as far as Shreyas Karle is concerned. It shows in the fluidity of formats he uses—illustration, collage, video, sculpture and community projects—that “visually harness absurdity and social puns that shine light upon more serious psychological issues and situations" as a biography on the Project 88 gallery website puts it. His creations are often a tongue-in-cheek interpretation of common objects. For instance, Fountain, the artwork he showcased at the Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2012, showed the futility of man’s attempt to tame water—the water leaked from a tube beneath the fountain instead of gushing from its mouth.

An education in fine arts was always at the back of his mind, he says, “since I had closely seen my cousin’s college life in an art school in Bandra (Mumbai)". The artist, who holds a master’s in visual arts from the Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda, says, “Since I got into an art college directly after my class X, I was considered a failure in the mainstream education system."

Drawing a parallel between mainstream education and the contemporary art system, he says, “The problem is not the system but the beholders of the system who have created a belief/order of things. It continues to corrupt itself and the gatekeepers of the system continue to celebrate the flaws in it."

Karle is the co-founder of CONA Foundation, an alternative artist space in Borivali, Mumbai. 

One of Karle’s and his wife Hemali Bhuta’s more recent projects was Bartered Collections or Len Den, in which they invited artists to participate in a barter of works, setting their own terms for the deal, and thus challenging the idea of value as currently defined by the art market.

Talking about the space, Karle says, “We don’t call it a collective—we are just individuals who come in and go out free-flowingly as per our needs and availability. We have no set rules, no set structure, maybe no permanent space as well. That’s how our programmes evolve too." 

Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint
Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint

Tanya Goel, 31, Delhi

Tanya Goel captures within her frames the flux and chaos of the post-industrial urban landscape in which she has lived her three decades—a resident of Delhi, she also lived for a time in the US while doing her master’s from the Yale University School of Art. The abstract painter’s works are a record—in physicality as well as metaphorically—of the disappearing as well as emerging architectural grid of the city. “Cities are a flux of activity, additions and erasures of intentional/unintentional grids," says Goel. According to Roobina Karode, “Tanya’s magnificent paintings ... evoke the calculated chaos of a city with its lights, noise, and colours, (and) her work inspires recognition of the idiosyncratic complexity of the urban fabric." The artist goes through an elaborate process of collecting material from construction sites, which is broken down into pigments or colour information, which then serve as an archive of the buildings that are to be erased from the map. For her show Levels at Galerie Mirchandani + Steinruecke in Mumbai this year, for example, she collected debris like cement, brick, glass, iron and dust from houses built in the 1950s. “These structures are rapidly disappearing, to be replaced by newness," she says. The geometrical grids of her works underline her consciousness of a world that she says she understands through the “presence and absence of lines, the contours they define and the shape they enfold". The artist, whose works are priced anywhere from Rs20,000 to Rs9 lakh depending on their scale, studies intensely the inter-relationship between colour and light. “It is our inability to hold light that interests me most about it. Colour transmutes from light to surface, from matter to material, it interferes, blurs and informs the visual and psychological associations we make within our everyday. Colour is one of the most challenging phenomena, because the minute it occurs, it changes. In my work, I look at colour as material, and light as fiction that plays on that material surface." Her current research, she mentions, is on pigments made from aluminium and charcoal, “both highly toxic and aesthetic at the same time and yet a very integral part of our lives".

Minam Apang. Photo: Shibu Arakkal
Minam Apang. Photo: Shibu Arakkal

Minam Apang, 37, Goa

Minam Apang is media-shy, and refused to speak to us when we called her. The prolific artist, who is well regarded internationally, participated in the Prague Biennale of 2011, received the Civitella Ranieri Foundation, Italy, fellowship in 2013, and has had exhibitions at the Hara Museum of Art in Tokyo, and at the triennale at the New Museum in New York (curated by Eungie Joo). Apang’s intricate drawings on cloth and paper are typically made with charcoal, acrylic, graphite, and, occasionally, cola, and reference her multiple contexts. In a 2008 artist statement that accompanied her exhibition War With The Stars, which derived from origin myths, Apang wrote: “Much of my work draws from a feeling of dislocation and the need to make sense of the many contexts I have come to occupy. I went to school in Mussoorie, with a distinctly Christian upbringing. I would come home to Arunachal, where we follow ‘pagan’, animistic practices and tribal rituals. The two belief systems were, on the surface, very disparate. The contradiction has been something I have wrestled with and tried to make sense of for a long time. Much of my works are an expression of this process of reclaiming my own sense of location. The disconnected, non-linear dream vocabulary of myths and folktales offered me a form of expression ideally suited to my hybrid teleology." The artist has worked with graphic design reminiscent of pop art, and acrylic on canvas. Her works are priced between Rs4-8 lakh.

Pallavi Paul. Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint
Pallavi Paul. Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint

Pallavi Paul, 29, New Delhi

In 2014, Pallavi Paul began reading a work by poet Jack Spicer which consisted of a series of impassioned, urgent letters to another poet, Federico García Lorca, nearly two decades after the latter’s death.

“It became a wonderful challenge for me to try and create a scenario where Lorca could write back to Jack," she says, adding, “From this point on poetry became a syntax through which I was able to look at cinema, image-making and conjuration of animated futures."

A graduate in English literature, Paul went on to graduate from the AJK Mass Communication Research Centre, Jamia Millia Islamia, Delhi, and is currently doing her PhD at the School of Arts and Aesthetics at Jawaharlal Nehru University. She is also working on a three-channel film titled The Dreams Of Cynthia, a semi-documentary about a fictional post-industrial town. Commissioned by AV Festival, UK, and Contour Biennale, Mechelen, the film is hosted by two characters whose destinies are intertwined by the rise of this town and its eventual decline.

Working primarily with videos and the installation form, Paul says her work usually deals with philosophical questions that surround the concept of non-fiction. “In other words, it is the theatre of factuality or the fact itself that I am interested in as an observer as well as an artist," she says, adding that these regimes of fact or truth production offer insights into how time is structured and how things are remembered and archived.

“Obviously, technology is very important in all this because of the way it constructs our ideas of space, time and the possibilities of the future," she says.

Paul’s work is particularly interesting, according to Roobina Karode, because “using the disruption between ‘reality image’ and ‘documentary’ as a starting point, she attempts to create a laboratory of possibilities which test the contours of fantasy, resistance, politics and history".

Sahej Rahal. Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint
Sahej Rahal. Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint

Sahej Rahal, 28, Mumbai

There’s a fictional narrative that runs through Sahej Rahal’s body of work. Or rather, as he says, he’s “essentially expanding mythology in which fictional civilizations are unfolding in our reality". A graduate of the Rachana Sansad in Mumbai, Rahal had a celebrated start, receiving the Forbes Award for Debut Solo Show in 2014. Using found objects “that have a lived history in the world we inhabit", from a spoon to industrial debris, he creates large creatures in his installations. He himself will describe them with glee as “weird", “absurd" , “scary nightmares", with which he wants people to interact. It’s a more productive mode of engagement with history than if it were to seem that the artist was imparting knowledge, he says. “Within this narrative, these beings perform absurd acts in derelict corners of the city, transforming them into liminal sites of ritual," says Roobina Karode. Rahel, who considers writer Jorges Luis Borges a guru—essentially for the way in which he cocks a snook at readers—is driven by a sense of fun. For instance, he created a didgeridoo out of a PVC pipe and performed with it. He directly references the movie series Star Wars in some works, as much for the fact that it was a part of his life while he was growing up as to confront snooty notions of the canons of history that are allowed to be referred to. Rahel’s work Frozen World Of The Familiar Stranger, which takes off from an essay on urban anonymity, is currently part of a group show at Khoj Studio in Delhi. 

Sumakshi Singh. Photo: Narasimha Rao
Sumakshi Singh. Photo: Narasimha Rao

Sumakshi Singh, 36, Gurgaon

The question of how people “see", says Sumakshi Singh, “with their eyes, with their bodies in space, with their minds", is key to her work. Over the years, her artistic questions seemed to have shifted from the space which we experience as “place", to the spaces inhabited more subtly, “spaces of memory, conditioning and imagination". In one work, she recreated from memory a 3D illusion in chalk of her grandfather’s living room; viewers walked about the space till the outlines got erased. Her installations—from micro-worlds and large illusions to 3D animations—which also use the history of a space, from the flaking frescoes in Italy or a manicured “natural" environment in Chicago, are made to create an “interruption in our conditioning of how we perceive that particular space". At the 2014 Kochi biennale, her work In,  Between The Pages invited viewers to enter a large-scale fantastical landscape; as they did so, 2D screens would show them as characters in an illustrated manuscript. “Sumakshi’s work traverses the lines between metaphor, reality and illusion and ranges from plays on space-time theories to cultural, historic and physical critiques of place," says Roobina Karode. Singh is now working on a solo booth for the India Art Fair in February, a solo show in Ahmedabad in March and a show at the Dr Bhau Daji Lad museum in Mumbai in May. The last includes tiny paintings on plastered wood which resemble fossils and embroideries where the fabric has been removed so you are left with delicate, thread structures of botanical specimens.

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