‘The Witness’ by Nalini Malani
‘The Witness’ by Nalini Malani

Mumbai Gallery Weekend expands to 25 galleries

The eighth edition brings together galleries from midtown and South Mumbai to showcase the depth of the city’s art

On the night of 7 January, a Facebook post by an independent curator cast doubt on whether the Mumbai Gallery Weekend—an annual fixture in the city’s culture calendar— would take place as scheduled, given the political climate. But a statement from the organizers made it clear that the show would go on.

It stated: “Given the current situation in the country, it is imperative to protect artists’ rights to peacefully speak and protest. It is only by supporting artists and their work that we can move forward. We stand with the protesters and students." This is reiterated by Shireen Gandhy of Chemould Prescott Road, one of the participating galleries in the event. “Whether we hashtag it or not, many of us gallerists have been a part of the protests and I don’t see my political life as distinct from my art life. They are very much intertwined," she says.

This confluence of the political and personal is palpable at the eighth edition of the ongoing Mumbai Gallery Weekend. The 25 participating galleries, among them Akara Art, Apparao Galleries, Tarq, Jhaveri Contemporary and Project 88, are trying to showcase the diversity of art in the city.

What’s new in this edition? “It has really taken on a life of its own and has become more integrated—joining together both midtown and south Mumbai galleries," says Gandhy. According to her, what’s also interesting this year is the enhanced focus on painting. So whether it is N.S. Harsha at Chemould or the show on the modern masters at Tao Art Gallery, there is an interesting juxtaposition of the modern with the contemporary within the format of paintings.

With recent life, Mysuru-based Harsha returns to the gallery space at Chemould Prescott Road, and to Mumbai, after 13 years. He says his works over the last two years reflect on everyday life as well as on existential queries and the notion of time. They also highlight his preoccupation with the cosmos—something that started with his first major painting, Punarapi Jananam Punarapi Maranam.

The night sky plays an important role in his life. “I can never get bored of watching endless depths of the night sky or moving clouds. Sometime in the early 1990s, images of the cosmos started to appear in my work, and they continue to be there in some form or the other in my journey," he says. This is clearly perceptible in the show, particularly in delightful works like Donkeys Giving Birth Here And There, which is layered with his signature cosmos pattern.

‘A4ian Time Drifts’ by N.S. Harsha
‘A4ian Time Drifts’ by N.S. Harsha

Harsha’s deep observation of the everyday is evident in A4ian Time Drifts, a homage to A-4 paper, synonymous with documentation and bureaucracy. Some of his works draw on his experience of standing in queues for the Aadhaar card. In one, people in the queue are an absurd eclectic lot—one has a donkey’s head on a human body and another shows a three-headed woman’s hand pushing deep into the skin of a mushroom-headed person.

It’s not just Harsha who is making a comeback to the city after a hiatus. Jitish Kallat too is presenting a solo in Mumbai after five years. The show, titled Terranum Nuncius, is being co-presented by Nature Morte and Chemould at Famous Studios. It features one of his largest paintings of 12 panels and 17 canvases, called Ellipsis, and a photo and sound installation, Covering Letter.

Senior contemporary artist Nalini Malani’s exhibition, The Witness, is part of the Mumbai Gallery Weekend too. Presented by the Dr Bhau Daji Lad Mumbai City Museum, in association with Goethe-Institut/Max Mueller Bhavan Mumbai, the show has been curated by Tasneem Zakaria Mehta and Johan Pijnappel.

According to the curatorial note, the artist explores concepts and concerns that have preoccupied her for decades—notions of oppression and dominance, of freedom and justice. “Her art pushes the boundaries of the visual and engages in an optical theatre that is a commentary not only on the present but also on who we are, where we come from and where we are going," it states. As the pioneer of experimental art in India, Malani creates immersive installations, ephemeral wall drawings, erasure performances, animation chambers, and her signature video/shadow plays.

One show to watch out for is Manisha Parekh’s A River Inside at Jhaveri Contemporary. The artist celebrates the complexity of the line and its many underlying meanings: from violence and borders to the beauty of rhythm. “In A River Inside, Parekh uses liquid and its shimmering movements as metaphors for apprehending experience and describing desire," writes Zeenat Nagree in the catalogue essay. She goes on to describe a series from the show, The Sound Of Water—fluid layering of graphite on paper.

The Weekend also presents a host of young voices, the most impressive being that of Thai-Indian artist Amonwan Mirpuri, who is showing Dear Women at Method Art Space, a new gallery in Kala Ghoda. In her works, the walls turn into sites of trauma, featuring faces of women, some with their eyes closed, seemingly grappling with emotions. It is a tribute to women who have been abused, suppressed and assaulted. Through her creations, such as The Wall Of Disruption, The Wall Of Acceptance, The Wall Of Healing: Kintsugi ‘The Art Of Precious Scars’ and The Wall Of Reintegration—Turning Trauma Into Triumph, Mirpuri urges women to reclaim their voices.

Vinod Balak’s oil-on-canvas paintings can be seen at Galerie Mirchandani + Steinruecke. He paints lush, emotive landscapes, with absurdity embedded in the panoramas—his works feature nude figures playing football or jogging, saints playing jazz, aeroplanes made of chicken coups, cowsheds with worshippers, and more. “Not hesitating to cite religion as an inspiration, nor shying away from critiquing the ideology of faith, Vinod Balak’s Tomorrow’s Land explores a collective contemporary subconscious, through a poetic register," states the curatorial note.

The eighth edition presents some interesting debuts too. Auction house Prinseps showcases its first curated gallery exhibition, Bengal Through The Last 100 Years. It highlights the diverse oeuvres that make up the Bengal school, from Abanindranath Tagore, with his defiance against Western classicism, to Ganesh Pyne’s abstract pieces and Bikash Chatterjee’s surrealist works.

In another first, former model Sheetal Mallar showcases her photographs in her maiden solo exhibition, Transients, at Art Musings. It features work done over the past seven years, with photographs of subcultures exploring the tension between the personal and the collective. For the series, Mallar visited video parlours, sets of Bengali noir films, and an iconic studio after it was burnt down—these lend her images a documentary feel.

“Sheetal and I go back a long way. We have done several fashion shows together when she was a model and I a choreographer. I have been following her work ever since she turned to photography as a new medium of expression," says gallery director Sangeeta Raghavan.

“You see people on the fringes and wonder about the lives behind the glitz. The photos make you wonder where reality ends and fiction begins. One of the series features a death scene from a film. From the image, you can’t make out whether this has actually happened in real life or is part of a story. It’s that grey area that becomes most interesting," Raghavan explains.

Mumbai Gallery Weekend is on till 12 January.

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