Intimate and inventive narratives about migration, climate change and gender play out at the ongoing India Art Fair in Delhi. Lounge rounds up key works that speak to our troubled times
The personal meeting the political seems to be the overarching theme at the India Art Fair in Delhi, on till 2 February at the NSIC grounds, Okhla. Artists have created deeply intimate narratives on migration, identity and gender, lending a personal touch to the socio-political events of our times. Climate change also runs across the programme—be it at the gallery booths or the outdoor projects.
There is a lot of work being created with reclaimed objects like pages from books, such as Youdhisthir Maharjan’s The Heart Of Woman, made from Maya Angelou’s book of the same name. Some of the art also looks at the idea of home both for climate change refugees or those who have had to leave their land due to political upheavals. A stark example of this is Girjesh Kumar Singh’s sculptural installation at Rukshaan Art’s booth made with bricks of demolished houses, which carry within them the memory of their inhabitants.
“We ask the galleries to show at least one or two artists who have not been shown before," says Jagdip Jagpal (pictured above), director, India Art Fair. Several institutions are also making their debut this year, including the Kolkata Centre for Creativity and the Chennai Photo Biennale (CPB). In its presentation, the CPB, curated by Pushpamala N., is showing a work by Chan-Hyo Bae, who explores gender and prejudice in his Existing In Costume series. “We are very unlike other fairs in this respect, with both commercial and not-for-profit existing together. The idea is to get more exposure to the artist, who is at the heart of the fair," adds Jagpal.
Pressing issues such as water scarcity form part of the outdoor projects—Vijay Pichumani’s sculptural installations, for instance. And at a time when protests are raging in Hong Kong and in India, there are deeply political works as well, such as Probir Gupta’s A Poem Of Instruments.
GENESIS—THE HINDRU SERIES BY GHIORA AHARONI
At a time when the world is seeing fissures based on religion and language, Aharoni—the artist-in-residence at the India Art Fair 2020— looks at a more inclusive environment in his practice. The New York-based artist continues his exploration of intercultural coexistence with this work, in which vintage beakers engraved with the Genesis text are juxtaposed with words “Make Me A Temple" in Hindru (a melding of Hindi and Urdu) and Hebrabic (a coming together of Hebrew and Arabic). Religious iconography from various belief systems is positioned alongside, symbolizing the fact that they are all connected by a common spiritual energy.
The Belgium-born artist, who moved to Sri Lanka in 1982, considers aspects of age, beauty and gender in her practice. In these small-scale works, featuring a collage of vintage photographs and mixed-media work on paper, she obliterates the face with images of tubes, black cloth, nailed wood, and more. Confronted with a jarring visual, the viewer is forced to think about the identity of the person in the photograph and the reason for the obliteration—is the woman wrought with emotional turmoil, is there an attempt to hide aggression?
On display at the Saskia Fernando (Colombo) booth
A POEM OF INSTRUMENTS BY PROBIR GUPTA
Perhaps one of the few works that directly alludes to the protests at Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh, this assemblage is layered with meaning, with the microphone and typewriter symbolizing the amplification of the voice. The work also carries written text, with testimonies of women at Shaheen Bagh, and lines such as: “Every protest has its foods—foods that become symbols, touch emotions and offer solidarity and succour, forging bonds that go beyond all kinds of divisiveness." On view at the Anant Art booth
PHOTO PERFORMANCE WORKS BY ARMAN STEPANIAN
The Iranian postwar and contemporary artist, based in Tehran, takes a tongue-in-cheek look at the position and aspirations of women in modern Iran—the only country in the world where wearing the hijab is legally required in public.
Part of the Visions In The Making exhibition, curated by Myna Mukherjee and David Quadrio, at the Italian Embassy Cultural Centre (Delhi) booth
HOSTILE WITNESS BY BAARAAN IJLAL
The work, which addresses the idea of “home", has its roots in the impending demolition of Ijlal’s ancestral home in old Bhopal—part of it was demolished in 2018. Writing about the work on the website of Sydney-based 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art, curator Anushka Rajendran talked about Ijlal seeing herself as a bearer of the inherited memory of 200 years of history in a house, which sheltered those unjustly persecuted time and again during the independence movement, the Emergency and the 1992 riots. Ijlal refers to the onlooker as the hostile witness in this work.
On view at the Shrine Empire (Delhi) booth
AN NISABY ARSHI IRSHAD AHMADZAI
The artist, who divides her time between Kabul and India, juggles two extremes of art production—one that suffocates her and the other that liberates her. Just like this work on display, her portraits are characterized by the faceless female figure. “As a woman from a marginalized community, my artworks can be provocative and can instigate a dialogue about the feminist agendas, which strive for an audience," she says. At the fair, she is showing new works, titled An Nisa.