The more the merrier
by Ravisha Mall
Tolstoy Farm- Archive of Utopia @ Lalit Kala Academy
Considering it being the beginning of the off season, the month of May saw the opening of many high profile shows across Delhi.
The fixation of the Indian artist with Gandhi, which prompted an onslaught of inspired artworks back in the October of 2010, seems to be seasonal in its appearance. With the 100th anniversary of Tolstoy Farm, no less than 17 artists were brought together under one roof to celebrate the same with 'Tolstoy Farm- Archive of Utopia'. Held at Lalit Kala Academy, a Seven Art Limited presentation, the exhibition prompted the artists to share their reflections on the philosophies of Mahatma Gandhi, Leo Tolstoy and Nelson Mandela, the tripartite that stood as an embodiment of the fight against injustice. Inspired from its namesake just outside Johannesburg in South Africa which, incidentally, is now owned by a brick making factory, the show had been conceptually conceived around a year ago to coincide with the year of Tolstoy Farm by curator and art critic Gayatri Sinha.
In his 21 years in South Africa, Gandhi spent a substantial time at Tolstoy farm, a gift from a Jewish architect Herman Kallenback, modeling it as a a site for his social and cultural experiments, building almost like a blue print of the Sabharmati ashram, which followed the same basic tenets and principles. Later the farm also became the inspiration for the African National Congress and had a large role to play in Nelson Mandela's resistance against apartheid. Thus, the farm transcended from being the birth site of revolutions to a space that stood for a certain egalitarian ideology, a symbol of utopia, as envisaged by Gandhi. Derived from this thought, the artworks depict the artists' idea of personal and private utopia.
As one enters the Lalit Kala gallery, one is accosted by Akshay Rathore's 'Earth to earth.. Ashes to ashes.. Dust to dust', a rudimentary brick structure held together by hand-woven thread. One is then led to reflect upon the notions of building a present and a future, the elements of which are strung together by the strands of faith of men like Gandhi. "Post independence, nation building meant building the character of the Indian people but now it's been reduced to construction." says Sinha. The work also refers to the current condition of Tolstoy Farm. While Gigi Scaria, preparing to show at the Venice Biennale, takes forward the interview format of his 2007 video work, 'Raise Your Hands Those Who Have Touched Him', KP Reji's work dissects the cinematic fascination with Gandhi in his painting 'The Making of Mahatma Gandhi'. Artist Ravi Aggarwal, through 'Capital in Transition' questions the notion of capital in today's world where everything is a tradable stock as opposed to Gandhi's idealistic belief of keeping the capital before self.
This being the second large group show curated by Gayatri Sinha inspired from Gandhi, after 'Bapu' at Saffronart in 2008, one muses the possibility of a third one being in tow.
The artists participating in the show were Aditya Pande, Akshay Rathore, Anita Dube, Archana Hande, Arpita Singh, Asim Waqif, Bharti Kher, Gigi Scaria, Jagannath Panda, K.P Reji, Manjunath Kamath, Mithu Sen, Ranbir Kaleka, Ravi Aggarwal, Riyas Komu, Suhasini Kejriwal, Vivek Vilasini.
Though many of the artworks by themselves were really good, they left one wondering as to how they fit in the show. One expected it to be different from other Gandhi-centric interpretations but sadly that was not the case.
Museum Collection 1 @ Art Konsult
Another major show to open was a show of Old Masters, titled 'Museum Collection 1' at Art Konsult. Though showing works from 1920s to about 1980s, the thrust of the show was the pre-independence masters, like Ram Kinkar Baij, Hemen Mazumdar, Abanindranath Tagore and Jamini Roy. Among these Hemen Mazumdar's and Ramkinkar Baij's 'Famine' are truly museum material. Good works from Raja Ravi Verma and Dhurandar were sorely missed. Amongst the post-independent modernists the collection of Ram Kumar's figurative and abstract works were noteworthy; whereas works by more famous artists like Hussain were common and not upto mark.
LENSING-IT @ Seven Arts
Delhi was also amongst one of its out bursts of it's love with photography. Two large shows opened, the first being Parthiv Shah's 'Art as Witness'. The city also witnessed the launch of Sunil Gupta's book, Queer, at Vadhera Art Gallery. However, the show which focused on photography as an art form was Johny ML's 'Lens-ing It'. Among the 8 artists participating in the show, Ram Rehman's, Manisha Gera Baswani's and Anup Mathew Thomas's works were just various variations in the genre of celebrity photography. Anup's work still has a documentative knack but the selection from the other two artists disappoint. Vivek Vilasini's much acclaimed series 'Between One Shore and Several Others' was shown in Delhi for the first time and was delightful in its play of irony. Quoting from Johny ML's catalogue essay, “In this series, he painstakingly documents the people who have names that do not have anything to do with their location, personality or profession. Some of them are named Stalin, some are Ho Chi Minh and Soviet Breeze. Vivek recaptures the socio-political and cultural contexts in which these people came to have these names. The living people with 'un-localized' names achieve semi-iconic status in these works, ironically emphasizing the contradictions that they embody not only within their contexts but also in an exposed global scenario.” Abul Kalam Azad's and Sunil Gupta's photographs were poignant displays of how photography is also the art of telling stories.