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Colors of nationalism

'Tiranga - Rights and Responsibilities', an art exhibition, at Jehangir Art Gallery has 19 artists incorporating images of Indian Tricolor - National Flag, its colors or motifs in their works. There are paintings, graphics, installations and photographs as well included in this multi-dimensional show. Organized by the Jindal Foundation for Performing and Creative Arts, the exhibition is an attempt to communicate, through art, the right of each and every Indian to fly our Tricolor, be inspired by it and to live by its ideals. This right also spells responsibility, a fact that has been beautifully and subtly displayed by the artists through this exhibition.

The Foundation invited well-known curator Peter Nagy to assemble a group of artists to create works on this subject and to present the various artistic interpretations on the theme. Painters and sculptors as well as photographers and installation artists have been asked to respond to the theme and to create works that both communicate what the Indian flag symbolizes and means to them and, by extension, what it means to be a citizen of India today. These exhibits communicate our feelings about the flag, the freedom as well as the responsibility that comes with its display and our expressions of what it means to be an Indian. In a way, they put to the forefront what our artists think of nationalism.

Many of the works are, of course, celebratory and joyful, while others are critical, poignant or even depressing in a diametrically opposite hues of emotions conveyed like the one by Nataraj Sharma that takes a critical view of the Independence Day parade of school children. Curator Peter Nagy, introducing the show, notes: "The artists invited have been chosen so as to present a diversity of mediums and styles. While some may choose to express themselves through realistic paintings others will explore more conceptual approaches to the subject."

Shallu Jindal states this art exhibition is a move towards inculcating awareness among Indians to increasingly fly the Tiranga and be inspired by it. She adds: "For this effort, the artists have either used the image of the Indian national flag or have incorporated the colors and motifs of the flag in some way." Among the artists who created works for the exhibition are Sudhir Patwardhan, Gulammohammed Sheikh, Nilima Sheikh, Shibu Natesan, Manisha Parekh, Rekha Rodwittiya, Surendren Nair, Jitish Kallat and Manisha Parekh among others. In addition, amusing and ultimately thought-provoking sculptures add a new dimension to the show. Photographs documenting the theme in varied settings have also been included. Each work at 'Tiranga'- 'kiosk' in stainless steel framework and rubberstamps by Reena Saini Kallat or 'flag' by Manisha Parekh - is subtle in its expressions.

'Kiosk' is an attempt to disperse and rearrange the three colors of the national flag into a jumbled mosaic, such that when seen collectively the colors interlace and lose their distinct character. The hundreds of rubber stamps that form the work carry names of people from various religions and regional communities residing in India. As the artists explains: "With 'Kiosk', I am trying to metaphorically stamp out the specific associations of the two dominant colors; and with the random crisscrossing of names, scripts and colors evoke notions of compassion and peaceful co-existence."

An interactive project conceived by Jitish Kallat invites the visitors to crate their own-the-spot works and gives them an opportunity to participate in the show by playing with saffron and green colors on sheets of paper, to use the child's inkblot painting method of folding the paper and squeezing the color in between to finally spread them. The result is butterfly-like patterns formed by the collision of the two complementary colors. The central fold of the paper is a metaphor for the axis of governance that needs to tilt neither left nor right to create the much-needed symmetry in our highly polarized polity.

Gulammohammed Sheikh's 'Tiranga Bharat' is a speaking tree of multiple traditions and cultures representing the land of the Tiranga. Ram Rahman's photograph of a New York Independence Day Parade is striking. Of the installations on display, Subodh Gupta's artwork that consists of a plastic television set through which one can see the national flag is imaginative. In the background floats an eerie bouquet of lotuses to suggest ubiquitous Hindu fundamentalism. A red siren is placed above the television set to signify bureaucratic corruption. Similarly, Bharti Kher's wooden plague with a tri-colored tiger documents how fundamentalism finds much camouflage in nationalism. Vivan Sundaram's interactive installation of the movable flag is amusing, with an interactive machine that consists of lights, a tape recorder and plastic fans in green, orange and white. 'Tiranga- Rights and Responsibilities' continues till July 15, 11 am to 7 pm, at Jehangir Art Gallery.

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