14th September, 2001

The Images of Modern India Exhibit * A show at a Laguna Beach gallery is showcasing contemporary fine art from the subcontinent. By VIVIAN LETRAN, Times Staff Writer Outside of Bombay, Southern Californians rarely get a chance to see an extensive contemporary Indian art exhibit that showcases established and emerging artists in a range of styles from figurative to abstract, hyper-realist to Pop. But such a show is in place at seven-degrees gallery in Laguna Beach through Sept. 21. The exhibit, simply titled "Indian Contemporary Fine Art," is a 15-day blitz of works produced by some of the vast subcontinent's top artists. This first exhibition is the third stop in a series of regional gallery shows organized by Saffronart, a source for Indian modern and contemporary art. In hopes of generating international awareness about Indian art and culture, the group's efforts began in Hong Kong and continued in New York. "For me, it's like coming home," said Minal Vazirani, 30, who lives in Bombay but grew up in Yorba Linda. She quit her job as a management consultant a year ago to found the Bombay-based Saffronart with her husband, Dinesh. Saffronart partnered with about 40 other galleries in India to present the show. "Our objective is to do large-scale shows for people to view the range of what's coming out of India today," said Vazirani, who sells works through the exhibit. The show will focus on 160 paintings by 24 artists. There are few traditional scenes of menacing, multi-armed female deities brandishing daggers or dismembering bodies. But spirituality still plays a role. "Being from India, I have a strong metaphysical core that makes me Indian," said Baiju Parthan, 39, a Sotheby's Artist of the Year nominee and one of the youngest artists in the "Confluence and Emerging Trends" segment of the exhibit. "My work is a negotiation, so to speak, of these two realities: the metaphysics and the day-to-day reality in which I live." Parthan is one of two artists-in-residence at the gallery's live-in studios. He is completing "Object of Desire," a diptych about the process by which objects are polished to perfection, from pears with bar codes to chrome-rimmed trucks. "To me, the trucks here are such clean, neat objects compared to the trucks in India that are so dirty, dusty and run-down," said the goateed and bespectacled Parthan, wearing a black T-shirt that reads: "Yoga. Made in India." The show, similar to one held in New York at the Metropolitan Pavilion in May, also includes veteran artists Maqbool Fida Husain, Francis Newton Souza, Arpita Singh and others who make up the second section of the show titled "Post Colonial Dynamism." In this group are eight artists who emerged in the '50s and '60s and developed a distinct style. Souza, another artist-in-residence, was among the first generation of modern artists in India and a member of the Progressive Artists Group. The organization fostered modernism and gained prominence in the region after independence was declared in August 1947. Their primary sources of influence were artists of the School of Paris such as Picasso and Rouault. A former member of the Communist Party of India, Souza, 78, exhibited his early paintings in working-class areas in the 1940s. From his landscapes to his series on religious hypocrisy, he is known for his distinct style--distorted human forms, heavy black lines and multiple voyeuristic eyes. "This is all a very recent thing. The British at the time stamped out the cultural talents and there was no outlet for artists to show their work in India and abroad," he said. "We had to own our own galleries to show, make our own paints and canvas and materials. There was no Indian culture under British occupation." The exhibit's third segment focuses on the role of women, highlighting artists such as Arpita Singh and Rekha Rodwittiya. The women have long questioned patriarchal norms in Indian culture, and their works contain themes of violence and social oppression. Among Singh's paintings of humanized female deities is one harried goddess who bows her head in weariness at a weekly market. Rodwittiya's works, such as "Play Within the Circle" (1997), celebrate the female body as an agent with the ability to nurture, create and heal. The variety and quality of the work should surprise many viewers, said Souza. "I often hear people say, 'Indian art? Is there such a thing?"' he said. With more shows such as this one, Vazirani hopes the question won't arise so often. "We want to develop the commercial market for Indian art. Prior to this, there wasn't a way for collectors to feel comfortable with the value of the art they're getting. We want to get artists more exposure in the Western world ... and give them more opportunities to have exhibitions and artist-in-residence programs," she said. "Indian Contemporary Fine Art," seven-degrees, 891 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach. Free. Ends Sept. 23. (949) 376-1555.

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