EXHIBITION - Indian Contemporary Fine Art (Sep 09-23, 2001) :

The Exhibition and Sale of Indian Contemporary Fine Art, presented by SaffronArt and Apparao Galleries, Los Angeles, September 9-23, 2001

This show, will feature artists like M.F. Husain, S.H. Raza and Arpita Singh and other masters of Indian contemporary art, as well as upcoming and promising talent from the sub-continent. The sale will include approximately 160 paintings by 24 artists, presented in three chapters and collectively represent the artists' observations depicting the challenge of transition that a modern, technologically changing, independent India, faces.

Given the range and complexity of works, the three chapters encapsulate the essence of what contemporary art is today in the Indian sub-continent. The first chapter covers a group of eight artists who emerged through a newly independent India in the 50s and 60s to develop their style in a post-colonial language. The second chapter highlights the youngest generation of artists who allow us a glimpse into the emerging trends in this country. They draw from tradition and history and yet come up with works that speak a global language. The third chapter focuses one of the most important elements in the social tapestry of India - that of the presence and role of women. Drawing from ancient traditions, these artists have been influenced by the decorative arts to enhance their idioms of expression.

Click here to read more about the show:
Post Colonial Dynamism
Confluence and Emerging Trends
From the Social Tapestry

SaffronArt's co-founders, Minal & Dinesh Vazirani, sum up the aim behind SaffronArt as: "Our goal is to document and highlight what has served as the foundation of 20th century art from India and what has emerged as Contemporary Indian Art today. We seek to give this form of expression a platform that allows works of Indian art to be accessed internationally and viewed as a representation of what has given India its unique identity on the world map."

This show has been developed in coordination with Apparao Galleries, Chennai, one of SaffronArt's partner galleries that has an extensive and significant collection of Indian contemporary and modern art. Additionally this show has been sponsored by, a portal that offers among other services, transactions and information relevant to non resident Indians, such as news, information on stocks, customized astrology forecasts, matrimonial services, travel packages within India as well as reports and coverage of Indian films, cultural events and communities.

For information on any of the works you can contact us at [email protected].

Future Events

This show in Los Angeles will be followed by additional curated shows across the US, Asia and Europe, as well as the online auction, in December this year.


Post Colonial Dynamism

No consideration of Indian art seems to be complete without referring to the dynamism displayed by its first generation of modern artists. In M.F. Husain, who was born in 1915 in pre partition India, the transition of artist from craftsman's apprentice to media celebrity in a sense disguises the metamorphosis that he has wrought in how we 'view' the art object. Perhaps Husain's greatest contribution is in the use of language of the Indian icon. After Raja Ravi Varma (1848-1905) gave the gods a sensuous theatrical form, it is Husain, a Muslim with an abiding interest in polytheistic Hinduism who has recreated our vision of the gods. From his paintings of the 1950's he uses a powerful expressionistic line that recalls the ancient Indian symbol of the yantra (Hindu tantric diagrams), the generous proportions of the modeling of Khajuraho, and some reductive symbols to give the Hindu pantheon an entirely modern interpretation. In giving a modernist image to the vigor of the Indian peasant, in bringing the Bollywood film star within the purview of 'fine' art, or in creating the essential marks and symbols of the gods Husain attains his wide popularity and his larger than life status.

Husain valorizes art as celebration. In contrast K.G. Subramanyan and Arpita Singh work towards an ironic interpretation of middle class Indian life. Subramanyan like Husain may bring the gods and humans onto the same undifferentiated plane. But in his hands it is ordinary life that plays out quirky gestures and monotonous rhythms. The nayika (central character or heroine) as he sees her is slack with ennui and tepid desire; the environs of her everyday life are dominated by capricious domestic pets and voyeuristic passersby. In grid locked domestic interiors, his figures evoke the mood of a people unaware of the viewers' critical attention.

Arpita Singh has pushed the visual lexicon of the middle-aged woman further than almost any other woman artist. The anomaly between the aging body and the residue of desire, between the ordinary and the divine and the threat of the violent fluxes of the impinging external world gives her work its piquancy and edge. At the same time she critiques the miasma of urban Indian life with suggestive symbols of violence that impinge on the sphere of the private, creating an edgy uncertainty.

Singh's subtlety is matched with Francis Newton Souza's unabated vigor and aggressive intent. Treating painting with a perverse missionary zeal Souza attacks the canon of good taste, of divine intercession, of human potential for redemption. A critical figure in India's alliance with international art from the 1940s, Souza brings a bristling erotic energy and a huge irreverence to his subject matter that ranges from the human form to Christian themes to a series of landscapes. His similarity to Rouault notwithstanding, Souza stands out for his highly distinctive expressionistic distortions of the human form.

In A. Ramachandran and Anjolie Ela Menon, the intention is perhaps to restore a sense of beauty and aesthetics. Ramachandran, who like K.G. Subramanyan is a student of Santiniketan, began his artistic career by working within the tenets of modernism. In recent years, he has been inspired by Bhil tribals outside Udaipur in Rajasthan, who with their distinctive grace appear like the inheritors of India's indigenous art traditions. Ramachandran uses the intricate patterning of miniature painting, the long elongated and stylized figures of Nagarjunakonda sculpture and of the Kerala mural tradition, and a rich patterned foliage to recreate a sense of rhythm and beauty. In Anjolie Ela Menon, the female subject is frequently isolated, caught in an attitude of melancholic reverie. Menon has used a subdued yet luminous palette and the iconic stillness of Byzantine and Romanesque figures to give her figures their distinctive quality. Menon has however also in recent times integrated religio-kitsch elements of Indian bazaars with her own extremely successful images to question issues of high and low taste, and the extremely fluid quality of images of bazaar art.

Paris based Syed Haider Raza (b.1922) has fused international and Indian understanding of geometrical abstraction like no other painter. Raza, who moved from expressionistic landscapes to the use of a symbolic geometry, draws generously on Indian concepts of the beej (seed), the bindu (which is the essential point of creation, also described as the germ, or seed) and the symbolic associations of ascending and descending triangles or the square. However he pushes this language beyond that of the yantra to a highly formalized enquiry, aided by his developed use of texture, color, form and space. Another Indian expatriate in France Sakti Burman (b.1935) infuses his work with the quality of magical fantasy. Burman creates in his distinctive technique of oil painting paradisiacal evocations of the imagination of a world that is perpetually youthful and innocent, that draws generously on European classical art for is inspiration.

Gayatri Sinha
Writer and Art Critic
New Delhi, July 2001


Confluence and Emerging Trends

Midnight's Grandchildren, if you can so label the generation that followed Midnight's Children, are a lucky lot. In our quasi-anarchical stage of 'anything-goes' art, the articulate 30-somethings have turned inward to India for inspiration.

Shrugging off the post-colonial legacy that held their predecessors in its grip, they can, like magpies, swoop down on anything that catches their fancy, and work it into their art.

Today, artists like K. Murlidharan and Sujata Bajaj readily dip into Indian myths, rituals and scriptures and symbols without a fear of being considered retrograde or parochial. A buoyant eclecticism is at work here: Indian history, images of deities, Indian philosophy, folk tales, scriptures and scribblings are rendered in very contemporary styles.

Hybridization is no longer a dirty word: everything is valid in this swirl of facts and artifacts. Nor is that other dread-word "decorative"- often used to pan Indian artists who fall between the schools of abstract and narrative art. Many of the younger Indian artists, both in India and abroad, are increasingly reveling in indigenous abstraction. Mantras (Vedic chants), yantras (Hindu tantric diagrams) and other tantric symbols are no longer the preserve of the few. And some of canvases of the younger artists are like palimpsests, with layerings of different times.

Murlidharan has obviously been foraging in the memories of his childhood: images of deities, rituals and religious activities in his rather conservative family find their way into his canvases. The return-to-roots journey has also taken him to Indian mythology. His almost child-like images of forms that are half animal and half human recur. His god-images have a primordial look about them, which would resonate in other cultures as well.

And their apparent simplicity is deceptive. Murlidharan also unabashedly indulges in the decorative and does not shy away from ornamentation. Bajaj plays with the unconscious. She has a doctorate in Indian tribal art and has used memories, signs, symbols, totems, coiled rope, hieroglyphics, and automatic drawing in her work. Interestingly, many artists (Navjot Altaf with the Bhil tribe of Rajasthan) are increasingly attempting to learn from or work with tribals; something the late and pioneering sculptor Meera Mukherjee did a long time ago, and very effectively.

The gaze of many of the artists of this generation has also turned inwards. The focus is on the self, whether it is in the foreground on in the background. There is as well a post-modern focus on the body. C.K. Bose has often used photographs of parts of himself in his work over the years. His work may not project himself literally into the picture, as do the videos of Sonia Khurana or the paintings of Anju Dodiya. A. Balasubramiam, whose work is becoming increasingly sublime, has often incorporated impressions of his thumb and hands as well as his body into his work. The personal experience has to be incarnated in his work. Balasubramaniam also uses the quotidian, like many other artists of his generation, and invests it with a grander significance.

Jitish Kallat focuses on the self; this painter's language is universal, and his billboard approach to canvases can have as much relevance in New Delhi as in New York. The "autobiographical references" are deliberate, and are re-inscribed into other worlds and contexts. The picture surface becomes like a used/abused wall; graffiti-like scribblings and mottled surfaces render his works this quality. There is something decidedly Andy Warholish about the way he works himself into the canvas-silk screen meets film negative.

Both Baiju Parthan and Shibu Natesan have an equally contemporary, cutting edge feel about them. Parthan exults in the virtual world and seeks to marry autobiography with science, technology and history and cyber-myths. Baroda-educated Natesan's altered landscapes, in which many different worlds seem to co-exist, and his used of steely monochromes as part of his compositions, sets him apart. Themes of displacement, migrations, and new worlds are hinted at in his magnificent canvases and watercolor studies.

Natraj Sharma, known for his bleak pictorial musings on man and machine, has over the last few years made everyday objects and even street art and popular cinema imagery catalysts for his work. Sharma's new work illustrates this generation's confidence and ability to scan "low brow" art with the same passion as highbrow oeuvres. Artists like him now exult in the quotidian, the everyday object, or even kitsch. And like Indian writers who now use 'Hinglish' in their writing, they appropriate everything round them, even Bollywood.

Madhu Jain
Writer and Art Critic
New Delhi, July 2001


From the Social Tapestry

The 'Woman' has been a recurring trope in Indian art. In the pre-classical traditions she is represented as the embodiment of fertility as the mother goddess. So too in the Vedic and the Puranic texts. The Agni Purana for instance refers to Osadhi or medicinal plants, the vegetal divinity having the attributes of the mother. The cosmic role of the merging goddess is enacted in the Devi Mahatmya as the primeval force. As the earth-born energy, the female form from the North arose as Nana and Kausiki. In the Kushana coins she appeared riding a lion wearing a lunar crescent on her forehead. In Central India she was Kali, Arya, Vindhyavasini Durga, the naked Aparna.

Over the centuries the feminine has never lost this identity. In fact, it continued to perpetuate in the visual arts. Artists painted her within the walls of their homes, on floral patterns, as preservers of the home and the hearth and as cultic 'grama devatas' (village deities). Every Indian God had his female counterpart and no religious ceremony was complete without the 'ardhagini' or the 'other half'.

In the great miniature tradition of India the woman form appears as the 'nayika', the ideal woman, the male protagonist's object of desire. This figure appears in the modern period too, in the work of Raja Ravi Varma, but his use of oil paint gives it a substantiality never seen before in Indian art. The casting of the woman to represent the nation begins with him, and the revivalists who followed de-sexualized the female body to produce that quintessential icon of nationalism, Abanindranath Tagore's 'Bharat Mata'.

With Amrita Sher-Gill's pictures, we have an upper class female subjectivity articulated via its "other"- the rural Indian woman. Sher-Gill offers the future Indian artist two distinct directions, a modernist language and, being the first Indian artist of the modern era, raises the question of female subjectivity, creating a way for woman artists in post-independent India to come to the fore.

In recent art practice both in the west and in India, the conventional representation of the woman has come under question. Artists have employed interdisciplinary methods, invoking radical theories of language and subject to subvert representational norms. Feminist Indian artists have sought to subvert with irony the stereotypical perceptions of the woman as the nurturer or destroyer. Issues of sexuality, gender, equality, identity, and social reality are the concerns of these artists. Yet, the woman as the creative primeval energy still haunts the muse of the contemporary Indian artists. It is the artist's personal experiences and history that dictates the representation. Often romantic perceptions of antiquity fuse with the personal perceptions and views of the contemporary Indian artist.

Contemporary Indian artists draw the woman in myriad roles. Soft profiles, winsome faces and an ethereal quality are the signature style of Suhas Roy's paintings. Laxma Goud who is known also as a printmaker has powerful erotica in his work. His women are infused with vibrancy, highly aware of their sexuality; yet exceedingly gentle and subtle, are executed in fine line drawings substantiated with rich textures. Chittrovanu Mazumdar on the other hand creates dark, brooding paintings, which are born from the energetic forces of great abstract moments from Paris and the western world. The woman hides beneath the surfaces as she would in certain situations in her life. Thota Vaikuntam's women are large fecund, fertile, earth mothers. Luscious in their form, they are a continuum of Indian earth mothers. Sensitivity and rhythm characterizes the lines he uses both the strength and softness of a woman are evident. Continuing in the traditional imagery of women is Jayasri Burman. Bordering more on the decorative and the folk forms, she moves within the paradigms of Indian mythology. She has culled the essence of the feminine influence in the social circle in her vibrant and lively gouaches.

Totally Indian in essence are the women depicted in Arpana Caur's works, at times enfolding metaphors from Indian myths. They are a wonderful combination of rural and urban women engaged in occupational activity. Arpana Caur has also excelled in her renditions of the "Budhha", featured in this collection.

Paresh Maity, whose prime motivation is color, of late has been using the female form in a rather interesting manner. His work has grown and he has been using fascinating angles. Color distortions, in which he is an expert, lend an increasing aura of mystery to his women. Rekha Rodwittiya, who spent a number of years in England, brings in a more feminist element in her work. Her language is contemporary and the form is more assertive. In some ways it is related to the western norms of feminist theory.

In this collection these artists have used the woman figure as a central theme of their creations. This chapter has been curated specifically because of the rendering of these feminine forms.

Alka Pande
Writer and Art Historian
New Delhi, July 2001

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