Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Open your Eyes to Indian Art

The Korea Times
20 April 2009
Cathy Rose A. Garcia

India has always been a source of fascination, from Alexander the Great to Rudyard Kipling to the Beatles. In the last decade, India's booming economy has fueled renewed interest in its pop culture, especially Bollywood and recently, the Oscar-winning film ``Slumdog Millionaire'' and the infectious song "Jai Ho.'' Indian contemporary art is also in the spotlight, attracting the attention of major art institutions, collectors and even speculators. 

"Open Your Third Eye'' is perhaps one of the largest exhibitions of contemporary Indian art ever in Korea. The exhibition opened Thursday at the National Museum of Contemporary Art in Gwacheon, Gyeonggi Province. 

Originally titled "Chalo! India: A New Era of Indian Art,'' the exhibition first opened at the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo last November.

"The word `chalo' means `let's go!' It's an unusual title for a contemporary art show. It invites (visitors) on a journey to discover the art scene in India and to discover contemporary life and society of India today. At the same time, `chalo' is a friendly word. I tried to put the idea of looking at India through a more intimate gaze rather than through exotic eyes. This is also a reflection of the different dynamics in India right now, the economy, art scene, and all kinds of meaning put together in the word, `chalo','' curator Miki Akiko told reporters, Thursday. 

Akiko made several trips to India, particularly to the cities of Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Vadodara. She visited 60 artists' studios, before picking 100 artworks by 27 artists and artist groups for the show. 

The exhibition explores the current state of Indian contemporary art, and captures the vibrant energy and changes of Indian society.

The first section "Prologue: Journeys'' features pieces that incorporate traditional Indian motifs. Visitors may be surprised to find a life-sized female elephant at the entrance of the exhibition. For "The Skin Speaks a Language Not Its Own,'' Bharti Kher used millions of bindis, shaped like sperm, to cover the elephant skin. A bindi is an ornamental dot placed on a woman's forehead as a sign of being married. 

Throughout the exhibition space, there are 10 different chairs created by N.S. Harsha. The chairs are meant for the "guards'' to protect the items placed beside it, such as a rice bag or a book.

A. Balasubramaniam's "Kaayam'' features flattened molds of his own body and placed as if it was part of the wall. He said the word Kaayam has three meanings, body, womb and the phrase, "this will go away.'' 

In the second section, "Creation and Destruction: Urban Landscape,'' artists ponder on life and contradictions in modern India. 

Krishnaraj Chonat's "The Coracle'' is a jacuzzi tub-turned-boat filled with a hodge podge of junk, all painted in white. Chonat explained that the boat's round shape means it can go anywhere, and the inclusion of a pair of binoculars indicate it doesn't know where to go next. 

The third section "Reflections: Between Extremes'' is an interplay of contrasts and conflicts. Anant Joshi's multimedia installation "Naval One and the Many,'' which features hundreds of colorful, cheap toys rotating on skewer sticks, is a commentary on the hectic urban life. "While we're looking at it, we're also experiencing it. Even though we want to get away, we're constantly trapped by it,'' he said. 

In the fourth section "Fertile Chaos,'' the art works deal with the Indian people, their dreams and issues of nation, history, identity and gender. Design team Thukral & Tagra's kitschy work "Phantom IX-B,'' which is featured on the exhibition ticket, reflects the consumerist desire of young Indians today. 

The final section "Epilogue: Individuality and Collectivity/ Memory and Future'' deals with individual and collective experiences of the past and future. In "Tryst With Destiny,'' Shilpa Gupta's voice singing the text of a famous speech by India's first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru is broadcast from a microphone-shaped speaker.

"India and Korea share a similar historical and social background: Both countries were under the colonial rule; their cities underwent major changes; with their economic growth, the gap between rich and poor has been widening; they sometimes experienced the cognitive and cultural lag. In this respect, the artworks shown at this exhibition let us reflect on our own lives from a critical perspective,'' said museum curator Kim Na-min.

“The Skin Speaks a Language Not Its Own” by Bharti Kher

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