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August 15, 2018

Avant-Garde Aesthetes: Jagdip Jagpal’s Artists To Watch Out For

Text and interviews by Tina Dastur and Preksha Sharma

In the second part of our series, the director and re-inventor of the Indian Art Fair, curates a list of nine, innovative multi-disciplinary artists

Sahil Naik, 26

“In my work, I constantly seek to draw correlations between myth, religion, history, facts and the internet. This also forms the premise for my current body of work. I am really interested in the politics of terror, the metaphor of the bomb and its position in the dichotomy of pleasure and fear,” says Goa-based artist Sahil Naik, who became interested in the idea of the bomb after a temple in his neighbourhood was subjected to threats and hoaxes.

In 2017, Naik exhibited Ground Zero at Kolkata gallery Experimenter; this project, he says, was born out of a constant reference to sites of trauma. Shedding light on it, Naik details, “The conceptual premise of this show looks at architecture from two positions: as evidence and as witness — both as a physical form and as a live entity with embedded histories. The work identifies potential ‘suspects’ based on certain iconographies formed by social, political, ethnic and religious characteristics.” For the exhibition, he created replications of familiar locations and subjected them to explosions, looking mainly towards the vulnerability of our everyday spaces and how we always think of terror as being at a distance from us — the ‘this can never happen to me’ mindset.

This year, Naik, who is currently in residence at Aomori Contemporary Art Centre (ACAC), Japan, is working on a larger project that looks at the violence of the nation-building project in South Asia; he will be showing an early fragment of this project in a group show at the ACAC.

Curator speak

“He is a sculptor, but not in the traditional sense. I really appreciate his attention to detail when creating a narrative around spaces.”

Hetain Patel, 37

“I’m a British artist born of immigrant parents. I grew up in a town where it felt as if we were the only brown people. That informs the core of a lot of my artworks. I went to art school at Nottingham Trent University, from where I graduated in 2003, and I have been working as an artist ever since — first in Nottingham and now in London,” says Hetain Patel, who is represented by Mumbai-based gallery Chatterjee & Lal.

Patel’s art is all about making connections — between cultures, genders and generations. Since his process is largely collaborative and across different art mediums, he says that it enables him to practise what he preaches, and that involves “developing and fostering connections with people across a broad spectrum of backgrounds that are often different from my own. Collaboration between art and life is key to the possibilities of what we can be as humans”.

This year, Patel, who is a New Wave Associate at Sadler’s Wells Theatre, London, is collaborating on performances with dancers, actors, musicians and amateur choirs. This will be research for a project he’s planning for 2020 — it will incorporate film, sculpture and live performance for galleries. “I’m also doing research for my first feature film, a development of my most recent short film, Don’t Look at the Finger (2017),” he concludes.

Curator speak

“From American Boy (2014), Jump (2015) and American Man (2016) to Don’t Look At The Finger (2017), I have seen all his films and have always been amazed by his ability to transform himself into a range of characters.And what’s more impressive is that he stitches his own costumes!”

Sahej Rahal, 29

“I had a dream once in which Momus, the pagan god of art criticism, came and told me, ‘A lie creates another world, one in which it is true’. I kind of took that to heart a bit too strongly, I think,” quips Sahej Rahal, whose art is inspired by the mythological and the bizarre. “I make things and pretend that they belong to ancient civilisations or have travelled back to our time from the future…and sometimes, people believe me,” the artist states.

He says that he’s interested in “figuring out new ways of telling this massive tale of absurd objects entering our world”. And so, he doesn’t really stick to one medium for too long, but instead experiments with various mediums — these include drawings, sculpture, performances and moving images. “Right now, I’m working on the second episode of a video game that is populated with my sculptures and with levels designed with objects that were 3D-scanned in the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya, Mumbai. I trained as a painter in art school and I’ve been getting back into making paintings again recently,” he says.

As for what’s in the pipeline, Rahal reveals, “I’ve just come back to Mumbai after a fairly long time. And I’m slowly getting back to working on ideas that I’d put on the back-burner for a while. I’m also prepping for my next solo show, which opens at Chatterjee & Lal in January next year. Following that, I’ll be taking off to Canada, where I’ll be participating in the Vancouver Biennale.”

Curator speak

“Not unsurprisingly, his clay and ceramic sculptures were the most attractive and popular amongst the art crowd as well as the general public at the Liverpool Biennale 2016.”

Sajan Mani, 35

Growing up in Kannur, Kerala, in a family of rubber tappers, Sajan Mani never imagined going to art school even though he would frequently sketch as a youngster. Armed with degrees in fine arts, English literature and journalism, Mani worked as a migrant labourer for two years in the Gulf. After a period of extensive travel, he decided to participate in the very first edition of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, which is where he moulded and honed his artistic practice. Speaking about his experience at the Biennale, Mani states, “The 2012 biennale was like a university for me, where Bose Krishnamachari mentored me and Nikhil Chopra guided me in the nuances of performance art.”

As a postcolonial Dalit who uses his body to move into varied public spaces and portray the struggles of the marginalised body, the artist explains, “I am interested in the body and the concepts of time and space — the body and its limits, endurance and a black Dalit body’s existence. I’m trying to create new languages to address the idea of possible collective futures. My body is a site for the powerless, the untouchable. My performances attempt to evoke pain, shame, power and fear.”

Currently, Mani is pursuing a master’s degree in ‘art in the public space’ at the Weissensee Academy of Art, Berlin, where he is busy researching subjects like spatial justice and spatiality.

Curator speak

“I first saw Sajan perform at Chatterjee & Lal, Mumbai, and later, at the Dhaka Art Summit. I admire the simplicity and bravery with which he is able to make strong social statements about modern India.”

Andrew Ananda Voogel, 34

He was surrounded by art as a child. His father’s grandfather was a Dutch impressionist, and so his home was always full of oil paintings, pastoral scenes and portraits. “I began scribbling quite early on in my childhood and, in some way, that process never really stopped. I’ve always been a very quiet person, but art has provided me with a platform through which I could explore those particular moments in life which I found extremely challenging to articulate through mere words,” says Andrew Ananda Voogel.

A recurrent theme in Voogel’s works is the idea of the ‘weight of memory’ — this was inspired by a visit in 2007 to his mother’s home in former British Guyana, where the population is split between the descendants of West Africans and Indians who were brought to work in the sugarcane plantations of the former British Empire. “On that particular visit, I was deeply affected by the weight of memory and history. I began researching the colonial archives in Guyana and started making sense of my family’s own history for the very first time. Since then, the themes of sea crossing, exile, memory and historical trauma have had a major influence on my art practice,” details the artist.

Voogel, who divides his time between Northern California and Taipei City, recently participated in an exhibition titled New Traditions: Influences and Inspirations in Indian Textiles, 1947-2017 at the Jawahar Kala Kendra, Jaipur, curated by Mayank Mansingh Kaul. Presently, he is working on a solo exhibition that will open in Vienna in 2019.

Curator speak

“I was immediately drawn to his work, which was exhibited at the Khirkee Festival organised by Khoj in New Delhi last year, and have been following his career since.”

Yasmin Jahan Nupur, 39

Born in Chittagong, Bangladesh, her interest in art was sparked by her father. As Yasmin Jahan Nupur puts it, “I learned how to draw even before I knew how to spell.” After completing her master’s in drawing and painting from the University of Chittagong in 2004, she moved to Dhaka two years later to start her career as an independent artist. And, since 2009, she has been a member of the Britto Art Trust in Dhaka.

Nupur’s performative practice is known to tackle and challenge a number of political issues, paying close attention to their impact on humanity. “My work is situated within socio-political, cultural and ecological conditions, and I produce objects and installations and prepare activities that take on wide-ranging themes such as feminism, country-wide identification, climate change, war and the economic crisis. I am also constantly thinking about boundaries — not just in terms of a ‘physical’ boundary but also those within the mental space of individuals,” she explains.

Nupur, who is presently working on ideas around mapping, war and migrant workers, says that she’d like to do a performance pertaining to the politics of food security. “Dhaka’s brouhaha over contaminated fruit speaks about a growing chasm between the urban and the rural. As we become more removed from the traditional modes of food production, the agricultural hinterland is being treated as nothing more than the food source for a hungry city. The practice of spraying fruit with chemicals is one problem, but more worrying is the possibility that the entire food chain is being compromised and the soil itself is contaminated by toxins that are almost impossible to eradicate,” she expands. She is also working on a project that focuses on her father’s land, which was recently acquired by the government. “At some point, we are also going to be landless. So, I’m building a body of work that looks at the land and landscape — how land is losing its sense of ancestral history and how it is making way for cities and factories…and hence, what impact that will have on humanity,” she concludes.

Curator speak

“Yasmin is a formidable performance artist. Her research, process and quality of performances engender empathy for the plight of the marginalised and set her apart from the others.”

Tanya Goel, 32

Born in New Delhi, the artist graduated with a bachelor of fine arts from The Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda and then proceeded to attain her post-baccalaureate certificate in studio (PBS) from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC), topping it off with a master’s in fine arts from the Yale University School of Art, Connecticut. After living in Chicago and New York, Tanya Goel returned home to New Delhi, only to find dramatic shifts in the use of industrial materials for construction, with glass and steel replacing iron and brick.

Through her works, Goel attempts to make a material record of a swiftly disappearing period; and so, her paintings see her create her own pigments from an array of materials ranging from charcoal, glass, soil and aluminium to graphite, concrete, foil and mica, all of which are sourced from sites of deconstruction. Talking about why the construction and deconstruction of cities interests her, she states, “How we shape and build what we live in is becoming more and more intriguing. But what’s most fascinating is the constant flux.”

Goel’s work is up at a show called Waste Land, curated by Birgid Uccia, at Tarq, Mumbai, on till the first week of August. Later this year, she will be showing her work at the Gwangju Biennale, South Korea.

Curator speak

“We were lucky to have one of her beautiful neel pigment wall drawings called Index as a solo project at the last edition of the India Art Fair — this was a standout work.”

Rohini Devasher, 39

“I have been a fan of science fiction and fantasy ever since my school days…and when I was in my second year at the College of Art in the capital, I joined the Amateur Astronomers Association of Delhi at the Nehru Planetarium with the idea that it might be the closest thing to a science fiction club or convention in the city. For the next four years, I was an active member, polishing mirrors for telescopes, going to Haqdarpur (in Haryana) in the cold, to a very wet field, to see the Leonid meteor shower in 2000 and learning a lot more about navigating Delhi’s night sky, both in the planetarium dome and on field during our monthly ‘star parties’,” says artist Rohini Devasher, whose work uses metaphor and projection as tools that link art and astronomy.

After studying painting at the College of Art, New Delhi, Devasher completed her master’s in printmaking from the Winchester School of Art, after which she returned to Delhi to work at Khoj International Artists’ Association from 2005 to 2011. Her artistic style, she affirms, looks at “speculations on the relationships between the human and the non-human”. Expanding on the central themes she explores in her work, Devasher states, “More and more, it seems as if the interconnectedness of our relationship to the planet will be essential to our imagination of our future. Science and art both interrogate this condition and what it entails. I like working within different frameworks of science, art, fiction and speculation and what these make possible. In the age of the Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Chthulucene, is there still room for wonder? I believe there is. I believe it is essential that we not only make room for it, but actively nurture and cultivate it — because wonder walks a fine line between beauty and the uncanny, both of which are central to my practice.”

Currently, Devasher is working on some new large print- and drawing-based works, which will be will be exhibited in Europe in autumn. A solo show at Project 88, Mumbai will open at the tail end of the year.

Curator speak

“I am a science fiction buff and so, her subject matter has always fascinated me. I can’t wait to see some new works following her expedition and residency at sea with The Owner’s Cabin.”

Waqas Khan, 35

“My work is not directly inspired by Sufism or any of its particularities. While I thoroughly enjoy Sufi poetry, I am afraid that specifying any prose or piece of literature as inspiration would minimise the meaning of my work,” says the artist whose practice took off after a bachelor’s in fine arts from the National College of Arts, Lahore, where he studied Mughal-style miniature painting and printmaking. Waqas Khan’s work, quite undeniably, amply proves the saying ‘it’s all in the details’. His massive monochromatic prints that resemble intricate webs and vast celestial bodies are the result of the intermingling of thousands of miniscule dots and dashes, inked with red, blue, black or white ink. Asked how his experience with miniature painting influences his work, Khan clarifies, “Miniature painting is an entirely different practice, with entirely different ethics. The smaller applications of my pen strokes are very tiny — and I suppose this is the only similarity between my practice and miniature work.”

Last year, Khan’s neon series that spelled the word khushamdeed (meaning ‘welcome’) in Urdu found pride of place at the entrances of three Manchester art spaces — the Manchester Museum, the Manchester Art Gallery and the Whitworth Art Gallery. The purpose of this project was to invite all kinds of people and offer them a judgment-free area to view art. Currently, the Lahore-based artist is working on his solo project at Galerie Krinzinger, Vienna, which will open on September 7th this year, with another project due to open at the Asia Pacific Triennial in November this year. He will also be exhibiting at Frieze, London, the FIAC International Contemporary Art Fair, Paris and Art Basel, Miami Beach later this year.

Curator speak

“I was fortunate enough to see his solo exhibition at the Manchester Art Gallery last year. There is so much to appreciate in his large-scale minimalist drawings — so intricate and impactful.”

For the full story grab a copy of our July-August Art Issue

Read the first part here

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