Top Picks From India Art Fair 2019 | Verve Magazine
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January 31, 2019

Top Picks From India Art Fair 2019

Text by Ranjabati Das

Here’s a guide that aims to make one of South Asia’s biggest art fairs less intimidating

Promising to leave visitors spoilt for choice, the 11th edition of the India Art Fair (IAF) will offer a plethora of options to every contemporary art aficionado. A breeding ground for arts and culture, the fair brings together galleries, design studios, trusts, archives, institutes, museums, festivals, private foundations, charities and artists’ collectives from across the world — including the Subcontinent, the United States, Britain, Hong Kong, Korea, Germany, Spain, Scandinavia, China and Japan — under one roof. And with its inclusive stance towards both popular artists as well as emerging talents, the modern and contemporary art fair has emerged as the place to be (and be seen at) in the last decade for anybody who is somebody in the world of art — or indeed anyone looking to cultivate a taste for the arts.

With eyes trained on South Asian art and an aim to reinvigorate engagement and offer a platform to new talent, all behind a facade created by The Big Fat Minimalist Aniruddh Mehta (you might remember him as the guy who gave the Facebook HQ in Gurugram a makeover last year), the four-day affair provides a unique opportunity to cultural enthusiasts to experience the region’s robust art scene. Only 30 per cent of the area is open to galleries from abroad. International bigwigs who deserve a mention include Idris Khan, Ai Weiwei, Olafur Eliasson and Wolfgang Tillmans among others.

With a special focus on educating fledgling collectors, IAF has rolled out a number of masterclasses (seven in all; dealing with several aspects like buying at auctions, starting a collection and designing exhibition spaces; by industry experts, collectors and insiders) and discussions revolving around collecting (including Husain in New York about collecting the modern master — moderated by DAG Modern’s Kishore Singh — and The Gallery in a Global Age, where collector-gallerist Urs Meile, in conversation with DAG’s Ashok Adiceam, will let us in on the difficulties of representing Asian artists and reveal what is in the pipeline for Galerie Urs Meile, one of the first international galleries to focus on Chinese art and artists). Collecting Digital Art will have three experts mulling over how to commission, display, collect and archive this new medium and a talk by Mitchell Crites, collector and patron of Gond painter Jangarh Singh Shyam, will shed light on the artist’s work and what it takes to build a collection of tribal art.

The event comes with braille guides, sign-language interpreters, wheelchair services and feeding rooms in a bid to be more accessible to as many as possible. In other words, there should be nothing stopping you from giving this one a go. But with nearly a hundred exhibitors — and a myriad of parallel programmes, discussions, lectures, book signings, catalogue launches, screenings, performances, installations, curated walks, and much more spread across India and outside — calling it a bit of a maze may be a gross understatement.

So, in order to ensure that you capitalise on your time, we have hand-picked a few of our favourite things from IAF that will make every moment worthwhile:

Sohrab Hura’s Lost Head & The Bird

Part of an ongoing project titled The Coast, artist and Magnum photographer Sohrab Hura’s Lost Head & The Bird is a 10-minute-long video work that keeps playing on loop. Loaded with meaning, it is his response to the current political situation in India, says the photographer, who is represented by Experimenter. ‘Minority communities are lynched by mobs and we are slowly being pushed into a state of a New Normal where some people have even started finding excuses to justify such occurrences. The film spirals into a maelstrom of all that collected imagery towards its end. That is me vomiting out of my brain all the information that I’m constantly getting bombarded by,’ said the self-taught artist in an interview.

For an insight into Hura or if you fancy yourself a budding photographer, make your way to The Future Of Photography talk between the artist and Pushpamala N., the artistic director of Chennai Photo Biennale. They are slated to discuss contemporary photography trends and their evolution.

The art fair is big on video works, new media and performance art this year. For more video works, check out the video art booth curated by Dr Arshiya Lokhandwala. Presented by Shalini Passi Art Foundation and called Conundrums: Video Art from India, it will showcase works by Anita Dube (her only video work titled Kissa-e-Noor Mohammed),  Jitish Kallat’s Forensic Trail of the Grand Banquet, Mithu Sen’s Icarus, Pushpmala N’s Rahstriy Kheer & Desiy Salad, Ranbir Kaleka’s Man with Cockerel-2, Raqs Media Collective’s Strikes at Time, Sonia Khurana’s Head-hand and Surekha’s Line of Control.

Shanthamani Muddaiah’s Carbon Wave

The Bengaluru-based artist’s sculptural Installation imitating a black wave is a visual image that stays with you. Made out of burnt bamboo, paint and cane, it is reminiscent of The Wave by Japanese master Hokusai’s at first glance. Carbon Wave (presented by Gallery Sumukha) gets us thinking about one of the most pressing issues of our time — the state of our ecology  — and the deep hole we have dug ourselves into, and how the colour of the world’s waters are no doubt closer to Muddaiah’s ominous depiction than Hokusai’s today.

Murals of Tibet by Thomas Laird

As far as illustrated books go, we think we may have found ‘the one’. The book is extraordinary for reasons more than one. Firstly, it is about three feet high, with 500 pages, weighing up to nearly 30 kilos. Yes, you read that right. Thomas Laird, an American photographer and journalist, who has spent nearly 50 years studying and documenting the art, culture and history of the Himalayas, presents photographs of rarely-seen murals in the book published by Taschen. You can find this beauty on sale in the CMYK bookshop (behind Hall 2) where Laird will be giving a walkthrough of his favourite pieces of Tibetan art.

Bharat Sikka’s Where The Flowers Still Grow

Another event in the same space is the book signing of Bharat Sikka’s 120-page photographic treat(ise) called Where The Flowers Still Grow (published by Loose Joints). An ode to Kashmir, this photobook has the internationally renowned photographer training his lens on the region’s faces against the backdrop of stunning landscapes. ]

While it is true that Kashmir is any photographer or cinematographer’s delight, what stands out in this meditative, deeply personal and powerful work of art is the indomitable spirit of the region’s people — no strangers to conflict — and the sheer grandeur of a majestic landscape; and both seem to rise above the harsh ground realities forged by religious fundamentalism and decades of barren relentless strife.

Pinakin Patel’s Food For Thought

The architect clarifies his stance on idol worship in no uncertain terms with this tongue-in-cheek work that elucidates his take on the practice. In this immersive interactive project presented by Emami Art, Pinakin Patel (who has recently taken over as creative director at Emami Art Foundation’s Kolkata Centre For Creativity, a 70,000 square-foot space designed by him) invites visitors to paint a rock with turmeric and vermillion, both of which are often used in Hindu rituals and pujas, thereby reducing a traditional religious practice to nothing more than a game.

Baaraan Ijlal’s Change Room

The self-taught artist’s sound installation plays on the anxiety and loneliness, and the fear resulting from the two — conditions that people all over the world are falling prey to at an alarming pace today. Anonymous voice recordings of a cross-section of the public reveal ordeals and private thoughts. The raw, vulnerable admissions are played in a decidedly doomy fog-filled room in the smog-filled city of Delhi where Baaraan Ijlal is based. The fog here provides the perfect cover and you can find a recorder should you feel tempted to express your fears. An outcome of a residency at Conflictorium, and presented by Prameya Art Foundation (a not-for-profit platform run by Shefali Somani and Anahita Taneja who own Shrine Empire), the work provides an impetus to individuals to speak out about their own anxieties, which we keep buried surprisingly deep, subconsciously aligning with the social media diktats of self-promotion.


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Anindita Bhattacharya’s Solo Showcase

If you are interested in checking out fresh talent, don’t miss rising star Anindita Bhattacharya’s sublime solo show Carrion Culture & Other Stories that will be on view at Delhi’s Gallery Threshold till February 27. While she has been part of several curated shows (including Verdant Memory, the gallery’s 20th-anniversary commemorative exhibition that we wrote about last year) both within the country and abroad, this is, significantly, her first solo exhibition.

Bhattacharya is known for her painstaking creating-from-scratch approach and hands-on processes. She often creates her own colours from natural dyes, paints, coffee stains and the like. An advocate of slow art, she stands in strong opposition to capitalist cultures and its overemphasis on production. Instead, she prefers to create art at her own pace and by her own hand, art that is led by the unpredictability of the human mind and chance. On this exhibition, she says, ‘The title for the show has come from the title of a series of 72 works, Future Relics of a Carrion Culture, where tooth decay has been painted in 72 different ways. Teeth are significant because of the politics of what we “consume”. Never before in our lifetime, what we eat or not has been so closely scrutinised. Teeth can be used to nourish oneself as well as to devour.’ A premodern text states that tooth decay is machinated by demons to punish the patient for his sins. Based on this premise, Bhattacharya superimposes images of monsters on artworks of teeth and the result is both profound and amusing.

If you’re hungry for more, stick on for the artist’s conversation with art historian Kavita Singh right after the opening to acquaint yourself with Bhattacharya’s works and inspirations.

Tayeba Begum Lipi’s Vanity Fair

The Bangladeshi artist’s solo debut in India is on view at Delhi’s Shrine Empire Gallery till March 2. The feminist often reimagines common domestic objects in a way that makes them resonate with a political meaning. For this show, she transforms the gallery space into a shop in order to present her take on market forces, production, commodification, consumption and narcissism. Says curator Anushka Rajendra, “Vanity Fair has evolved into a project that is a wry take on not just the art market but capital in general. It is also appropriating influential resistance movements at all levels, reinterpreting them as ‘brands’ that are to be consumed.” Walk out of the ‘store’ laden with new ideas instigated by Tayeba Begum Lipi, who is also the co-founder of the Britto Arts Trust, instead of mindless clutter-some additions to your closet.

No Place Like the Present

Containing all the earmarks of a modern classic, this exhibition tackles one of the most relevant topics of the day — species extinction — and our obsession with it. No Place Like the Present (on view till March 9) notes that we are in the same spot that the dinosaurs once were and seeks to confront this imminent and irreversible catastrophe. Curated by Ranjit Hoskote, this exhibition at Mumbai’s Akara Art brings together the likes of Bharti Kher, Kallat, Atul Dodiya, Baiju Parthan and Ravi Agarwal who meditate on the

explosion of urban labyrinths, species conflict, precarious livelihoods, cyborg reality, militarisation of civil space, our severed sense of belonging and so on. “No Place like the Present is meant to be a clarion call, a call to confront the crises of a planet that may have no future. Time may well stop with humankind/homo sapiens, the most destructive species in history,” says Hoskote.

The India Art Fair started today and will go on till Sunday, the 3rd of February, at the NSIC Exhibition Grounds in New Delhi

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