With the exhibition >CHALO! INDIA. A New Era of Indian Art<, the Essl Museum
offers impressive insights into the contemporary Indian art scene.
>CHALO! INDIA. A New Era of Indian Art< explores the present state of Indian contemporary art and the great changes it has gone through in recent years; examining the work of artists who attempt to question the reality of the society and age in which they live by taking subject matters from their everyday surroundings and transforming them through their art into a theatre of life. Chalo! means Lets go in Hindi, and this exhibition is an invitation on a journey to encounter the new creativity and energy of Indian contemporary art. It is a visit to India now via these works of art, and an exploration of diverse ways of thinking that each visitor may discover for him or herself.- (Akiko Miki)
With more than 100 works by 27 artists, this exhibition encourages visitors to discover the great diversity of Indian contemporary art. >Chalo! India< is the largest presentation of contemporary Indian art in Austria so far.
Mostly known in Europe for its traditions and spirituality, India is one of the regions in the world that have lived through enormous social changes in recent decades. Indias impressive economic progress has spurred interest in the artistic developments of the country, and Indian artists have attracted heightened attention at the international art market. The show explores the routes chosen by artists from Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Vadodara and other cities to challenge the reality and age in which they live: the rapid economic development, urbanisation and lifestyles, spirituality, dreams, contrasts and contradictions.
Visitors entering the exhibition are welcomed by a life-sized recumbent elephant. It is a female whose hide is covered with swarms of sperm-shaped bindis. The up-and-coming Indian economy is frequently compared to an awakening elephant, but the question whether the elephant is just waking up or possibly wounded has been left in limbo by the artist Bharti Kher.
The digital images, paintings and sculptures by Gulammohammed Sheikh prompt associations with miniature shrines and medieval world maps, and some of them also evoke mandalas. Both the video projections shown at the exhibition and a larger-than-life shrine are amalgamations of cultural elements and religions from different periods and countries.
N. S. Harsha repeatedly engages with the entire exhibition space, combining objects with sitespecific paintings on walls or floors. For the present exhibition he has transformed the chairs provided for the museum attendants into works of art, thus reversing the standard situation of attendants watching visitors.
In Jitish Kallats panorama photographs, the streets of the city are staged as the theatre of life, details being skilfully manipulated by the artist who fills the picture with contradictory elements that allude to the vicissitudes of time and the impact of modernisation. The auto rickshaw which Kallat has converted into a giant skeleton may be taken as an allusion to terrorist bombings.
Hema Upadhyay and Vivan Sundaram, too, devote themselves to Indian townscapes. Whereas Upadhyay has crafted a poetic model of the Mumbai slums in a huge sculptural installation, Vivan Sundaram used rubbish and refuse to build imaginary towns which she captured on photographs. In both cases the artists draw attention to the people who are obliged to live in slums or to make a living from collecting and selling garbage.
The work of the artist and activist Tushar Joag centres on UNICELL Public Works Cell, a fictitious organization of his creation, which imitates government activities and the work of public projects agencies and suggests mock alternative solutions. Among other things, Joag sent eviction orders to thousands of Mumbai residents, informing them that, with a view to mitigating the traffic problems in their areas, a new network of canals was to be built, fashioned on the canals of Venice.
The youngest participants in the exhibition are the artistic collaborators Thukral & Tagra. Their art world reflects the dreams of young people in contemporary India such as having your own house or emigrating to Europe and it is hallmarked by the colourful, superficial and kitschy style of their pictures.
The artist Pushpamala N. assumes the roles of women considered typically Indian and known from works of art, the popular media and documentation. She imitates famous Indian paintings of the 19th century, current images of the goddess Lakshmi, scenes from movies as well as photographs and body measuring techniques introduced by the British colonial rulers for classifying the indigenous population. The resulting photographs throw light on stereotypes and reveal how images can be manipulated.
Subodh Gupta uses enormous quantities of mass-produced everyday utensils, mainly milk jugs and bowls made of stainless steel, which he either crafts into imposing sculptural works or uses as accessories as in the case of the motorbike on display at the exhibition. Gupta addresses the issue of Indias consumer culture as well as the relationship between the exploding conurbations and the rural areas.
Atul Dodiya presents a series of portraits entitled Saptapadi and featuring mainly couples. The term is used in the context of the traditional Hindu wedding ceremony. His style is derived from the tradition of popular art and he has borrowed from the kitschy hand-painted Bollywood movie posters which are displayed in all Indian towns.
The exhibition ends with a nostalgic voice emerging from an old-fashioned microphone. It is the voice of Shilpa Gupta who sings the text of Jawaharlal Nehrus famous speech, Tryst with Destiny, delivered before Parliament by Indias first Prime Minister on the eve of the countrys independence. The functions of speaker and microphone have been reversed, so that an official event is transformed into a very private experience, a since India attained its independence.
The exhibition covers a wide range of creative perspectives and forms of expressions and presents artists already well-established in Europe, such as Bharti Kher and Subodh Gupta, as well as numerous newcomers who are in the process of obtaining international recognition.