Fifteen years ago an art exhibition in New York was presented by a nascent organization called South Asian Women’s Collective (SAWCC). The exhibition was appropriately enough called (un)Suitable Girls. Fast forward fifteen years and I’m once again at an art exhibition, this time called ‘Her Stories’ commemorating 15 years of SAWCC. It presents the creative works of more than 100 diasporic South Asian women artists, filmmakers, musicians, dancers, and writers, with an installation of archival photographs, publications, and ephemera.
Items in ‘Art’
What is art exactly? In a throw-away world where material things lose their value all too soon, the Brazilian artist Roberto Custodio celebrates art as reincarnation, art as renewal of the spirit. Old, discarded magazines become the building blocks of his art, as he picks and chooses images and bits and pieces of different worlds to juxtapose a totally new reality, a fresh take on things.
A ragpicker of the soul, Custodio creates a gorgeous puzzle of tiny shards from different lives and invites you into a whole new universe. His earlier work from found and discarded publications brought into existence a whole pantheon of Hindu Gods from Brahma and Shiva to Krishna and Kali. Now in his latest exhibition ‘Your Royal Highness’ he turns his attention to powerful women from queens to courtesans – and yes, even a maharani.
“Delhi was once a paradise,
Where love held sway and reigned;
But its charm lies ravished now
And only ruins remain.”
So wrote Bahadur Shah Zafar, poet and art patron, the last of the great Mughal emperors, as the mighty empire of his forefathers dissolved and the new rajahs arrived in town, the East India Company traders who were fast evolving into the new Colonial masters.
Those times are long gone, and Delhi, the spunky never-say-die city which re-invents itself after each invasion, is thriving once again.
Modern day iconic artists like the late MF Husain, FN Souza or Tyeb Mehta are the rock stars of the Indian art world and you see their celebrity status reflected at art biennales and gallery openings, and in the high prices their work commands in the auction houses. They are the superstars, the rajas of any social event, the focal point of international culture. Everyone knows their name.
Yet there is another set of artists who never achieved fame in their lifetime, and whose names no one knows. We are talking of the superb master painters who lived and worked from 1100 to 1900, who rarely signed a canvas with their own names, and who lived and died in anonymity.
They created some of the most magnificent works for emperors, maharajas and the nobility, and yet today no one knows their names or faces.
“We want to give a sense, an understanding that these works produced by anonymous craftsmen in dimly lit backrooms – these were very creative individuals responding to a particular place and time and their response to the subject matter and the demands of their patron – all those things went into the mix.” Curator John Guy, Metropolitan Museum of Art
Who has ever seen the face of the Almighty? Does He wear a peacock feather in His hair or perhaps a coiled snake around His neck? Is the Omnipresent a many-armed powerful Goddess with green eyes or a gentle, golden Madonna and Child?
East and west blend in the surreal works of Brazilian artist Roberto Custodio in which blue-eyed Gods and beauty queen goddesses preside, and the flora and fauna of many continents merge. He creates magic worlds from found materials and paper clippings, discarded consumer magazines which he recycles to create his own truths.
Want to make some spiritual gains and rub shoulders with Gods and Goddesses? The place to go for darshan is the Brooklyn Museum because here you get to meet not one, not two but all ten avatars of Vishnu, Hinduism’s Blue-Skinned Savior.
“Vishnu – one of Hinduism’s most important and powerful deities – is the Great Preserver, vanquishing those who seek to destroy the balance of the universe,” writes Joan Cummins in ‘Vishnu – Hinduism’s Blue-Skinned Savior.’ Indeed, the time looks ripe for Vishnu’s avatar to come to earth…
A chat with Joan Cummins, who is the Curator of South Asian art at Brooklyn Museum.
Are you a lover of contemporary Indian art who always thought collecting art was beyond your means?
Did you think you’d have to mortgage your house – and sell your soul – to obtain an MF Husain?
Were you always intimidated by the art auctions which seemed so elitist and such a closed club?
Well here’s Anu Nanavati Chaddha, Director of Saffronart in New York, to show the path to newbie collectors and to answer all the questions you had about contemporary Indian art – but were afraid to ask.
M.F. Husain – Goodbye to an Icon. (September 17, 1915 – June 9, 2011)
The great artist died of a heart-attack in London, far from his homeland of India. He was a giant of the contemporary Indian art world and there are as many colorful stories about him, about the controversies swirling about him, as there are unmatchable pieces of art which encapsulate the complexities of India. New York gallerist and collector Kent Charugundla shares some untold stories about the flamboyant artist. Join in sharing your comments and memories of M F Husain.
Some of the most poignant testimony of a culture in flux is Thomas Kelly’s ethnographic work of marginalized, landless communities. He has lived with the Badi people where the young women have had to sell themselves to keep their families out of poverty. Once they were singers and dancers and entertainers at weddings and other ceremonies – now these women have to use their bodies as a source of income.
Using a Gates grant, Kelly looked into the lives of fallen angels in various parts of Asia, from ‘maalish’ or massage boys in hotels to sex worker communities, analyzing what drove them to this work and how they could be helped by the organizations.