Home and Other Places

20 Feb

Georgina Maddox


Diaspora is no longer a word that describes the Indian overseas. This is because the longing for home has been replaced by the of notion global citizen while the very idea of space itself extends beyond the physicality of maps and borders. In the flat world, one is able to shrink distances by Face Timing with relatives and ‘home’ is just a plane ride away. The new word, as we are told by curator Dr. Arshiya Mansoor Lokhandwala, is “Transnationalism”. The exhibition, titled “Beyond Transnationalism: Legacies of Post-Independence South Asian Art”, opened at the AIFACS Gallery, hosted by the Raza Foundation New Delhi. It opened on February 10th as a collateral to the India Art Fair.


As an important marker of the 70-years of India and Pakistan’s independence, the exhibition showcases artists from both nations currently born and living in the United States and of South Asian descent. The show begins with early migrants like Zarina Hashmi, Krishna Reddy and Amina Ahmed. It moves on to artists like video and performance artist Priyanka Dasgupta, Annu Palakunnathu Matthew who works with found images and photography and Bari Kumar who uses traditional and popular culture to create his art. The youngest generation of transnationals is represented by the works of artists like Chitra Ganesh, Hamra Abbas, Jaishri Abichandani, Jaret Vadera, Ranu Mukherjee, Shaurya Kumar, Shelly Bahl, Shreshta Premnath and Vandana Jain.

It showcases a beautiful selection of Hashmi’s woodcuts carved out of a longing for the notion of home from aerial maps of her homeland that she memorized while learning to fly. Hashmi was one of the few women to fly a plane in the early 1960s. Krishna Reddy’s etchings are organic and represent the lushness of the Indian subcontinent, without being illustrative. Amina Ahmed’s drawings on carbon paper are a result of her ‘India sketchbook’. “I was encouraged to share these carbon drawings of Tattoos and body markings that I noticed on the Rabari women whilst travelling through India. They are very interesting markers of identity for me and by transposing them onto carbon paper I make them my own,” she says.

“The works in this exhibition assert new and complex aesthetic and geopolitical propositions that question, complicate, and travel far beyond conventional notions of home, nation, and belonging,” writes artist Chitra Ganesh whose works on display are inspired by Amar Chitra Katha images that have been digitally reworked with her poetry and personal imagery, which hints towards issues of gender and sexuality. The exhibition considers subjectivity as a palimpsest of lived experiences, interactions and relationships which are no longer tied to nation and location alone but moves towards space beyond.

The exhibition continues through February 21st AIFACS Gallery, 1 Rafi Marg, New Delhi – 110001


Cosmic canvases at Sangeet Shyamala 

19 Dec

This winter, escape into a cosmic realm with Biswajit Panda’s ‘Cosmic Dance’.
The solo will open at Sangeet Shyamala, in Vasant Vihar on the 20th of December, 2017. It showcases over 25 canvases painted over the year, 2016-2017. Panda is a mid-career artist whose celestial canvases tap into the energy of the universe presenting a cosmic dance through his unique and spontaneous combination of colours.

Born in 1973 in small-town Balasore Odisha, Panda currently resides and works in Delhi. He graduated in Performing Art (Sitar) From Prachin Kala Kendra Chandigarh. After which he pursued Higher Studies under the Guidance of Pt. Biswajit Roy Chaudhary, at Sri Ram Bharatiya Kala Kendra, New Delhi. Biswajit has also trained under Punjab Rattan Awardee, S. S Kukkal, an artist who has nurtured and taught many budding painters. It was perhaps from him that Biswajit was inspired to take up teaching art, which he currently does in Delhi Public School, International.

The backdrop of his circular and square canvases is black, like the endless night and it is against this midnight black that streaks of red, gold, brown and silver colour, run down the canvas…tracing their own path in a spontaneous cascade that breaks the monochrome of the black. Amidst this profusion of dripping colours, a flight of butterflies dots the canvas. The butterfly is a symbol of hope, resurrection and change according to Christian theology. In Hinduism, the butterfly is a symbol of rebirth.

Cosmic Dance 2 60x60 inches Linen on Canvas 2017

Cosmic Dance is an amalgam of acrylic on canvas  works created over two years, 2016-2017

His works are a cathartic cleansing, a powerhouse of positive energy that has culled itself out of vicissitude and trying times. The circular earth-shaped canvases, channel energy that resembles a cosmic dance, one where there is an interplay of dynamic and static divine energy flow, containing the five principles of eternal life-forces.

Low Res

Biswajit Panda at his studio in Vasant Kunj with his latest canvas that will be displayed at his solo show Cosmic Dance 20th December to 13th January

Sangeet Shyamala is a multicultural space that supports and popularizes the fine arts, be it painting, music, dance or theatre. “Sangeet Shymala believes in ideals of a versatile cultural education hence this multi-disciplinary space creates, nurtures and promotes the fine arts with a vision to enlighten young creative minds, that are fresh and receptive to an artistic awakening,” says Acting Director, Vasundhara Tiwari Broota who is also head of the Visual Arts section.

Chief guest justice Aftab Alam former judge of Supreme Court

Vasundhara Tiwari Broota with Chief guest justice Aftab Alam former judge of Supr Court at the annual day exhibition in November  2017


Kathak Dancer and Choreographer Chetna Jalan

The Performing Arts Section is spearheaded by Smt Chetna Jalan, a well-known theatre actor and Kathak dancer-choreographer, who is closely associated with Sangeet Shyamala. She has presented several shows on Kathak, Bharatnatyam and Contemporary Dance Styles with children and young adults. Also with seasoned exponents in the field.

Established in 1971, and it operated for many years from the residence of its Honorary Director, Smt. Som Tewari. In 1984, Sangeet Shyamala was allotted half an acre of land in Vasant Vihar, where a full-fledged cultural centre has been built, complete with classrooms, studios, art gallery, concert hall, open-air auditorium, cafeteria and library.


Painted Car Project

As part of a Tribute to Som Tiwari, the founder of Sangeet Shymala, the Visual Arts Department painted her old Maruti that was going to be junked. The colourful car was adorned with paintings done by the students who painted the car with images by the masters like Jamini Roy, M F Husain, Tyeb Mehta, and others.

The memory of objects is superior to other memories since it is a visual encounter with the manifestation of recollection, remembrance and commemoration.  Where the past and the future unite in a seamless experience of the present.

Apart from all these presentations, Sangeet Shyamala has organised other musical extravaganzas as well all throughout the year. It has brought together many legends from the music and the dance world to showcase their talent and create a mesmerising atmosphere.

Which is why Cosmic Dance is a perfect way to bring in the New Year and herald a new season of art at Sangeet Shyamala.

Cosmic Dance, Biswajit Panda, Featuring canvases, installations and performance by Biswajit Panda, Art Consultant: Georgina Maddox, 20th of December 2017 till 13th January 2017, At Surrender Paul Art Gallery, Sangeet Shyamala, Time: 6.30 pm onwards, opening night. Daily timings 11 am to 7 pm, Sangeet Shyamala, 12 A, opposite A-11/6, Vasant Vihar, New Delhi, Delhi 110057 

An Overwhelming Force

22 Mar

By Georgina Maddox


The 67-year-old Shahabuddin Ahmed is a legendary Bangladeshi artist and a former Platoon Commander for the 1971 Bangladeshi liberation war. Having settled in Paris for the last four decades, we have not been exposed to enough of his works. A definitive exhibition of his hidden treasures, that opened at the Rashtrapatu Bhawan on February 18, might change that. The solo, ironically named ‘Shanti’ features twelve large-scale paintings presented by Ganges Art Gallery. His canvases are a juggernaut of energy, where figures leap into motion and a tornado seems to sweep through the environ. The cracked attire of characters, may be a reflection of “the freedom fighter” or the athlete, but according to the artist it is the manifestation of the state of one’s suffering. His powerful brush-strokes enliven a canvas in a manner that renders them unforgettable. Here are some excerpts of a conversation with the artist:

Shahabuddin Ahmed

The artist with his work


* Tell us about residency at the Rashtrapati Bhawan happen?


I have been exhibiting with the Ganges Art Gallery in Kolkata for the last 22 years. In December 2015, I held a solo show with them which the President had inaugurated. After seeing my work, he was keen that this should be made a travelling exhibition and people all over India should be able to see these works. The artist residency at Rashtrapati Bhavan is on his invitation and I believe I am the first foreign artist to be so invited.


* What are your plans for your India trip?

I want to utilize my time here not only enjoying the Rashtrapati Bhavan museum which houses such cherished artefacts from all over the world but also visiting some historical places like the Raj Ghat, Gandhi Smriti, Teen Murti, Nehru Memorial, National Museum, National Gallery of Modern Art and Crafts Museum during this visit.


Freedom- II, Oil on canvas, 131 x 161 cm, 2015


* What is the inspiration behind Shanti? What materials do you enjoy working with?


Shanti is my way of showing that despite the unrest and chaos all around us, there is also hope and optimism in the world. I have participated in the 1971 war of Bangladeshi Liberation along with the founding father of Bangaldesh Mujirbur Rahman and this period of my life has guided my path, but contrary to what many believe, I don’t paint war and war is in no way my creed.  I enjoy working in oil on canvas.
I am inspired by the freedom fighters of our time like ‘Banglabandhu’ Mujibur Rahman and Gandhiji. I like to paint their portraits but as symbols of peace and harmony. What I want to depict is the human suffering that is common to all us, but if we are defiant, if we push our limits, we can achieve any goal.  I don’t choose death as a subject, because deep down, the nature of my interest is rather optimistic.

Veneration-IV, Oil on canvas, 148 x 201 cm, 2015

India Art Fair 2017: All the Flowers Are for Everyone

17 Feb

10 February 2017

Female Masculinity anybody?

5 Aug
Priyanka Chopra as Mary Kom

Priyanka Chopra as Mary Kom

Georgina Maddox wonders if trends in Bollywood and pop culture will push the envelope and explode gender stereotypes

Shivani Shivaji Roy, played by Rani Mukherjee is a tough cop in Mardaani who beats up the baddies while reading them the rule book of the Indian penal code. Bobby Jasoos, aka Vidya Balan does drag with alacrity and is India’s first female detective who is both smart and loveable. Priyanka Chopra (Aka Piggy Chops) the reel life Mary Kom not only imitates the gold medalist boxer’s punches with élan she replicates her wedding-dress in Toto.  Move aside macho men, women in Bollywood seem to be riding the wave of power fems, gender queers and woman who hit first and talk later. Also jumping on the bandwagon in what became a cameo role, the curvy Sonakshi Sinha willingly donned the gloves for a knockout punch in the ring where she not only made her opponent see stars but Akshay Kumar fell in love at first hit.  Another cameo that had my pulse racing was Kangna Ranaut in Krrish 3 as the ass-kicking baddie who falls for the hero.  

Rani Mukherjee as the hard hitting cop in Mardaani

Rani Mukherjee as the hard hitting cop in Mardaani

Kangana Ranaut as the baddie in Krrish

Kangana Ranaut as the baddie in Krrish

Meanwhile in the world of advertising in the corporate office it is the wife or the girlfriend of the recalcitrant boys at who are cracking the whip—read Arjun Kapoor in the Philips Pro Skin Ad and the Airtel Ad featuring telly stars who demonstrate that the wife can be boss in the office . Not to be outdone cousin Sonam Kapoor whipped out the cream and razor shocking her fans with an unusual photo shoot for photographer Rohan Shrestha. The shoot sparked off intrigue and a bunch of hair jokes about her hirsute daddy (Anil Kapoor duh!) on social media sites like Facebook, but naturally it’s only a quirky take off on an often repeated fashion theme where women play around with masculinity and endorse male ‘products’ by actually using them. I do not predict that women will go rushing out to buy shaving cream or old-fashion straight-razors.  

Sonam Kapoor in Rohan Shrestha's shaving fashion shoot

Sonam Kapoor in Rohan Shrestha’s shaving fashion shoot

As far as Bollywood is concerned, before we bring out the drums and whistles to celebrate celluloid’s newfound courage to push the gender envelope, we must acknowledge that the directors are taking a huge risk and will probably not garner as much success at the box office as their contemporaries who just decide stick to the formulae of male dominated action flicks, Rom-Coms and mindless Masala films.



Samar Shaikh’s take on a middleclass female jasoos trying to make it big, was not exactly a box office block-buster, more perhaps because Vidya Balan in every frame gets a bit tiring after a bit. Meanwhile producer Sanjay Leela Bhansali and director Omung Kumar are getting mixed responses from the audience even before the Mary Kom bio-pic starring Priyanka Chopra’s is released, though the trailer looks promising.  Pradeep Sarkar’s attempt to script Rani Mukherjee’s comeback flick, post nuptials, may be seen as a desperate effort to reinvent the leading lady especially after Talaash failed to make it at the box office. However one can never tell how this film may pan out, given that it is being touted as a ‘raw and gritty’ departure from Sarkar’s regular staple of films that include the delightful, period film Parineeta starring Balan and the slightly unresolved and clichéd Laaga Chuniri Mein Daag in which Rani plays a sex-worker with a heart of gold.      

The question that I am asking myself is, will this be a short-lived trend that will burst like a proverbial bubble or will it create a real dent in the male dominated world of entertainment? More importantly will it have an impact on Indian society at large? Social psychologists and cultural producers are of the opinion that any indication of real change comes in the form of popular culture. Feminists and activists have been screaming themselves hoarse for decades about breaking gender binaries that bind biological women into stereotypical roles of home makers and mothers. While there is no real tool to quantify whether the feminist movements and activist groups have resulted in widespread change for the masses, cinema and advertising are indexes that we can rely on to measure change.


The first report from the 2008 National Study of the Changing Workforce (NSCW), which traces the trends in men’s and women’s attitudes and actions over the past three decades, reveals that changing gender roles have significantly and specifically increased the overall level of work-life conflict experienced by men, from 34% in 1977 to 45% in 2008. On the other hand, the rise in women’s work-life conflict, which increased from 34% in 1977 to 39% in 2008, has been less dramatic and is not statistically significant. So clearly advertising and cinema is reflecting or causing (perhaps both) a real change in society.


In a nutshell, we cannot hope for an overnight revolution but as cinema goddess Madhuri Dixit who beat up baddies into a pulp in Gulab Gang puts it succinctly, “Bollywood is making more and more women oriented films. It couldn’t be a better time for me to plan a comeback.”  Well we hope Dixit-Nene is right all the way through!  




Building New Delhi: In sunlight and shade

1 Jun

Madan MahattaMadan Mahatta’s iconic image of Joseph Stein walking up the stairs at the Ford Foundation office that Stein designed

Body eclectic

5 Apr

Timeless beauty: Naman Ahuja flanked by the ‘Flying Celestials’ from 8th century Madhya Pradesh. Photo: Kamal Narang



An exhibition in the Capital places Indian art and its experiments with the human body front and centre

Currently hosted at the National Museum in Delhi (till June 7), ‘The Body in Indian Art’ showcases over 300 artworks, sourced from 44 museums across the country and attempts to cover the timeline of Indian art history — from ancient to contemporary — through the human body. It also underscores various belief systems from Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, Jain and Sikh traditions through sculptures, paintings, masks and jewellery.

Ahuja, a professor at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi, drew upon his familiarity with Indian museums, visited over 20 odd years, to put together this extensive show in a record time of one year. “When I was told that I would have to represent the entire gamut of Indian art, I decided I wouldn’t fall back on the time-tested chronological method of showing artworks historically. Rather, I wanted to approach it thematically, from death to rapture. Which is why, I chose to explore history through the body, because in Indian art, that is perhaps the most celebrated form,” says Ahuja.



The exhibition looks at the body as a source of beauty, as a shrine, in relation to the larger universe. The body with all its imperfections and flaws. The erotic undercurrent that marks corporal interpretations in Indian art is ever-present as well, but in this instance, it is not entirely spelt out; giving the viewers, the agency to delve through the layers of history and derive their own meanings.



“I began with death because I wanted a universal subject that would draw out the specific manner in which Indian culture approaches death. As you see from the rare contemporary woodcarving of a Naga Warrior and the Sati stones, death is often lionised not just lamented,” says Ahuja. A point that is also well illustrated by other artworks commemorating death, like an ancient sculpture of Yama, the god of death, and Lord Buddha’s Pari-Nirvana that celebrates his ascension to heaven and freedom from the cycle of rebirth.

The section on birth on the other end of the spectrum, celebrates the early mother goddess figurines discovered at Mohenjo-daro and Harappa as also an extremely rare Indus Valley depiction of the eight Shaktis known as the Saptamatrikas. A frieze depicting the birth of Lord Buddha as well as a Mughal manuscript portraying the birth of Jesus Christ dwells on the notion of miraculous beginnings. “It is really the story of Mother Mary’s immaculate conception that is celebrated in the nativity, for Mary was also born of Anna, through the Holy Spirit,” says Ahuja. Hence alongside the nativity, there is also a Mughal painting of the birth of Mary, based on an engraving by the Dutch engraver and draughts-man Cornelis Cort (around 1735).



Moving away from the worldly incarnations of divinity, yet another section of the exhibition highlights the body in relation to celestial forms. A rare exhibit here is the Akbari Tarjama-sirr al-makhtum or the Book of Talismans, commissioned by Akbar to map the zodiac, and a giant sculpture of Shiva manifesting the cosmos and the planets.

But despite the plenitude of historical artefacts, there’s room too for a tight selection of contemporary art from the studios of Subodh Gupta, Sheela Gowda and Pushpamala N, among others. “I have also chosen contemporary tribal and folk art, because I did not want to make a distinction between what is considered avant garde contemporary art and the living tradition of tribal art,” says Ahuja.

A sublime 10th century Chola bronze, of Saint Manikkavacakar, depicts a figure dressed in the bare essentials — perhaps, more enticing than the ornate Nataraja, included in the section on rapture. Another notable work is the playful Ragamala painting of Radha and Krishna, donning each other’s clothes in an act of love.

From the beautiful sandstone sculpture of Surasundari from 10th century Khajuraho, of a woman writing a love note after a night of passion, the nail marks still fresh on her back, to a monumental 9th century Naga Deva from the Bhopal Museum, covered in snake skin, here beauty finds expression in a range of disparate forms.

“In Brussels, the exhibition was appreciated for its aesthetics, but in India, what I enjoy is that people will get the story behind the works,” says Ahuja, as new visitors trickle in.

(Georgina Maddox is a Delhi-based art writer)

(This article was published on March 28, 2014)