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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

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India Art Fair 2017: All the Flowers Are for Everyone

17 Feb

10 February 2017
by

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.

Bobby_Jasoos_Vidya_Balan

 

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.

airtel

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.

Vinesh

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!  

gulaabgang5-jan10

 

 

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

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

GEORGINA MADDOX 

 

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.

 

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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.

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“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).

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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)
 
 

http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/features/blink/body-eclectic/article5843466.ece 

 

INSERTING THOUGHTS, IDEAS AND DREAMS

5 Mar

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A Review by 

Georgina Maddox  for Matters of Art 

An exhibition by the internationally recognized Inlak Azad Shivdasani Foundation with works by Basel Abbas + Ruanne Abou-Rahme, Clark House Initiative, Eyal Weizman, Gauri Gill, Harun Farocki, Hito Steyerl, Ivana Franke, Katarzyna Kozyra, Kendell Geers, Kiluanji Kia Henda, Lu Xing-Hua, Mai-Thu Perret, Nikolaus Hirsch + Michel Müller, Rirkrit Tiravanija, Superflex, Tomás Saraceno, Wanuri Kahiu, Yao Jui-Chung, and featuring New Models for Common Ground: 25 proposals re-imagine the infrastructure for culture in Delhi

January 31-February 28, 2014
Mati Ghar, IGNCA, NewDelhi

Insert, is a provoking exhibition curated by Raqs Media Collective that displays a large dollop of idealism in the time ruled by commercial art markets .

The Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA) as its name suggestions is usually a venue that one associates with craft exhibitions, Sufi song nights and slightly ostentatious exhibitions on the Mughal miniatures. So it came as a bit of a surprise to the art crowd when Raqs Media Collective announced their exhibition,Insert 2014, was being held at the oddly shaped Mati Ghar there. The opening on January 31, 2014, was well attended none-the-less. 

“We chose this structure because it connected well to our theme of time and mortality. We wanted to look at death and time, not morbidly but from a cultural and artistic perspective,” says Shuddhabrata Sengupta one of the three members of Raqs Media Collective; Jeebesh Bagchi and Monica Narula are the other two members.

Rasmus Nielsen, of Superflex a Danish artists’ group founded in 1993 consisting of Jakob Fenger Bjørnstjerne Christiansen and Nielsen, agrees that the location is quite perfect. “I am so glad to be here in India to be part of and experience this exhibition. I met Shuddhabrata and the Raqs media collective many years ago and we had decided to do something together. This exhibition has been in the planning for many years,” reveals Nielsen whose collective is quite similar to Raqs, in that they tackle social and political art projects that they describe as tools that invite people to participate and communicate.  Superflex showed video work of a building being dismantled and a living sculpture of tar that melts in real time.

Quite to everyone’s surprise, the space was transformed. Apparently the curators and the artists were working till the very last minute of the show opening. The art was integrated with the labyrinth making it perfect for the unconventional art that slowly revealed itself to the viewer as one entered the hexagonal structure.

On the left, a group of serigraphy printers were making on-the-spot tee shirts with provocative slogans printed on it that read “We need political clearance” and “Up against the wall you mother fu**ers.” It was only later that one realized that the tees were free giveaways and a long line of students and curious art lovers queued up to get theirs, probably to wear at the next protest rally. The artist behind this project was Rirkrit Tiravanija a South Asian artist born in Argentina who globe trots between New York, Berlin and Chiang Mai. He may be described as an artist who uses various means of performance, from cooking, to public protests to tee-shirt making. 

Next to the tee shirt makers was artist Prabhakar Pachpute’s project. He chose a curved, slightly blistered and peeling wall upon which he narrated a story-board in charcoal drawings. On close examination the story revealed is of coal miners that tunnel beneath the surface of his village Sasti in Chandrapur in Maharashtra. “Even the coal miners in Chile got more media attention than the tragedy going on in India, it remains unnoticed,” says Pachpute who has been working on this topic for awhile.

Further on, one encountered a sculpture made of ear-buds (again the material was revealed on closer inspection). The seemingly delicate network of ear buds was attached to two swings, so that when viewers touched or brushed past it the structure would move. “I believe that we are all connected and even if one of us is touched by something, we are all affected,” said the young artist, Poonam Jain. ‘Titled Graveyards of Utopias’ the sculpture, almost architectural in nature, reflected on urban existences that are dictated by the constant networks we create during our life. “Being a Jain I suppose I am a bit obsessed with meticulousness and sticking together each ear bud with resin to form this mesh-like structure was a labour of love,” says Jain.  This section of the exhibition has been curated by Clark House, which consists of Zasha Colah and Sumesh Sharma.

On the opposite side of the curved hall one encountered photographer Gauri Gill’s pile of give-away booklets. Each booklet contained an image and a bit of text. The text ran from personal accounts, to poems to letters to the artist. Gill’s photographs have been shot in 1984 and address the silence around the 1984 riots against the Sikhs, riots that followed the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. The booklet is xeroxed and hand stapled evoking the early underground zeens that were created during the Fluxis movement. “I enjoy the concept of free, give-away art and that is how this project evolved,” says Gill.  The idea of getting text and photographs together was something that started when she was invited for the Mumbai Photo Festival. “I wanted to show my pictures of 1984, retrieved from the local print media in 2005 and 2009, to mark the 25th anniversary of the pogrom.  I intended to make a pamphlet of these photographs inviting people who live in Delhi to write a few lines in response to the photographs,” Says Gill.

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In the middle of outer hexagonal room is a circular inner-room in which two works of art by Katarzyna Kozyra took centre stage. Kozyra is a Polish video artist whose works have often been controversial, for instance her photo portrait of Slawomir Belina in a Warsaw exhibition in 2000 was also controversial for its eroticism.

 The work displayed at “Insert” was titled “Olympia” and it consisted of a large photograph with Kozyra seated as the famed courtesan Olympia, painted by Claud Manet with a coloured woman handing her a bouquet of flowers. Opposite that was a video recording of Kozyra’s fight with cancer, going through the motions of chemotherapy fully nude and totally unconscious of her nudity. The two works juxtaposed as such speak of the moribund body and the attempt to restore dignity for the ailing. It also carves out a whole new aesthetics of beauty.

When one walked up to the dome above the circular room, there was a surprise for viewers. Created by Ivana Franke, an artist from Croatia known for her light sculptures and interactive art projects, it was called the ‘Dance of the Light Echoes’.   As one entered into the ambit of the light sensors in the darkness of the dome, it danced and moved as people walked around the dome. “It is a linear structure that will create light echoes, a phenomenon observed in astronomy-that occurs in space, revealing events from a distant past,” writes the artist in her statement.  Franke has been described as one of Europe’s master-practitioners when it comes to geometrical abstraction, optical sculpture and architectural installations.

Wanuri Kahiu’s ‘Pumzi’, created by the artist and The Production Company, was a gripping video piece. It pictured an African woman protecting a small shrub in an arid desert. She waters it with her sweat and tears and finally lies around it protectively. The shrub expands and grows into a forest. “Pumzi was, for me, a reflection of society. It is set 35 years after the water war, and where everybody lives inside because they are told the outside is dead. Until one character, Asha, has a dream and plants a seed,” writes Kahiu. The film is about sacrifice, life and Mother Nature. 

Except for the New Media Art, the overall exhibition evokes the politics of Arte Povera, Agitprop art and Dadaism. The exhibition evokes a sense of breaking the notion that art is a precious collectible that will have value in the market later on by making it either free or not for sale, with an exception of one or two works.

“Our intention is to evoke a slightly different infrastructure for showing art. The idea is not to challenge something like the India Art Fair, of which we are a collateral event of, but to say that art which is commercial and art which is more ideological not for sale or totally free, can co-exist together,” says Sengupta. Behind the scenes, the exhibition has been funded by Inlaks Shivdasani Foundation and supported by organizations like India Foundation for the Arts and the Polish Institute that allows the art to be totally experimental with no constraints of the market.  It is indeed refreshing that is selling nothing but ideas. 

http://www.mattersofart.net/reviews-details.aspx?mpgid=5&pgid=5&rid=64

Is Yentl totally Mental?

3 Mar

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Georgina Maddox finally watches the 1980s film Yentl on a lazy Sunday afternoon and is left pondering

After seeing the Hollywood production of Yentl I was left with many questions. I slept over it and came up with what I think is a compelling tagline—Yentl tries to be a feminist film but it sacrifices queerness at the altar to make its point. I say this, at the risk of incurring the wrath of my queer feminist fellow beings, because feminists today are nothing but supportive of the queer movement, (here again I speculate that there is indeed a movement.) However, I say this quite firmly because it appears that Barbara Streisand made this film against all odds only because she wanted to make something of a feminist statement. Let’s face it, she funded it, produced it, directed it, acted and sang in it! Again I am guessing not just because she wanted to showcase all her talents, although that is possible, but more because there was no budget for a film that took four years to make. It is compelling that Streisand would bend over backwards to take a queer narrative and turn into a feminist statement that is quite mainstream.

I say this because the film is derived from the play by Leah Napolin and Isaac Bashevis Singer, “Yentl the Yeshiva Boy” that is a completely queer story. In the original story Yentl who wants to study the Talmud takes on the identity of a Yeshiva boy after the death of her father, a respected Rabbi. To perpetuate his legacy she cuts her hair, dresses as a man, and sets out to find a Yeshiva in Bechev where she can debate law, religion and theology. For this she has to live secretly as a male named Anshel, because under Jewish law and belief, women are not allowed to read the Talmud or debate and discuss matters of any intellectual bent of mind. In the big reveal to her study partner Avigdor, Yentl says, “I am neither one sex nor the other. I have the soul of a man and the body of a woman.”  In fact in the original play, Yentl decides to remain as Anshel in his alternative identity for the rest of her/his life.

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When Streisand rewrote the play and produced the film in 1968 and then produced the film in 1984, she allows Yentl to reveal her true feelings for Avigdor, returns to her feminine garb and sails for the USA. Now my question is why did Streisand take a perfectly queer story and give it a mainstream ending?  The only answer that I could find, after much thought was that Streisand wanted to create a feminist critique of the male privilege over knowledge in Jewish society and she wanted Yentl to discover freedom as a woman and not as a ‘tokenistic’ man. Also perhaps she wanted the film to recover its cost and decided to mainstream it. The film in fact did well, though it was snubbed at the Oscars.

For me, Streisand also debunks the beauty myth to some extent, because the film talks about the feelings of a woman who is not conventionally good looking and to top that, is a totally literature geek. She wants to be equal in what is perceived as a man’s world and yet have the agency to love-lust and covet a man. That the film is specifically Jewish is no surprise since Streisand is Jewish and the critique clearly comes from deep within. However where the film sacrifices queerness is when Streisand agrees to take the gender play to the next level but she does not ‘put out’.

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In an unlikely twist, that is also not part of the original story, for the love of Avigdor,  Anchel agrees to inadvertently ‘marry’ Hadass, the distinctly feminine, highly domestic and conventionally gorgeous love interest of her man-crush. The film then enters a new world of gender play: A world where she not just a geek discussing the Talmud and getting slapped around by her male colleagues, but one where she is desired by her ‘wife’. Hadess subtle taking on the role of a power fem, but she clearly declares that she is no longer in love with Avigdor and in fact loves Anchel who is different and makes her feel, comfortable and peaceful. She quotes the Talmud when she says to Anchel, that a woman can say no to her man but she can also ask for sexual gratification. The two women end up sharing a kiss (which I think was edited off in the TV version) and while Streisand tries to share her obsession for the Talmud, Hadass is clearly more interested in getting deflowered and also having an army of children!

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Streisand makes these points and then goes on to destroy them. Avigdor in the end is quite condescending about his love for this woman-boy and is quite happy to go back to Hadass, the typical woman, who is willing to please her man. In the last scene we see the two back together. It also fails for me because in making a strong point about her own identity, Streisand totally takes away any onus or agency from her character Hadass where the latter falls easily in and out of love with the two ‘male’ protagonists. Anchel does not even bother to come out to Hadass but send her a note through Avigdor–another grand cop out! If only the bond between the two women, not necessarily sexual, was kept intact, and Anchel/Yentl respected Hadess as much as she ‘loved’ Avidor, then perhaps I as a viewer would not have felt cheated and it would be a truly feminist film.