5 Mar



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.



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.


Is Yentl totally Mental?

3 Mar


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.


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’.


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!


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.


Shifting Focus: Photography Residency

2 Mar

Shifting Focus: Photography Residency


 KHOJ Studios, New Delhi


 Friday, 1 October 2010 – Saturday, 30 October 2010


 Ajay TalwarEdson DiasMadhavan P and Mansi Bhatt


 Georgina Maddox

Moving ahead from the age-old debates of whether photography can be termed as ‘art’ at all and the photographer, an ‘artist’, photography has found its rightful place into the dominant perception of today’s contemporary art scenario. In an era of fast paced ‘digital’ innovation with an ever increasing focus on technologically advanced equipment and high-end sophisticated gadgets, Shifting Focus aspired to to extend its space to re-instill the intuition in making photographs.

Envisioning its role as an experimental space to foster alternative ideas, artistic exchange and dialogue, the residency aims to assist and facilitate a deviant discourse on photography, from the ‘mainstream’ to that of the ‘alternative’.

In pursuit of alternative photographic processes, Shifting Focus sought to investigate the vast potential of image-forming possibilities while demonstrating varied and often, untried means of making images. It promoted freedom to shift focus from using conventional methods and their intended purposes to that of discovery and exploration through practice of imagination and skill and thereby pushing the boundaries of photography.

Mr. Rahaab Allana, Curator, Alkazi Foundation for the Arts, New Delhi, was the ‘mentor’ for the artists-in-residence.

During this residency, Goa-Centre for Alternative Photography (Goa-CAP), visual artists P Madhavan and Edson Dias did ‘seek to use the pinhole camera as performance, installation, image making, and research to achieve conversation between object, space, movement, and time.’ Mansi Bhatt undertook an explorative journey into the unknown and faced the challenges therein. Equipped with her camera, she hoped ‘to confront the dark and the fear of the unknown, being able to break it apart, survive through and endure while being responsive to the surroundings and people around and with minimum manipulation’. Astro-photographer, Ajay Talwar aspired to undertake work that would essentially be a bridge between science and art.

Thus by bringing forth photographers and artists with diverse backgrounds and art practice as artists-in-residence during the month long duration, the residency attempted to create a bond of shared experiences through exciting exchange of ideas and technical skill, and endeavors to cultivate a broader, more inclusive perception of photography in the realm of art.

Shifting Focus strived to bring into focus that which escapes and eludes the ultimate ‘camera obscura’ – the human eye, as though opening a parallel universe to us; and restore the powerful and awe inspiring mystery of life!


Going on Record

12 Jan

A new show explores the creative process behind making art

By Georgina Maddox on January 03 2014 7.41am Image

Artists are usually fiercely protective of their studio space and are deeply private about their creative process. So even if you watch slightly shaky footage of them at work, you know that you have got a peek at something exclusive.

Walk into the compact, white-walled Exhibit 320 at Lado Sarai this fortnight to not only view art but also the creative process behind it. At Artchiving all artworks are accompanied with LCD screens displaying the documentation of each artist’s work. The show is curated by Ranjita Chaney Menezes and features Gigi Scaria, Nandan Ghiya, Sonia Mehra Chawla, Sumakshi Singh and Sunoj D.

We got a glimpse of the bearded and bespectacled Sunoj D pottering around his studio, sifting sand, crushing glass, melting molasses and creating his sculptures. The columnar works are prickly with jagged glass on the surface but also attractive, because they are bathed in golden paint dust.

“I try to look at the space between two opposing sides, placing them in the contexts of time and space – the real and the unreal, the living and the dying, one side and the other – to reflect my understanding of the internal conflicts,” said Sunoj.

Sumakshi Singh shared with us her process of creating art in architectural settings. “I create micro-interventions in architectural spaces, accompanied by miniscule scars and amplified flaws, that convert the sterile surfaces of a white cube gallery into saturated membranes that resist efficiency in viewing,” she said. “Decoding and digesting it becomes impossible to decide what the artwork stands for and doesn’t.”

When you walk into the room covered in slivers of green paper-sculptures and a few colourful protrusions, you get a sense of what the artist is talking about. This work is more minimal than her usual installation drawings, which are heavily detailed and leaves much to the imagination.





Another artist whose work stands out in an assemblage of pop and vintage imagery is Nandan Ghiya’s photo installation. His work, presented in wooden boxes with glass fronts, convey a sense of wit and irreverence. For instance, an image of ancient Buddha heads found in archaeological digs are covered in funky stickers with marketing jargon that proclaim: “sale”, “discount”, “limited stock”, and so on. Another image is an old studio portrait of two women sitting on chairs covered with thick poppish text that declares, “I am a work of art”. A portrait of a young man royally dressed is covered in text that declares, “AC/DC is not for me”.

You can’t help suppressing a smile when you go past these works. But the artist’s explanation is serious in contrast to the impression it first creates. “The images used for this work are remnants of my artistic process,” said Ghiya, “sketches, studies, fragments or reference images, which did not translate beyond adorning the soft-boards in my studio. So in effect, the work is perhaps a fragmented representation of my mindscape – an assortment of tangibles and intangibles that have impacted my art practice.”

The other two artists, Gigi Scaria and Sonia Mehra Chawla, share their process of archiving images and both of them present rather painterly images. Scaria’s paintings capture rolls of paper, some with images, and some blank. “An artist’s archive can be an archive of unfinished ideas, untold stories and layers of blank rolls of emptiness,” said Scaria. “It can also be overshadowed by the unknown future and the ever-existing present protected by the clutches of memories.”





Chawla’s “Biomorphic City”, part of the show, captures futuristic landscapes on canvas. It is an ongoing project that provides visionary images of a futuristic, self-sustained mega city, the images toy with the challenges of energy management, nature, architecture, agriculture, urban spaces and the quality of life. The project is funded by the gallery owner Rasika Kajaria and it extends beyond this particular exhibition. “We do not have an archive of contemporary art, even though we now have more records of ancient and traditional art practices,” said Kajaria. “It is important to create archives of contemporary art because many people are resistant to recording the process of younger artists. However, it provides us with material so we can trace their trajectory and document their growth.” If the art doesn’t explain itself, don the headphone and watch how it comes to life.

Artchiving  is ongoing at Exhibit 320.




Donkey’s Tale

13 Dec

Donkey's Tale

Navjot Altaf’s solo, Donkey’s Tale, comprise wooden sculptures of the three legged donkey and a woman.

Donkey’s tale

23 Nov

Navjot Altaf’s recent body of work explores the topical, the mythical and the self, says Georgina Maddox

Typically, a nude woman and a three-legged donkey would be a great premise for a joke. However, artist Navjot Altaf’s work is dead serious. She presents viewers with wooden sculptures of the above mentioned woman and two donkeys, one with three legs and the other with a tiny unicorn horn at the centre of its forehead. Navjot places all three figures in the context of mythology and modern day concerns.

The sculpture of the woman, walking towards the donkeys, indicates her desire to associate with the likeminded. She is painted a resplendent blue and is bereft of garments. Her features are broad and her body posture confident. She is neither coy, nor does she invite a roving voyeuristic eye. “I have theoretical reasons to represent women the way I have been doing since the ’90s,” said Navjot, who’s been engaged with art, feminism and leftist ideals since she got her diploma at the JJ School of Art in 1972. “The thought behind it is to reclaim the woman from the sexist or religious connotations that are often ascribed to her.”

The three-legged donkey, in Sassanian culture, is similar to the European unicorn. It is a symbol of purity and power against evil and is regarded as a champion of the oppressed. These works are part of a larger exhibition, titled Horn in the Head, that consists of wood sculptures and video work.

“I conceived this work when I saw a donkey at a construction site near Mahim estuary, where the Mithi river and the Arabian Sea meet in Mumbai. The donkey had an injured leg and it was being ill-treated by the owner. It reminded me of a mythic animal of Ormond’s (the supreme deity of Zoroastrianism) creation, almost contemporary in feeling,” explained Navjot.

The work further evolved when Navjot decided to place these donkeys and the nude woman, which is a self-portrait, in the context of larger socio-political concerns. “I began to explore the connection between the Caspian Sea and the Mithi river to bring to light the concerns about the state of water. The Mithi is stagnant and polluted, in both myth and reality,” she said. “I had recorded the sound of the Caspian Sea in 1973 because I like the sound of water. Later, I began to video document the state of the Mithi river, when the Bandra Kurla complex was being built on acres of the riverbed. A number of NGOs and environmentalists protested about this appropriation of the riverbed. In my work I know who the three-legged donkeys are and who those noxious creatures are in present times.”

In the lower gallery, viewers can also see two large blue sculptures of women sitting and discussing something. Art fraternity insiders may recognise these women as Navjot and art critic Geeta Kapur . It is, in fact, very empowering to see women in charge; discussing myth, aesthetics and epistemology, as is mentioned in the artist’s statement. Kapur’s point of view is symbolised by the open cube that she sits upon, Navjot’s by the joint in a pipeline that facilitates the movement of water, from one pipe to another. The cube symbolises a constructivist’s view on what history is built upon while the pipeline affirms history is fluid. “Next to this sculpture are pieces of iron that resemble rail tracks; it is a puzzle that allows viewers to create forms related to the hand gestures one of the figures is making,” said Navjot, adding that the piece speaks of multiple points of view that may be arrived at through dialogue. One may argue that the entire exhibition is a puzzle and piecing it together requires an engaged viewer.

Bare essentials

23 Nov
Vivan Sundaram’s latest homage to the feminine form may not be as flattering as his previous ramp show, says Time Out
This is not an exhibition for the faint-hearted. Renowned artist Vivan Sundaram is stripping his mannequins to the bare minimum, exposing bone, ligament and “innards”. It’s unique because in his last exhibition,GAGAWAKA: Making Strange in 2011, he dressed them up in sculptural garments that were made from found objects and trash. In POSTMORTEM, his latest exhibition that opens at Vadehra Art Gallery in the first week of November, he explores the seam-ier side of beauty and fashion.

The work has a slightly sinister layer to it, given that the mannequins are a human proxy. But perhaps the act of dressing and stripping mannequins to their bare bones is intentionally meant to stab the viewer. It is disconcerting, which may be the precise reaction that Sundaram intends to induce. Notably, Sundaram has been quite preoccupied with the “feminine mystique” for the latter half of his career, and most of his photo-graphy montage, most famously, Retake on Amrita, revolves around his late aunt, the famed painter Amrita Sher-Gil, who indulged in a lot of self portraits and was constantly photographed in front of mirrors.

For this work, he has referenced Rembrandt’s “Anatomy Lesson” as he splices open inanimate figures; the operation table is a basic ply-board bench that gets converted into a coffin, closet, frame, and supports the work. “The work alludes to a process of examination where the body is cut up,” Sundaram said. “It is in direct opposition to my previous work where sculptural garments were fitted for models, actors and dancers and executed in a ramp show. What I am interested in now is to get back to the support and structure of the body. The inanimate object references mannequins in shop windows that possess their own brand of sexuality. By representing them as sculptures, the objects acquire a cross-over into new life. I have not just used mannequins but three-dimensional medical models usually employed as teaching aids. The intention is to dig deeper.”

Does this work hold continuity with his Retake on Amrita series? “There is an aura, history and representation of Amrita that she constructed herself. I just carried it over into a new avatar. In this instance, I have opened a Pandora’s box of interpretations: there is a range of emotion, deathly tenderness and violence that is foreground in this work.”

Sundaram had been contem-plating POSTMORTEM for a while but was involved in another project. “I have only been working on it since June,” he said. “I had two wonderful assistants, M Pravat and Balagopalan, who helped me. Without their involvement and technical know-how, I would not have been able to do it.” With their help, Sundaram reconfigured six-foot and 12-foot pedestals he used for his ramp shows into cupboards and coffins. Video clips of the ramp show GAGAWAKA are played alongside the sculpture as a reference to his earlier work.

Sundaram termed the work post-surrealist and when we investigate further we realise that this is not just fancy terminology. “Post surrealism uses a lot of juxtaposition and collage works that foregrounds desire, fantasy and eroticisms present in the collage,” he said. “One dislocates reality; there is a leg where a hand should have been or a head bereft of its body. It’s a violent surrealist reference. By cutting up the body I am intentionally bringing in disjuncture.” Shaking us out of our reverie where beauty and desire converge, Sundaram resorts to shock treatment for his viewers in his new work.
By Georgina Maddox on November 08 2013 6.54am