The Art Column: May 4th, 2018: Three Storeys of Art

(photo credit: The Delhi Art Gallery-DAG)

 

A show such as this bears several visits to soak in the richness that it holds, says Anjali Purohit

Tucked away at the Kala Ghoda precincts, in the by-lane off what we knew till now as the Rhythm House, is a charming, finely appointed home for art that had quietly opened its doors in Mumbai five years ago. In a beautifully restored colonial era building, the Delhi Art Gallery (DAG) has successively offered some exceptional art collections in India.

Spread over three floors, a visit to the gallery is especially captivating because this tiered placing of the artworks gives a discerning gallerist great manoeuvrability to experiment, each floor of the compact space offering almost a canvas on which to place the curation of the show as a work of art itself. One is then taken through the exhibition in stages, the works on the ground floor yielding to a different vista on the first floor and then reaching the top in conclusion. Having viewed the three tiers, you descend, again to view the earlier tiers and perhaps ‘see’ the art works there in a new light making the experience much more immersive and participative than if the entire collection was placed in one large and open gallery space.

Presently, the DAG is showing its gallery collection, Manifestations of Indian Art. If the three floors have been used to display photography, figurative art and abstract art respectively, then one would subconsciously expect the abstract to be on the highest floor. However, it perhaps is one of the aims of curation to be disruptive (of expectations) and subversive (in content) as this show begins with abstraction, moves to figurative and ends with photography.

Abstract art from artists like S H Raza, Natwar Bhavsar, S K Bakre, Ambadas is on display. J Sultan Ali’s painting Festival Bull (reminiscent of the bull on Indus Valley seals) is especially striking, incorporating as it does tribal art, mythology and folklore against the suggestion of an agrarian setting.

Ascending the wooden steps, the intermediary landing space bridges the abstract and the figurative sections by four truly remarkable woodcuts from Hiren Das. At a time when the popular conception of ‘art’ did not go beyond painting and sculpture, it was the brilliance of printmakers like Das, Somnath Hore and Chittoprosad, in the mid-twentieth century that placed printmaking firmly in the realm of art. These three artists from Bengal were witness to the horrors of the Bengal famine but, while Hore and Chittoprosad’s work reflected these conditions in all their painful and brutal starkness, Hiren Das chose to focus closely on the depiction of the details of a quieter rural life.

The human body is the focus of the next tier with paintings such as M R Achrekar’s brilliant watercolour and K H Ara striking gouache on paper, depicting the female nude at rest, inward looking and unselfconscious. Other works include F N Souza, Akbar Padamsee and, surprisingly, two beautiful nudes in oil from Chittaprosad, the great chronicler of human suffering and political art.

However, for me, the most arresting and haunting canvas is the one from Sunil Das from his Prostitute series. The scribbled-on walls, an overhanging naked bulb, the lack of colour but for an all-pervading grey, highlight the squalor of Sonagachi and the posture and eyes of the two figures (evidently the prostitute and her customer) are deeply revealing as well as disturbing.

The next section consists of the photography of Nemai Ghosh who was a close associate of Satyajit Ray for over 25 years, recording with his camera almost every moment of Ray’s cinematic life. Much before movie stars were particular about which profile to show the camera, great trust with photographers meant that they were often photographed off guard and in candid moments. Accordingly, we have candid and beautiful portraits of actors such as Sharmila Tagore, Smita Patil, Simi Garewal, Amjad Khan, Jaya Bhaduri, Om Puri, Shabana Azmi and others.

One then descends again from the ‘realism’ of the camera, through the figurative interpretation of the human body and, after a final look at abstraction, walks out of the DAG into the ‘real’ world knowing that such a show bears several visits to soak in the richness that it holds.

 

Anjali Purohit is a writer, painter, poet, translator and conceptual vagabond with a yen for gadding about town.

This column in the ADC48hrs can be viewed here: http://www.afternoondc.in/48-hrs/three-storeys-of-art/article_222270

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