In an austere gallery in Delhi’s sequestered Jor Bagh, 69 glorious years of Indian independence have been chronicled and contoured in a unique cartographic panorama of artful visions.
Curated by Animal, a creative agency, an exhibition-cum-sale has been organized, for the artworks of 69 artists across the country, documenting the year-wise growth and decay of the Indian peninsula since 1947.
Since the British Raj breathed its last, India was resurrected and re-imagined through stories told and untold, some that lacerated its gut while some that held its fragile heritage taut in seamless celebrations.
A few artists called dibs on their birth years, while others chose years with events that played some visceral role in their lives.
‘1984 must be one of the loudest years of Independent India. I had just completed college from Punjab University but my final exams were postponed due to Operation Blue Star carried out at the Golden Temple by the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, leading up to her assassination 3 months later. India was still reeling under the trauma of consequent Hindu-Sikh riots when the Bhopal Gas leak tragedy took place. With the passage of time, the screams only seem to go louder and I want to put that up on the map’, recalled Rekha Bahl, a visiting professor and artist par excellence.
With its abstraction of a chaotic past and mosaics of details that passed unobserved, this sublime project has cultivated its own semantic vocabulary that transcends the limitations of language.
One illustrator used Khajurao figurines in earthen tones to further a compelling case of homosexuality, while another played with neon hues to mark the year of 1967, which saw a unique expression of mythology through the comic series of Amar Chitra Katha. Dhruv Chakkamadam, a concept artist from Manali, recreated a scene wherein the iconic Indian car ‘Ambassador’ is shown leaving its factory in Uttarpara near Calcutta in the summer of 1958.
While all the artworks had to incorporate the outline of the Indian map, artists used a variety of mediums in the creation of these aesthetic records. Nasheet Shadani, a visual artist from Delhi, created a fascinating charcoal portrait of Guru Dutt wrapped in Urdu typography commemorating Sahir Ludhianvi’s famed song ‘Ye duniya agar mil bhi jaaye toh kya hai’. ‘Dutt’s life oscillated between immense popularity, love and deep devastation till it ultimately caused him to commit suicide in the year of 1964. There was something romantically tragic about his death that I wanted to capture’, quipped Nasheet.
‘Our generation is well versed with the glamour centric approach to Bollywood that the mammoth world of Indian cinema is reduced to. But the country produces work of commendable quality from various regions like Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Bengal. The first National Film Awards were established, with the the vision of uniting the nation and giving adequate recognition to art from all over the country at its very core, which I feel holds as much relevance today as it did in 1954. Choosing a typographic approach to create the vision statement of the awards was a reminder of that overarching initiation. Stylistically it fit well with retro movie-poster art, not only because it takes one back to those spectacular old hand-made posters but also because poster art in itself is a beautiful art form that is being lost to a digital era’, divulged Sudeepti Tucker, an alumna of the National Institute of Design.
Sanket Alvani, the man behind Taxi fabric, refurbished the outline of the Indian subcontinent, made out of a metallic wire, into a laidback beach chair to mark the year of 1987 when Goa was granted full statehood.
From launching of Edusat in 2004 to the celebration of first International Yoga Day in 2015, from signing of the Indo-Soviet treaty in 1971 to India winning the Cricket World Cup in 2011 – socio-political initiatives, historic cornerstones and triumphs both large and small have been showcased in these artworks.
But the vast cultural spread of India is not without contrasts and contradictions. Kunel Gaur, the torchbearer of Indianama, finds beauty in the corollary of erosion and mutation. He chose to express this cacophony through the year of 1980, which saw the death of Sanjay Gandhi and India’s last hockey gold at the Moscow Olympics. A personal favorite from the exhibition would be Mayur Mengle’s depiction of the Bhopal Gas Tragedy, the world’s worst industrial disaster. At the heart of the artwork lays the infamous factory engulfed in fumes of faces melting beyond recognition, a carnage that lays uncompensated even today, 32 years later. In his own way, Mengle brought a creative closure to the catastrophe by signing off as the ‘Union Carbide’.
So this Independence Day, come join a probe into the intimate album of India’s past that became a catharsis for its creators and an emotional stimulus for the viewers.
Kona, #1 Jor Bagh Market, Near Lodhi Road
12th August – 18th August 2016
Rs. 5000- Rs 82,000