Contemporary Indian Art (Courtesy of Saatchi)
This current exhibition entitled, The Empire Strikes Back: Indian Art Today, being held at the Saatchi Gallery in London, is far from being a celebration of India with its electric blend of colour, spirituality, creativity and mayhem. Rather it is a sombre expose of its political issues; corruption, violence, the huge disparity between rich and poor, the on-going territorial debates over who owns Kashmir and the ‘Arabicization’ of Pakistan. Therefore, it is not an exhibition that leaves one feeling elated. Art has many uses, one of them being to highlight the wrongs of society and this exhibition certainly fulfils that criteria. However, there is an overwhelming feeling of the victimization and ‘pity-me’ mentality in this collection, perhaps because Saatchi’s choice has left no room for a balanced portrayal of the country – no positives. With the largely grey tones of many of the art works we see that these contemporary artists have departed from the rich, colourful Indian art traditions which are so appealing to us here in the West. In contrast, an artist like Anish Kapoor has built his success upon colour. His works are striking and attractive though often devoid of any meaningful concept. Maybe this exhibition highlights the down side of globalisation – that cultures are losing their better traditions, merging into one giant mass of negative thinking. Or perhaps this exhibition simply reflects Saatchi’s character, his ever-present attraction to sensationalist, shocking art; art that leaves us a little shaken and disturbed.
The first image is of a sculpture by Mansoor Ali entitled The Dance of Democracy. For some reason he often uses chairs in his works – maybe as a impersonal symbol of human beings. Here these burnt out chairs are precariously balanced on top of one another in a haphazard manner, satirizing the state of democracy. It is supposed to be humorous and poignant, I find it a bit depressing and empty but nevertheless an accurate commentary.
This sculpture by Rajesh Ram entitled Heavy Load (2008) is made from fibre glass, iron and paint and depicts a boy bent over with the weight of his load. It illustrates how in this time of huge economic growth and development in India the poor, far from benefiting, are suffering. It is especially referring to the global food crisis. The boy has four arms, probably to show how hard he has to work. The sculpture clearly conveys what it is attempting to illustrate.
This work by Ajit Chauhan, Re-Record, is visually playful.
These two works by Reena Kallat are from a series of portraits of ordinary Indians and pakistanis all with the map of Kashmir imprinted on their faces. The endless disputes between the two countries over Kashmir castes a sad shadow over inhabitants of the region. In the cases are weapons laid out like dentures, depicting the human cost of this conflict. The portraits are moving and skillfully executed.
The work below is an uncomfortable taxidermy piece, Arabian Delights, by the artist Hulma Muji. It shows a camel squashed into a suitcase, spilling out over the sides, too large to fit. It illustrates ideas of displacement and the awkwardness of the relocation of cultures, referring in particular to Pakistan.