Like every year, we went to this year’s edition of India Art Fair at the NSIC exhibition ground in the capital. And like every year, the art on display had us gawking, some in confusion, others in appreciation. Here are our 10 picks from India Art Fair 2020. By Sumeet Keswani & Adila Matra; Photographs by Sumeet Keswani & Adila Matra
1. Laaga Chunari Mein Daag by Girjesh Kumar Singh
In a world where immigrants are facing the wrath of nationalistic sentiment all over the world, Girjesh Kumar Singh’s artwork pulls no punches. It carves questions of identity and immigration in the material of displacement itself. On the walls of his booth (yes, he had his own), faces of many different races, religions, and communities manifested themselves in the brick and mortar of old demolished walls. Need we say more? Need he?
2. The Sunny Room by Suntae Hwang
What drew us into the booth of the Korean Gallery Tableau was a refreshing bit of multimedia amid an abundance of traditional art (well, as traditional as contemporary can be). It’s not every day that you see looping video combined with a lenticular screen. But this was just the banner ad that led us to the real treasures inside. It was the artist Suntae Hwang’s rendition of a ‘sunny room’ in a series of artworks that employed LED, tempered glass, sandblast, and film that left the biggest impression on us. Spectacularly simple and relatable aesthetic, rendered with remarkable innovation. The medium is what makes it so alluring and fetches it this position on the list.
3. Gas Mask For The Rich & Famous by Promotesh Das Pulak
Our introduction to Bangladeshi artist Promotesh Das Pulak’s work was nothing to write home about. A kinetic sculpture, Untitled (Not My Fault), featured a pair of hands that kept pointing at each other, accusatorily. The art was a bit gimmicky, and the title, on the nose. Which explains why the person most captivated by it was a child who added his own finger to the mix and made it a Mexican standoff of blaming—for a ‘cool picture’ taken by his mother—or what we call in India, politics. But it was inside Aicon Contemporary’s booth that the real Promotesh hid (not literally, of course). Gas masks that featured his ‘signature white flowers, made out of a reed native to the Gangetic delta’, were the juxtaposition of natural elements and savage war machinery that was promised by his introductory plaque. His motifs of violence are also carved with metallic floral patterns that render a sweet irony to the pain they inflict on innocents. The name of the series is self-explanatory and deliciously hilarious: Gas Mask for the Rich & Famous.
4. Kintsugi Dhaka by Najmun Nahar Keya
Our next selection is another Bangladeshi artist from the same gallery’s booth. Born in Dhaka, Najmun Nahar Keya spent five years in Tokyo on a scholarship. When she came back to Dhaka, she came with Japanese influences. Which explains why her photographs of old, dilapidated buildings of Bangladesh—which stand to lose their battle with either time or development—are mended with gold. The Japanese concept of wabi sabi and technique of kintsugi mend these archaic souvenirs of the Bangladesh she left behind. Beneath the gilded cracks, if you were to look, you’d find the nostalgia of an immigrant for a home that no longer exists.
5. Multiple Artists at Gallery Veda
Departing from convention, we’re not going to pick one artist here but vouch for a whole booth of Gallery Veda. For we felt the space had a life of its own, thanks to the combination of artworks inside. The sculpture that guarded the doorway to the booth was so poignant it reminded us of Banksy’s murals. Sweet Days of Summer 2 featured a monochromatic girl sitting on a swing suspended by multi-coloured fibreglass balloons. Since a handout on the artist, Tapasya Gupta, states that ‘her personal experiences are her biggest inspiration’, one wonders whether the girl on the swing is Gupta herself. Who knows? Does it matter?
The subtle surrealism didn’t stop with Gupta, though. Inside the booth, multiple artworks of Shiffali Wadhawan painted existing and imagined realities hand in hand. Nevertheless is mesmerising—as much for its solid deep blue background, as for the packed baggage and deer in the foreground. The animal’s antlers transform into a tree, which births blooms, which, in turn, attract birds. Each of the birds brings something to the tree’s branches—a lock, a key, an ink bottle with a feather quill, a pocket-watch with the digits having fallen victim to gravity. A booth attendant explained the concept behind the work, but I chose to form my own interpretation, replete with a wink to Dali. Maybe this is what Wadhawan wants to do, make you imagine your own reality. If the facing artwork was anything to go by, I was right. A set of five mirrors painted over with hibiscus and daisy blooms, visited by sunbirds, helped us put ourselves—literally—into Wadhawan’s art.
6. Ruins Mona Lisa by Lee Leenam
Korean artist Lee Leenam has a rather intriguing take on Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. The digital installation involves a 65-inch LED screen with the iconic image, juxtaposed with animated missiles that turn into flowers as soon as they explode. At the end of the animation, Mona Lisa is covered in flowers. The curator of the exhibition, Jiwon Kwak from Simyo Gallery, Seoul, says it is a representation of society. “The missile symbolises conflicts and war that tear apart our society, while the flowers are a symbol of hope and a message of peace,” she says.
7. A Poem Of Instruments by Probir Gupta
Kolkata-based artist Probir Gupta’s mixed media installation called ‘A Poem of Instruments’ is a tribute to the women of Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh, protesting against the Citizenship Amendment Act. The artist has employed steel, wood, acrylic sheet, and paint to create a typewriter that embodies the power of word, a microphone that amplifies the voice of dissent, and a comb that exemplifies the domesticity of the protesting women. The installation also carries written testimonies of the protestors. “My baby was 12 days old when I joined the protests on the first day. It has been more than a month now. I am sitting in cold and rains with her to get justice”, reads one.
8. Make Me Temple Within by Ghiora Aharoni
Known to create riveting pieces that balance art and design, New York-based artist Ghiora Aharoni’s muse this time around is the Tibetan prayer box, known as ghau. The small statue of Buddha that normally occupies the window of the ghau has been replaced with a video montage of public devotional rituals. The rituals of Buddhist monks circumambulating pilgrimage sites are interwoven with other devotion rituals, and there are also beakers engraved with words ‘Make me a Temple’ in Hebrabic (mix of Hebrew and Arabic) and Hindru (mix of Hindi and Urdu), on the side. The series make a case for spirituality that transcends cultures.
9. Pendulum by Kolkata Centre for Creativity
Kolkata Centre For Creativity stopped us in our tracks with its evocative performance piece titled Pendulum, inspired by O Henry’s eponymous story. The 20-minute performance by emerging artists Amit Verma and Priyanka Shekhar is a touching commentary on how the technology-dominated world leads to lonely and isolated lives. Mirroring contemporary concerns, the performance piece drew a lot of visitors at the India Art Fair, with its unique idea and strong performances.
10. Pictorial Cross Pollination by Swaraj Art Archive
“What does any kind of art do?” asks Rajeev Lochan, curator of Swaraj Art Archive’s exhibit titled Pictorial Cross Pollination. “It inspires,” he answers his own question. And the exhibit points to that very fact. Lochan has chosen iconic portrait styles of masters such as Raja Ravi Varma, M F Pithawala, Antonio Xavier Trindade and George Fiddes Watt as ‘pictorial points of reference’ and works of other not-so-well-known artists who have been inspired by their styles. “The Indian artist in his bid for survival tried to accommodate his art to the new sensibility in a pursuit to cater to the demands of the new genre,” as Lochan puts it.