Tuesday, August 18, 2015


A retrospective show in Mumbai takes you through the works of two artistic geniuses

Breaking conventions was probably unheard of in the 1960s. But two Baroda-based artists did so, and earned a name for themselves in the process. Legends of Baroda, a new show in Mumbai, takes a look at the most popular works of K.G. Subramanyan and the late Bhupen Khakhar, both stalwarts of Indian art. The retrospective show takes viewers through the artists’ creations, which delved into themes of homosexuality, mythology, and tradition.
K.G.Subramanyan A participant in the Indian freedom struggle, the painter, sculptor and muralist is known for his extensive knowledge of Indian art. Subramanyan mentored several artists including Ghulam Mohammed Shaikh, Vivan Sunderam and Jyoti Bhatt. Known as one of the greatest pioneers of modern art in India, he now lives with his daughter in Baroda.   

Bhupen Khakhar A self-taught artist, Khakhar was involved with the seminal Narrative Figurative Movement  when he moved to Baroda for a course. Khakhar, whose works have been exhibited the world over, is known for his figure drawings and lack of inhibitions while creating new works. Later in his career, the artist also dabbled in watercolours and ceramics.

-Huzan Tata

Friday, June 05, 2015

ARTICLE 1372 - Beauty & Happiness in Sukkur

The sun is about to set as we enter Sukkur. I am with an interesting trio; a novelist, another hunter and a CSS officer who prefers to introduce himself as the Minister for Sound and Music. We decide to stop here on our way to Lahore from Karachi.
I insist that we spare a day for sightseeing in the city where I spent most of my childhood. My acquaintances are not too thrilled — many assume Interior Sindh to be barren and boring. It is far from that.
Sindh takes its name from ‘Sindhu’, the Sanskrit word for ocean and a rather apt name for the gigantic river which traverses through its heart and fuels greenery and prosperity.
The construction of barrages, especially the one at Sukkur, has amplified the river's impact on the livelihood of Sindhis by manifolds.
The influence of the British regime can be felt strongly in Sukkur. The city prospered under the British rule, taking glory away from historical towns of Larkana and Shikarpur.
The construction of Sukkur Barrage and the railroad network firmly establishes Sukkur’s position as the hub of commerce and bureaucracy in upper Sindh.

Sukkur Barrage and Lab-e-Mehran

Sukkur Barrage is nothing short of an engineering marvel. The 5,000 feet long barrage was completed in 1932, irrigating more than 10 million acres through its seven canals.
The construction of the Sukkur Barrage acclaimed a new era of prosperity in Sindh after which, a number of Punjabi, Balochi and Pathan migrants settled in interior Sindh.
Unlike Karachi, all ethnicities blend in a manner that makes it difficult to tell them apart. They speak the same dialect and lead a lifestyle that is native to the area.
So much so, that the clan of Pathans in the interior are known as Sindhi Pathans.
Lab-e-Mehran, the park with a walkway along the left bank of the river is a famous getaway for the citizens of Sukkur. On a regular day, one is likely to find families gather around food stalls or enjoy a boat ride.
We settle at a British era guesthouse in an irrigation colony. Recent renovation has left the rooms gaudy and soulless.
The framed picture on the wall depicts a waterfall somewhere in the North of Pakistan. The windows are draped with thick dark curtains. The frequent breakdown of electricity has forced the municipality to limit electricity usage in public spaces.

Masoon Shah jo Minaro 

Masoon Shah jo Minaro - Intricate work inside "baradary"

Sadho Belo - Rajhistani Jharokas

Masoom Shah Po Minaro

As we gather in the dining room the next morning, a variety of omelettes are served to us for breakfast. Our first destination is Masoom Shah Jo Minaro, which once served as a watch tower under the reign of Masoom Shah who was appointed as the governor by the Mughal Emperor Akbar.
We drive through crowded lanes around Neem Ki Chari, the central bazaar in the heart of the city.
We park our car and enter the boundary wall through a narrow opening that is seemingly lost between the busy shops.
A number of families are relaxing around the compound that consist of abaradary and a graveyard alongside the original tower.
I am told that Masoom Shah commissioned the tower in 1582, but that he passed away during the construction and was buried under the shadow of an incomplete tower.
His son ensured the completion of the tower in 1607. The caretaker tells us the tower is 84 feet high and has 84 steps. We hand over our shoes to him and wait our turn to climb the ascent.
After waiting for some time, we finally enter the tower through the narrow gate. The circular staircase is narrow and steep.
There is no electricity inside and the only sources of light are tiny windows. People are climbing down at the same time and one has to make way for them.
Once we reach the top we further fight for space with a crowd of women and children. The women are sitting inside the small canopy at the top and the children are dangling from the iron cage installed along the viewing deck.
The view from the top is breathtaking. You can see most of Sukkur from here; Jamia Mosque, Sukkur Barrage and the river, clock tower, Adam Shah ji takri( The hill of Adam Shah) and the frenzied expansion of the city. I have known this city for ages and its current landscape looks unfamiliar to me.

Masoon Shah jo Minaro - The inscriptions inside.

Masoon Shah jo Minaro 

After sight-seeing and taking photos, we climb down and head towards our car. Our host’s guard insists that we buy a souvenir from a nearby shop. He takes the novelist to a shop, which is quite similar to the shops at Sunday Baazar in Karachi.
People in the shop look curiously at our group. The shopkeeper asks me if thesahib with me is a minister.
At first I do not understand but soon realise that he is asking about the CSS guy who is dressed in white shalwar kameezajrak and golden Ray-Bans.
I chuckle and tell the shopkeeper that he is the Minister for Sound and Music. He asks me if the Minister sahib has brought me along to take his pictures. The hunter hears this and laughs hysterically.

Sadhu Belo

The Indus water looks so calm and serene. People tell me that the water has been steady for a while now though during the time of the 2010 floods, Sukkur was on high alert and water levels were monitored every morning.
The city has encroached upon the left bank of the river. We are here to take a ride to Sadhu Belo, an 18th century temple on an island off the Indus River.
According to a legend, a Sadhu by the name of Baba Ban Khundi, settled in this island in 1823 to preach Hinduism. Mir Sohrab Khan, the then ruler of the area, gifted the island to him as the Sadhu won his heart with his wisdom.
A boat waits for us while we seat ourselves. A Hindu pilgrim, accompanied by a woman and a child, sit next to us. He tells me that he visits the shrine regularly and has brought his wife and his granddaughter along today.
On one end I can see Sukkur Barrage and on the other, I can see Lansdowne Bridge, which connects Rohri with Sukkur.
On a lucky day you can even get a glimpse of an endangered blind dolphin in the murky waters.
A priest at the shrine greets us. I am instantly awestruck by the intricate marble work on the fa├žade of the compound.
On one side of the entrance I notice a couple of tableaux, which remind the visitors of the consequences of their choices.

Sadho Belo - Tableaux depicting a scene from hell

Sadho Belo - Krishna

One depicts a scene of naked sinners being tortured gruesomely while the other depicts righteous queuing in front of the gate of heaven.
I have never seen such graphic details before this at Hindu shrines in interior Sindh.
We walk past the entrance, there are beautiful balconies on each side of the alley, that make me feel like I am in Rajasthan.
The priest then takes us inside a compound where Shivling is kept on a marble floor. The intricate handcrafts on the walls and the roof are dazzling, but there is not much light for me to take a perfect shot.
I step out and look for the carvings done on pillars, as the marble glows in the shining sun.
The priest notices that we have a novelist amongst us and so decides to take us to the library on one end of the island.
There are many rooms around the compound. They tell me that it is used for housing pilgrims, who flock in thousands around the days of the festival at the shrine.
The caretaker then opens the library gate to let us in; the room has plenty of windows but they are all shut.

He starts looking for a light switch and turns it on and we find ourselves in the middle of a well-stocked library which reminds us of ancient times.
It mainly contains books on Hindu mythology in various languages.
The novelist opens the visitor book and starts flipping through the pages. The first page is signed by Zia ul Haq, an unlikely visitor, we think to ourselves. Later in the book, much to our surprise we find Vikram Seth’s entry. He has been here recently!

Abode of Seven - climbing the staircase

Abode of Seven - Tomb stones

After the novelist has his time with the books, we step outside and take al leisure walk around the bank of river.
The island is dotted with Neem, Acacia, Peepal and other local trees, which I am unable to identify.
The setting is picture perfect for a postcard shot - peaceful and serene - like one of those where you would like to lie down and spend the whole evening without caring about anything else.
We quickly take a tour of various small temples on the island, which belong to Hanuman, Ganesh and others.
From the boat, I see a graveyard on the right bank of the river. The boatman tells me that this place is known as Satyun-jo-Astaan: The Abode of Seven.
After reaching the halt we decide to get here and discover the history the place beholds. We drove through Lansdowne Bridge which was constructed in 1889 and named after Lord Lansdowne, Viceroy of India. Below we can see the shrine of Zindapir.
There are all sort of legends associated with the bridge. Some say that the British engineers who designed it were not sure of its stability so the first train that crossed the bridge was full of prisoners waiting for capital punishment. The train crossed the bridge successfully and the British Sarkarlet go of the punishment for all the prisoners on board.
And of course some people tell stories of its survival during 1965 war when the bridge was a prime target of Indian bombardiers.
According to them, Zindapir stood on top of the bridge and directed bombs into water. And then again someone speculated that there lied a hidden key somewhere that could be used to split the bridge into two halves.

Abode of Seven

We continue driving towards the shrine and park our car under a Neem tree in front of the brick facade.
A staircase takes us to the shrine entrance. There we meet the caretaker, a middle aged man who tells us that centuries ago this place was immortalised in folklore when seven pious women made this place their eternal abode.
According to a legend they were followed by a prince who wanted to abduct them. They reached this place and finding no refuge prayed to the lord for protection. Miraculously, the land ripped apart and swallowed them inside.
“What about the maharaja?” The minister of sound and music inquires.
“What about him?” The caretaker was not expecting such a question.
“Why did not earth swallow him instead?” The minister of sound and music inquires further.
The caretaker does not know the answer. He shows us the entrance to the compound where symbolic graves still exist.
Only women are allowed inside. It is a popular shrine amongst women who believe that a visit to the abode can cure their sufferings.
We walk further to the top of mound. There is a graveyard at the top overlooking the Indus River.
The graves are made of yellow stone with beautiful carvings. The caretaker tells me that the one of the graves belong to, the then governor of Bakhar, Mir Abul Qasim.
There stands a decaying wall on one end which possibly serves as the boundary wall.
There is a beautiful arch which probably lead to a viewing deck back in the day. Blue tiles are used to decorate the arch and the wall.

Farewell note

We drive to the highway to continue our journey towards Lahore. I remember a friend telling me to visit these places with an open mind, or else the people and the buildings and even the skies and the landscapes will seem imperfect.
I must admit; Sukkur fills me with immense happiness.


Sunday, January 18, 2015

ARTICLE 1371 - Art for the Untrained Eye

How to Stop Pretending and Actually Enjoy Art

Herbert Lui  for Lifehacker
You might roll your eyes when your in-laws want to visit the art gallery. You might also get anxious and start thinking of things to say so you don't look dumb. But art doesn't have to be a chore. Here's how you can better consume art so you can have a shot at enjoying the experience.

Read the Explainers and Pay for Voice Guides

Whether it's a painting, recording, sculpture, building, or some other art form, a piece of art is the result of feelings from a certain time and place in history. Even just a brief explanation of that history empowers us, as an audience, to understand and empathize with artists more.
It helps to follow experts as they explain their interpretations of art pieces, because they've spent more time with it, and likely have studied the field. Similar to how a chef takes raw ingredients and prepares food, an art expert spends time with a piece and prepares explanations so you can consume art more easily. For example, have a look at Art as Therapy.
Naturally, different art forms will have different types of explainers. Voice guides are great for art galleries, books can be helpful for visual art. It could also get more specific: Genius.com is great for hip-hop culture and music, and is quickly expanding into other musical types.
If you have a friend who's extremely knowledgeable about the art form you want to see, go with them. It makes a world of difference. I went to an art gallery with a friend who studied art history, and she shared relevant information that I wouldn't have known about how the artist's life affected their paintings. 
Remember to balance between getting context and actually feeling the art. I spent a lot of time reading the captions to reinforce my own understanding, but she spent most of her time looking at the actual piece and pointed stuff out that I likely wouldn't have seen. Although understanding context is important, actually consciously consuming the art is equally (if not more) important.

Pay Attention to Your Reactions: Consume Art Consciously and Mindfully

A lot of times, we try to examine a piece of art based on skill (e.g., "Wow, I could never do that," or, "Oh, my kid could have made that that"). However, it's important to remember that judging a piece of art takes your attention away from your reaction to, and feelings about, the actual piece. Instead, shift your attention to your reaction to the art. How are you feeling when you hear the piece, or see it, or walk through an incredible piece of interior design or architecture? 
This is why exploring abstract art can be so challenging. Many people quickly dismiss abstract art as something elementary, vague, and/or pretentious. This makes it the perfect practice for being mindful as you consume it. Don't judge it. Immerse yourself in it and feel it. Quora user Christopher Reiss advises against trying to "see" things in abstract art ("It's not a [rorschach] test,") and explains how to consume a Jackson Pollock painting:
It's paint and surface, nothing else. Feel the swirls. Their energy. Their tangling. Pollock goes all the way to the edge of the canvas where it's just as busy as the center. Feel the tension as everywhere the eye looks, you miss something. It's hard to take in.
It's can be tricky to balance spending time understanding context and history, while also being patient and attentive enough to examine the art and how you react to it. To help with the balance, ask yourself some questions without judging the art or comparing it.

Think About Art: Ask Guiding Questions

Questions can be great guides to focus your mind as it processes the art piece. There are different things to be sensitive to in each art form. For example, in visual arts, you'll want to look for symbols. Consider the color palettes and combinations. When walking through a piece of architecture, ask yourself why the artist designed certain details or nuances. I'm no architect whiz, but have a look at the concrete blocks on the exterior of Frank Lloyd Wright's Ennis House. When you're listening to a live performance or a soundtrack, think about the beat, tempo, and mood changes throughout the songs. In some cases, listen to the lyrics and think about their possible meanings (or double and triple meanings). 
When art academic Terry Smith confronts a work of art, he describes the four questions he tries to answer:
  • What am I looking at? (Or listening to, or walking through?)
  • How was it made?
  • When was it made, and what was happening in the world at that time?
  • What is it saying? What is its meaning to the artist, and to us now?
There are many guiding questions you can ask, and each art form has different specific ones. For example, here are dozens of questions that you could ask while looking at a piece of visual art. You could tweak some of these questions to be more relevant to another art form (e.g., Change, "How would you describe this painting to a person who could not see it?" to "How would you describe this song to a person who could not listen to it?").

Learn How People Make Art

The final product of art may look like it's easy to make. However, you never truly grasp the difficulties and nuances of a process until you learn about — and ultimately try — it. For example, rap may not sound like anything more than simple rhyme schemes and poems. Yet as Complex Media's Editor-in-Chief and Chief Content Officer Noah Callahan-Bever writes:
If you're gonna shit on someone's rhyme, you should try, at least once, to sit down and write a 16. It's hard. Don't get me wrong, everyone is entitled to their opinion as a listener and consumer, but a little respect for the difficulty of the process may inform how you express your dissatisfaction.
A good first step to understanding how people make art could be to simply watch the process. For example, one of my favorites is watching how much work actually goes into producing whatsome may call a "simple" beat. 
If you find yourself particularly curious about a certain art form or type, consider taking a class. It's a step that will almost definitely further enhance your taste, understanding, and empathy for art. Quora user Joshua Engel explains how to understand Shakespeare, but his advice can be applied to all art forms:
It's not a secret, any more than it's a secret to learn to enjoy food by eating and cooking things, and not by reading cookbooks without ever tasting. Yes, the language forms a speed bump, but it's not nearly as big a hassle as it's made out to be, because it's not the point of the exercise. Watch the plays, enjoy the plays, then read the plays to see how the words went into making up that enjoyable experience.
Once you explore the process behind the art, you may grow to appreciate the dedication and work ethic that goes into each piece even more. 

You Might Eventually Even Like Art

Hopefully, some of these techniques will enable you to hate art less (and maybe even grow to appreciate certain forms). Enjoying art doesn't take a completely different way of thinking. Instead, it takes a bit of empathy and understanding, and a lot more focus and being mindful of the experience. In today's fast-paced world, simply consuming art can be a challenging experience, but it's one that is also extremely rewarding.

Novice Art Blooger

—Craig Hubert 

For those that think art critics are stuffy and pretentious, you now have a solution: the Novice Art Blogger. Stripped of human feeling and perception, the Tumblr page created by the British-Colombian artist Matthew Plummer Fernandez uses deep learning algorithms to write about art.
The results are weirdly fascinating, more poetic than straight description. For example, here is what it churned out for an untitled work by Brice Marden, from 1971:

“Two urinals are in the corner of a building behind it or quite possibly a picture of a small public building. It could be related to a shadow on a brick wall lined with old toilets.”

But what seems like a joke is, according to the creator, a more honest way of writing about art. “I think there is a value in having a machine describe art without the burden of prior art knowledge, art history, trends, and favouritism,” he said in an interview with Dazed. “It makes us reflect on whether art should be able to stand on its own and elicit unaffected experiences of art, or whether to read art we need that cultural context and formative background, or a mix of both.”
While an art world completely populated by robots is appealing, I don’t think art critics should begin fearing for their jobs quite yet. You can read the rest of the reviews by the Novice Art Blogger here.

 (Image: Brice Marden’s “Untitled,” 1971, via the Novice Art Blogger) & Vinod Dave

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

ARTICLE 1371 - The Art of Stealing & Other Stories...

Exceptionally well funded: the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra. Photograph: Alan Porritt/AAP

The news that yet another Indian work from the National Gallery of Australia has been found to be stolen could be spun as evidence that the NGA under the directorship of Ron Radford was especially lax in exercising due diligence when purchasing ancient Indian works of art. But those with even a rudimentary knowledge of the art and antiquities market are rarely surprised at stories of fraud, theft or forgery.
While sites such as Chasing Aphrodite give a sense of immediacy to tales of career art thieves and fraudsters, this is not a new story. Bonnie Burnham first wrote on the full extent of the modern market for stolen objects in her 1975 book, The Art Crisis, and the looting of sacred treasure goes back at least to the grave robbers of ancient Egypt.
On one level the private market for objects of beauty and antiquity is based on a desire to possess the rare and to contemplate the sublime.
It does not hurt that ownership of antiquities, or evidence of their authenticity, is not recorded in any easily accessible database. This allows the private market to operate as a useful form of currency exchange or a way of concealing wealth from pesky taxation authorities. This same fluidity is what has made art attractive to some of our more colourful entrepreneurs.
Museums have a slightly different agenda. Some of it comes from that same lust for beauty and history, but there is also national identity and the bragging rights that lead different cities or countries to proclaim themselves powerful and cultured tourist attractions.
Well-established collections, such as the British Museum, the Pergamon and the Louvre, received the bulk of their treasures in the centuries when plunder was regarded as a reasonable policy and there was no awkward legislation to protect the cultural property of colonised nations.
Newer museums need to buy on an open market. The National Gallery of Australia’s collection policy cites a need both to display the cultural diversity of the population and to reflect the geographic context of the country, which is Asian and Oceanic, not European. For many years, it has been an exceptionally well-funded art museum with private donors supplementing the initial pump-priming government funds.
Because title is so uncertain, and because the art world is especially aware of the potential for fraud, there are standard procedures for due diligence. But these are always supplemented by that essential quality in every transaction – trust. Artdealers rely on credibility, a quality enhanced by the number of years they have been in the business.

Asian artworks at the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra. Photograph: Alan Porritt/AAP
Subhash Kapoor, who sold the stolen Shiva (and other works) to the NGA, had been operating in New York since 1974. Over the years he had sold many works to some of the world’s leading museums, not least in the US. Some of these works are now proving to have been stolen. How was it that these institutions so easily believed the magnificent works they were sold were legitimate?
One answer: there is very little difference between art dealers and real estate agents. They both rely on a combination of desire and flattery to convince a potential purchaser that an acquisition is unique, a fulfilment of desire – made all the more urgent by the certain knowledge that others are also in the hunt.
Unlike real estate agents, however, art dealers do not have to be registered. And, while establishing the legitimacy of title to a piece of land is not hard, documentation is all too easily forged for works of antiquity or art bought on the secondary market
Legislation to protect the movement of antiquities is relatively recent; dealers can always draw on the bad behaviour of past generations to explain present possession. Many 18th and 19th century adventurers returned home with loot which has sometimes ended up in public collections. One of the glories of the Art Gallery of New South Wales’s collection, the Ming Dynasty guardian figure of Wei To, was looted by Captain Francis Hixson, an ancestor of the Fairfax family during the Boxer rebellion.
Most well established collections have work with a similarly dubious provenance. A personable dealer can spin a yarn about a private collector inheriting an antique taken in the distant past. Because they fear the very act of insuring a work may signal to thieves, some private collectors do their best to keep ownership of priceless works reasonably secret.
More recent art is easier to track. In the 1970s it was the very alert James Mollison, then interim director of the institution that was to become the National Gallery of Australia, who first noticed discrepancies that led to uncovering Marlborough Fine Art’s fraud against the Rothko estate. Perhaps Marlborough thought a country 10,000 miles away was not going to notice the fine details of provenance and exhibition history – in those days distances seemed great.
It’s fair to assume the modern market for art and antiquities is no better, or worse, than the past. What has changed is ease of access with low-cost international travel (which helps the thieves) and the internet (which helps legitimate owners). That well-spun narratives of provenance eventually come undone is a tribute to modern technology and Interpol’s database of stolen art.
The NGA was an early adopter when it came to putting its entire collection online. This has made it easy to identify it as the purchaser of stolen goods, but it should also inhibit future acts of theft. Some art is not so well protected.
Using existing scholarship, we could create an interlocking series of online databases of all works of international cultural significance. The cost would be considerable, but this act alone would made the lives of fraudsters more difficult. Dealers who wish to be considered “honest” might even contribute to the cost.
   -Joanna Mendelssohn for the Guardian

Joanna Mendelssohn is a curator, art critic and associate professor of art and design at the University of New South Wales, where she edits Design and Art Australia Online
Finally Indian authorities get a wake up call from their cultural deep sleep!
NEW DELHI: In 2013, a report by the Comptroller and Auditor General had noted that a few of the country’s museums had not acquired any art work or antiquities in many years, while artifacts in their custody were rotting for want of upkeep.Promising improvement in the management of  museums across the country and the way antiquities are handled, the Ministry of Culture has framed an acquisition policy on art objects and antiquities.

The first ever comprehensive acquisition policy aims to equip museums under the ministry with the power to acquire more national and international art work and antiquities to increase holdings. The policy, if put into effect will curb the illegal smuggling of Indian art abroad. In one of the major recommendations of the draft policy, available in public domain since January 1, is the setting up of an Art Acquisition Committee (AAC) in each museum, which will be responsible for acquiring new art works either through purchase, donation, gifts or field excavations.  
The policy suggested that AACs, with a three-year tenure should have a chairman -- a scholar whose integrity and scholarship is indisputable -- six well known experts and senior officials of the ministry and a museum director.The main work of the AAC would be to assess  the authenticity of objects, negotiate price, check for duplicity and be on the lookout for genuine art dealers.
For any art work to be bought, the AAC would put out a list, and when the authenticity of the object concerned was ascertained, the same be displayed in the museum for a month and details of transaction be made public.
Officials claimed that the acquisition policy would help in curbing the smuggling of Indian artifacts, as some of the pieces can now be acquired by museums.Last year in September, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott  had handed over two antique statues of Hindu deities to Modi. These idols - Nataraja belonging to the Chola dynasty of 11th-12th century and Ardhanariswara - were allegedly stolen from temples in Tamil Nadu before these were bought by art galleries in Australia. The country will return another stolen 2nd century Buddha sculpture to India soon.
Earlier, France had returned a 1,100-year-old Yogini sculpture, stolen from a temple in Uttar Pradesh, to India in 2013. This is now displayed at the National Museum in Delhi.
The setting up of the AAC can further help Indian museums to acquire these goods. The ACC will also liaise with investigating agencies whenever they seize stolen goods.
“The collection practices, being largely unplanned, and unregulated, lack coherence and focus. A large number of objects lie undocumented and unused. The absence of a comprehensive policy in museums can trigger trafficking of art as people cannot easily find good buyers,” the policy document said.
Pratul Sharma for the New Indian Express