India’s F. N. Souza was the first artist to leave the country, in 1949, to head for London, where a successful practice catapulted him to the top of Britain’s artists. He was followed, in 1950, by S. H. Raza, who settled in Paris, winning the coveted critics’ award (Prix de la critique) in 1956. Others followed: Krishna Reddy (Paris and New York),
S. K. Bakre (London), Sakti Burman (Paris), Avinash Chandra (London and New York), Mohan Samant (New York), Natvar Bhavsar (New York), V Viswanadhan (Paris), Sohan Qadri (Copenhagen), Rajendra Dhawan (Paris), Eric Bowen (Oslo), Ambadas (Oslo), and Zarina Hashmi (New York). All 14 artists, with their diverse style of art making, are masters who bring a variety of responses to their environment in their work. However, the question this exhibition takes up, as curator Kishore Singh asks, is: “Does the artist’s ethnic identity mean art too has an ethnic identity?”
In a sense this arises from our need to have, or to respond, to “national” art. The diaspora artist, particularly, carries the baggage of his identity on his sleeve, he is burdened by his memories, now sharpened by nostalgia. But the art making need not necessarily derive from this subconsciousness. Yet, the Western art critic has often slotted the diaspora artist within an exotic, ethnic otherness, reading into his work something that may not necessarily exist. Native artists, on the other hand, are saved from such scrutiny. What does this unnecessary slotting do for the artist? Is he delighted or disgusted by it? How valid is this reading into the artist’s work?
Memory & Identity: Indian Artists Abroad takes up this dichotomy in attempting to understand how artists react to such writings. In the instances provided in the accompanying book, some artists attempt to live up to this imposed identity, or Indianness: others ignore it; while in some cases, we find that a certain Indianness does define their work, even though it is outwardly Western. More interestingly, how do art writers back home view these artists?
While overt nationalism is missing from their works, trace or obvious elements of India are visible, especially when explained within a context, as this exhibition attempts to do. In the case of an artist such as S. H. Raza, who lived for 60 years in Paris, half his (later) career as an artist was devoted to the creation of an image that was apparently Indian and can be traced to its tradition of tantra.
This exhibition explores for the first time the duality of these artists, writings by Western and Indian critics on their work and influences, and our readings of their life, career and work within the framework of identity.
The exhibition opens at DAG Modern’s gallery on September 14, 2015, and will remain on view till the first week of December.
For more information, please contact:
Mr Sunil Chaddha, Gallery Director
Tel: +1 212-457-9037 . email: firstname.lastname@example.org