As the capital heats up, who doesn’t want an excuse to contemplate beautiful things from the comfort of serious air-conditioning? But making it out of the house may take a extra burst of motivation. Here are a pair of Delhi shows that are worth the sweat.
Closing on April 30th is Nature Morte’s “Chromatophobia: The Fear of Money,” a presentation of new sculptures by L.N. Tallur that live up to this artist’s reputation for powerful, enigmatic works on a grand scale. This show presents seven sculptures that deftly combine historical artifacts with contemporary modernist or mechanical elements. This could easily be a recipe for the trite or the fashionable. Yet in Tallur’s hands this strategy produces ambitiously ambiguous works that are at once meditative and piquant. Consider Blessing, a piece that sets a crumbling bronze Buddha statue directly across from an ancient pedestal reduced now only to holy footprints. It’s impossible to say what such an image means, but it's equally impossible not to give the question thought.
If Tallur’s work invokes meditations on the history and the timeless, then a visit to Vadehra Art Gallery will present an equally evocative engagement with the intimate. On view is a group show of photography and video works, “Something I’ve been meaning to tell you,” thoughtfully curated by Sunil Gupta and Vidya Shivadas. The show features an admirable range of approaches to the common subject of "portraiture," albeit loosely defined. Clare Arni, Gauri Gill, and Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi adopt what is perhaps the most conventional approach, each documenting the lives of a single individual in the environment that has come to define them. Arni’s subject is a Belgian ascetic named Meera who spent thirty years in a cave in Hampi, and emerged radiating a rare and piercing spiritual energy that is easily translated onto film. Gill photographs the life of a rural Rajasthani youth, juxtaposing a very local childhood with Meera’s worldly wisdom. Shanghvi focuses the lens on his own father, documenting his battle with brain cancer. Other artists take a more experimental approach to the notion of portraiture. Gupta’s work, which has earlier been defined by straight portraiture, presents a series of photographs of a place rather than a person. Nandini Valli Muthiah presents a series of images of children dressed as mythological figures and photographed against incongruous canvas backdrops. While this project has much in common with the now iconic performance photographs of Pushpamala N., they are nonetheless a visually striking and historically significant addition to the other photographer’s strategies. The show also includes two video projects, by Sarindar Dhaliwal and Priya Sen, and an extremely interesting online initiative by Anusha Yadav called Indian Memory Project, that invites strangers to upload personal photographs and describe their significance. The inclusion of these approaches represents a significant contemporary exploration of how the traditional format of the portrait may remain always in fashion.
-- Sophia Powers
(All images courtesy of Nature Morte, Vadehra, and the artists.)