The 5th India Art Fair and Parallel Events

(Art Agenda)


February 1–3, 2013

Standing in front of Drawings on a Conversation (2012) at the Nature Morte booth in the midst of the 5th India Art Fair, one cannot help but relate its dense and chaotic weave to the general experience of art viewing in Delhi this week. Indeed, this work by Raqs Media Collective feels like inhabiting a conversation that relays back and forth—entanglement after entanglement—until its point of origin is impossible to find. While Raqs constructs an affective inquiry into collective labor, “thought signals,” and body-time relations through this recent series, the trails we can trace out here are somewhat anxious—shuttling between the gigantic tents of the India Art Fair within the exhibition grounds of the National Small Industries Corporation (NSIC) in south Delhi and the cultural venues that lie beyond.

Before arriving at the Indian capital, many had just visited the Jaipur Literature Festival, which is now considered among the major events of the literary world. The India Art Fair has steadily grown since its inception in 2008, attracting not just the routine crowd of fair-hoppers but also independent researchers, museum teams, international students, and most significantly a broad local public. Over the fair’s three-day span, the cultural cartography of Delhi greatly swells with art goers physically negotiating traffic jams and city workers to attend a gamut of openings, lectures, private viewings, special dinners, and events at international embassies.

Prior to the preview day, the Skoda Prize 2012 exhibition unveiled the works of twenty nominated artists at the National Gallery of Modern Art. Though launched only recently, with an exclusive focus on contemporary Indian art, the prize has turned out an impressive list of well-exhibited practices. Some highlights included Praneet Soi’s Astatic Machines (2011–2013), specially designed in the artist’s studio as a combination of cinematic-collage and interactive drawings—a “visual machine” inspired by Paul Klee’s whimsical “Pedagogical Sketchbook,” first published in 1923; Two Stages of Invention (2011) by CAMP, whose collective research strategies interweave the passage of ships and coastal guards within the English Chanel horizon with a theater of “leaks” in governance and the communicative mobility of corruption in contemporary India; and the delightful prints of artist and printmaker T. Venkanna, which addressed polyvalent sexuality. The Skoda Prize winner L. N. Tallur displayed a set of works invested in vocabularies of traditional crafts and their interpretive potential, extending to the contemporary rituals around use and “misuse” of “museum-ized” objects. As part of the Skoda Prize platform, a Breakthrough Artist Award, supported by the publication Art India was awarded to Delhi-based artist Rohini Devasher.

The latest edition of the India Art Fair involved a rise in South Asian participation with Dhaka-based Samdani Art Foundation presenting compelling works by Bangladeshi artists Tayeba Begum Lipi, Ayesha Sultana, and Mohammad Wahiduzzaman, in addition to one of the commissioned art projects at the fair by Mahbubur Rahman, located along the entrance façade. Titled Replacement(2013), his installation consists of a vintage ambassador car stitched over and trailed by a cloud of discarded army boots billowing out of the trunk. In its interior is a fur-lined table with a video projection narrating administrative histories of property ownership in Bangladesh, prior to nationhood and through years of military rule.

Experimenter presented Dhaka/New York-based Naeem Mohaiemen’s Rankin Street 1953 (1,2,3) (2013) which drew from picture albums of a lost family home in Bangladesh. With image memoirs cast in sandstone moulds, the artist effectively visualizes them as sculptural abstractions: anthills, the steps of an agora, and a forest’s edge carved from silhouette figures in an exposed verandah. Just across, Hajra Waheed’s Aerial Studies (1-8) (2013) of fragile transfers on unexposed Polaroids made for interesting counterparts of “negative space” and a paradoxical vulnerability, yet both also serve as blueprints made in defiance of the real.

Many of the international galleries that participated in the previous edition were unfortunately absent this year. Those present have represented contemporary Indian artists for a number of years such as Galleria Continua, whose booth included an “in situ” Daniel Buren piece, which nicely “framed” a photo-performance series Inside Out (2012) by Mumbai/Goa-based artist Nikhil Chopra. Made while in residency at San Gimignano, Chopra rendered its picturesque medieval landscape as literal “drapery”—walking/staging, disappearing/re-appearing through it. Galerie Lelong’s booth was curated by artist Nalini Malani and included her own works set amidst a selection of artists she admires, sensuously linking her practice to that of Ana Mendieta, Kiki Smith, Nancy Spero, Rebecca Horn, Louise Bourgeois, and Jaume Plensa.

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