India’s emerging artists are creating striking works, from incense-filled installations to 72 hour performance art marathons.
Independent curator and occasional art advisor Heidi Fichtner is Co-curator of the 2013 United Art Fair and Curator of the World Health Organisation’s art collection in Delhi. Art Radar asked Heidi to round up six emerging Indian artists to keep an eye on in the future.
Hemali Bhuta: surprising scents, rubber bands and moss
Hemali’s work has always attracted me for its sensitive use of unusual and often transient materials which seem to take on more nuanced physical attributes and conceptual purpose in her hands. I also admire her ability to negotiate and define space with the slightest of sculptural gestures.
One of her first works that I encountered was a mass of incense sticks suspended from the ceiling of a gallery, filling the space with a surprisingly obscure scent that seemed to redefine our understanding of the space while at the same creating an overhead visual labyrinth delicate yet dense. In the same exhibition, she also showed a number of floor sculptures made from alum which appeared quite formal and solid, several of them for example mimicking the steel columns of the gallery, but which will slowly change in chemical composition and break down if submitted to particular external conditions.
She has since been included in a number of institutional exhibitions in Europe and at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park in the United Kingdom. For the latter, she created a series of cast bronze roots situated in the landscape that barely appear above the surface of the path, reflecting her interest in transitional spaces and natural materials and proving that her site-specific interventions can be as enchanting as her earlier experiments with rubber bands and moss.
Nikhil Chopra: performance art and elaborate alter-egos
Nikhil is regarded as one of India’s foremost emerging performance artists and has been included in Performa festival as well as having shown in a number of international institutions.
One thing I really appreciate in his practice is the sense of duration to which he submits both himself and his audience, staging performative events that can last up to 72 hours or longer. With an ability to fully transform himself into one of his elaborately developed alter egos, it’s as though he steps out of the frame and is observing the character as it takes on a completely separate identity and physical appearance. His characters – both male and female – are drawn from a combination of autobiography and shared cultural and historical memories that respond to and interact with the settings in which they are enacted.
Often lavish in costuming and meticulously developed props, Nikhil also pays strict attention to the documentation images that emerge from his performances, so that photographs of his work also confront issues of portraiture and representation.
Asim Waqif: anthropologist, conservationist, artist
Currently preparing his first solo exhibition in India, Asim is already well known for his site-specific installations in public spaces and abandoned sites, as well as for the various sculptural, photo-based and video works that have resulted from those interventions. Trained as an architect, he is particularly interested in the design and production of urban spaces, built structures and consumer products, as well as with the use of natural resources. His practice lays emphasis on sustainability and (the often lost) opportunities for recycling material waste as well as the inclusion of marginalised communities.
Functioning as an anthropologist or a conservationist almost as much as an artist, Asim conceives large-scale works and constructions that integrate high and low technology, blending materials like bamboo and urban waste with sensors or digital mapping techniques to illustrate the compatibility of traditional and modern technologies. His sprawling solo exhibition at Palais de Tokyo last December upped the ante and makes it seem that anything less than enormous just does not cut it. That being said, as an artist who often works with detritus, he knows how to imbue spare parts and leftovers with a consequence that binds them into the bigger picture, gracing them with a raison d’être that one might have otherwise missed altogether.
Manish Nai: the complexity of minimalism
One of the few contemporary Indian artists to really understand the formal gesture and comprehend that significant materials and intensive processes need not result in objects with an apparent content or narrative, Manish makes elegant minimal sculptures and wall works that belie the history of their origins.
Initially working primarily with jute, as follows his family history, he subsequently moved into materials such as dyed or raw cloth, burlap, newsprint or aluminium, often casting them into square and rectangular moulds of different scales. What impresses one upon first glance is the perfectly gauged proportions and attention to detail that lend the objects their sense of integrity. It is only upon closer inspection that the folds of cloth and knotty twists of melted aluminium recall one to the manual process that must have gone into their creation.
For other works, Manish has meticulously removed entire strands from a stretched sheet of jute, leaving a precise geometric pattern that recalls minimalist paintings, as the material seems to fade away into light and shadow. He has already been seen at a number of international art fairs and made several gallery appearances in Germany, so institutional attention should not be far away.
Sahej Rahal: fantasy, myth and video art
The youngest artist I have chosen to spotlight, Sahej Rahal is just 25 and has only one solo exhibition to his name, so it might be a few years until he appears on the international stage. Nonetheless, Rahal shows promise: having studied under Nikhil Chopra and interned with accomplished artists like Tejal Shah, he works in sculpture, performance and video, often intertwining disciplines seamlessly.
In his recent solo exhibition in Mumbai, he showed a twelve-minute video with related sculptures and photographs. Recounting a kind of dreamy science-fiction thriller, the work calls on fantasy, myth and the history of the fourteenth century observatory where Sahej shot part of the documentary to weave a tale that is part documentary and part sci-fi. His accompanying sculptures range from embellished bits of found material that he has constructed into video props or makeshift costumes which he parades around the city at odd hours. Having already completed several international residency programmes, including Gasworks in London, Sahej now looks set to wave his magic wand and take off for another dimension.
Prabhakar Pachpute: mature works from a young artist
One of the shortlisted candidates for India’s Skoda Prize Breakthrough Artist Award, an award for artists under 35, Prabhakar Pachpute is an artist for whom I am happy to extend the category of emerging to include the very young. Having seen his first solo exhibition at the non-profit space Clarke House in Mumbai late last year, I was struck by both the skill and wry expressiveness of his large-scale wall drawings and the maturity of their presentation.
Born into a family of coal miners in rural India, Prabhakar takes the mining experience with which he has grown up as the primary subject of his work. Entering the gallery, viewers were invited to take a flashlight and proceed into a sealed, unrenovated space drenched in darkness and humidity. Through the pitch black, while trying not to stumble on the uneven ground, I flashed my torch around to discover large site-specific wall drawings delicately rendered in charcoal and covering most of the available surfaces. Fragmented figures with pinheads or with houses substituted for heads populated both the above and below-ground level scenes, portraying life both above and below the earth’s surface in engrossing detail.
Prabhakar recently reconstructed this body of work for the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven and will be opening his first solo gallery show soon.
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- Indian photographer Siddharta Tawadey inaugurates Art Plural Gallery’s Emerging Artist Programme – September 2012 – Calcutta-born Tawadey makes work imbued with nostalgia and promise, says Art Plural
- Indian Highway: Opening borders of dialogue between China, India – round up – August 2012 – similarities, contrasts and controversies surround the fifth leg of “Indian Highway”
- Curiosity bags Indian artist Navin Thomas 2011 Skoda Prize – February 2012 – Thomas insists he’s just “curious about the private life of your discarded electronic appliances”
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