Art Radar profiles three young artists to watch in South Asia.
Hailing from Pakistan and India, these three young artists are breaking boundaries in their respective practices, drawing inspiration from the artistic traditions and cultural histories of South Asia.
South Asian contemporary art is becoming more and more visible in the global art landscape. At Art Basel this year Subodh Gupta strung up vessels to create a giant floating hall in which visitors were served a five course Indian meal. documenta this year featured another food hall installation by Pakistani artist Rasheed Araeen, this time a shamiana or marquee in which strangers shared meals.
The prestigious quintennial also showcased an impressive line-up of other artists from the two countries, including Nikhil Chopra, Gauri Gill, Nillima Sheikh, Ganesh, Amrita Sher Gil, Lala Rukh and Amar Kanwar.
Eight new biennials and festivals (including the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, Dhaka Art Summit, Colombo Art Biennial with Lahore and Karachi Biennial in the works) have provided a critical platform for contemporary art from the region.There has been more Indian art at major international museums than ever before, with Bhupen Khakhar at the Tate, Nasreen Mohammedi, Zarina Hashmi and Krishna Reddy at the Met and a Nalini Malani retrospective at the Centre Pompidou towards the end of 2017.
Soft spoken and contemplative, Ali Kazim is rather like his work. His solitary male figures, often self-portraits, are sensitive works tenderly rendered in parandakht (tiny dots of paint).
His technique itself is meditative, reminiscent of ritual bathing. Trained in miniature painting at the National College of Arts Lahore, he goes over his drawing with a fine brush and then applies watercolour in multiple layers with gum Arabic. After each layer, Kazim washes the painting, giving it an overall gauzy effect.
Confronted with stark, sensual male nudes, his images are both powerful and gentle. In several of his paintings, Kazim divides the body into different frames, feet over waist and on shoulders among other contortions; they are perhaps a reminder that Kazim once painted circus billboards. During his MFA at the Slade School of Art Kazim was persuaded to try a different medium. He used human hair, hairspray and invisible thread to create a three-dimensional ‘drawing’ of floating tubes and an altogether different exploration of the body. Hair as a material is a firm favourite with many contemporary artists from Pakistan, but Kazim uses it in a way which is true to his own minimal, fragile style.
2. Nandan Ghiya (b. 1980, Jaipur, India)
Nandan Ghiya is a self-taught artist from Rajasthan who recently held his first solo exhibition at Sakshi Gallery in Mumbai. His eye-popping colours, op/pop art sensibilities and surreal elements all simultaneously jostle for one’s attention. One look at his old studio portraits, broken up into grids of pixels with ornate jumbled frames, and he could easily, yet mistakenly, be dismissed as contemporary kitsch.
Growing up in the princely, historic city of Jaipur, working in his family’s photo studio, the portraits are a direct reference to his own past as well as those of his countrymen. Anonymous families are in traditional dress, their faces wiped and the foreground pixelating into a vivid blue screen or flowered wallpaper. Ghiya’s work suggests layers of time stripped away, revealing memories and identities. His work is popular and relatable with Indian collectors, as it demonstrates how India stands at a crossroads, trying to come to terms with age-old tradition, shifting values and modern ways.
3. Astha Butail (b. 1977, Amritsar, India)
Ashta Butail works to uncover and present lost traditions and rituals. Becoming increasingly self-conscious of her ignorance of her own heritage she started to learn Sanskrit and the Vedas.
In her project A Story within a Story, she creates handmade books with deftly cut pages in which the audience is invited to draw and write stories and experiences based on a prompt card. The books are based on a Rig Veda story of Martand, the eighth son of the Goddess Aditi and the black sheep of the family. Each book has seven pages and no two books are alike. A self-taught artist, Butail began her career in fashion, which perhaps shines through in the immaculate symmetry and expert use of materials in her work.
In another project, she works with traditional Banarasi weavers to masterfully weave gold brocade to represent the seven older sons of the Goddess. She recently won the BMW Art Journey at Art Basel in Hong Kong for her project In the Absence of Writing where she will explore the oral traditions of the Zoroastrian Avesta, Jewish Torah and Indian Vedas.
- “Charming Journey”: India’s N. S. Harsha at Mori Art Museum – artist profile – May 2017 – this retrospective explores the tensions between traditional and contemporary, individual and collective, earthy and cosmic in the artist’s work
- “Terraoptics”: Indian multimedia artist Vivan Sundaram explores ruins at sepia EYE, New York – June 2017 – “Terraoptics” continues along the artist’s existing artistic trajectory of using found objectsto investigate and explore the possibilities of the archive
- “Things Lost/Remembering the Future”: South Asian artists at Ganges Art Gallery – April 2017 – Kolkata’s Ganges Art Gallery hosts the first in a series of exhibitions taking an in-depth look at South Asia from its past to its complex present and beyond
- India Art Fair 2017: a gathering place for South Asian art – round-up – February 2017 – Art Radar takes a look at some of the highlights of this year’s Fair
- Indian artist Ashta Butail wins 5th edition of BMW Art Journey – June 2017 – Ashta Butail won over shortlisted fellow artists Julian Charrière and Lin Ke
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