Galerie Mirchandani + Steinruecke in Mumbai presents an exhibition of 9 painters, who form a significant part of the gallery’s programme and are all from the coastal state of Kerala in India.
Art Radar also talks to the gallery director about the show, on display until 3 May 2018 at Galerie Mirchandani + Steinruecke in Mumbai.
From Raja Ravi Verma to the Kochi Biennale
The role played by artists from Kerala in the emergence of the art of Modern India has always been a significant one – starting in turn-of-the-20th century India with the influence of Raja Ravi Varma, whose oil paintings dominated the art world of the time, while colour reproductions and prints from his studios were hugely popular with the masses. Although Ravi Varma’s work has often been critiqued by artists and scholars of the late 20th century as traditional and sentimental about a bygone era, his emergence as India’s first individual artist signified the beginning of a new school of post-colonial Indian art.
More recently, in the mid-20th century the eminent artist KCS Panicker, who later became principal of the Government College of Arts and Crafts in Madras (Chennai), has often been thought of by scholars as the father of the modern art of Kerala. In the 1980s, Kerala artists who had migrated to the city of Baroda to study at the Faculty of Fine Arts (MS University) created an anti-retrogressive aesthetical platform, calling themselves the Indian Radical Painters’ and Sculptors’ Association, in an attempt to establish a place for the state’s artists on the national art scene.
The coming of the new millennium witnessed a larger number of artists from the state creating a name for themselves including Baiju Parthan, Bose Krishnamachari, TV Santhosh, Justin Ponmany, Riyas Komu, Shibu Natesan and Jitish Kallat, amongst others. The country’s first biennale, the Kochi-Muziris Biennale organised in the state capital in 2012, gave a huge fillip to public engagement, and artists from the state of Kerala became an integral part of both national and global visual culture.
9 painters from Kerala
The nine painters from Kerala, whose works are on display at the Galerie Mirchandani + Steinruecke in Mumbai, form a significant part of the gallery’s programme. They have all held solo exhibitions at the gallery, however this is the first time their works are being shown together. The curatorial intent of the gallery owners is to use the show to evince links between the works and also facilitate readings of the artists’ individual practices
1. Abul Hisham
In his practice, Abul Hisham (b. 1987) develops a sequence of portraits and a tableaux that is uncanny, riddling and phantasmagorical. His paintings celebrate the fabled universe of story cycles as the Vetala Panchavimshati and the Panchatantra, which continue to reside in our imagination and may be activated as pointers to the challenges and dilemmas of our present. He is a recipient of the Inlaks Fine Arts Award (2013), and has held solo exhibitions at Kashi Art Gallery, Kochi (2010) and Galerie Mirchandani+ Steinruecke, Mumbai (2014). He lives and works in Kerala.
2. Aji VN
Aji VN (b. 1968) places his images either in the specific locality of his home state of Kerala or along the southwest coast of India, with an understanding of the landscape that imbues mystery, delicacy and lyricism into his works. He is a recipient of the Werkbeurs Grant and the Basisstipendium from the Foundation for Visual Arts in The Netherlands. Aji has held solo exhibitions at Galerie Mirchandani + Steinruecke in Mumbai, Nature Morte, New Delhi, and the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam. He lives and works in The Netherlands.
3. Arun KS
Arun KS’s (b. 1984) works are composed of barely discernable miniscule figures on layers of rice paper and paper pulp, which the artist sands down to a gleaming smoothness. These works often measure up to three metres across and have affinities with sculpture, painting, scribal tradition and ritual performance. He is a recipient of the Nasreen Mohamedi Award (2012) and the Inlaks Scholarship (2013). Arun held his first solo exhibition at Galerie Mirchandani + Steinruecke in Mumbai in 2013. He lives and works in Baroda.
4. CK Rajan
CK Rajan (b. 1960), who was a member of the Radical Group of the 1980s, conjures compelling worlds often communicating his political concerns, in a practice that includes sculptural works inspired by pop art, intimately scaled canvases and collages. He has held solo exhibitions at Galerie Mirchandani + Steinruecke in 2010 and 2015. Rajan’s collages were shown at Documenta XII in Kassel (2007) and in 2016, a comprehensive body of his work from the collection of the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art was shown at the Kerala Museum in Kochi. He lives and works in Hyderabad.
5. Jyothi Basu
Jyothi Basu’s (b. 1960) work is reminiscent of the vibrancy of India’s popular visual culture and the country’s abiding decorative traditions, introducing elements into his paintings that are both historical and futuristic. His art has always been deeply influenced by his home state of Kerala, with its dense palm tree jungles and aquatic horizons. His first solo exhibition in Mumbai, “Healing Properties: V.N. Jyothi Basu’s Landscapes of the Self” was organised by Galerie Mirchandani + Steinruecke at the Artists’ Center in 2003. Subsequently he has held solo exhibitions at Galerie Mirchandani + Steinruecke in Mumbai, Nature Morte in New Delhi, and Thomas Erben Gallery in New York. He lives and works in Baroda.
6. Ratheesh T.
In large paintings that are intensely moving and powerful, Ratheesh T. (b. 1980) fiercely examines the self, life, death, family and nature. The geographical source of his imagery is undoubtedly Kerala, the lush green vegetation of this tropical state of west coast India, and the characteristic features, clothing and lifestyle of its people. Awarded the Royal Over-Seas League Scholarship in 2004, Ratheesh has held solo exhibitions at Galerie Mirchandani + Steinruecke, Mumbai and Galerie Michael Haas, Berlin.
7. Siji Krishnan
For her highly sophisticated watercolour paintings, Siji Krishnan (b. 1983) uses sheets of rice paper of varying textures, building up a thickness that absorbs numerous washings. The singular patina of the surface sometimes compares to organic material such as dried leaves, but also bears the semblance of vintage textiles or ancient parchment rolls. Siji has held solo exhibitions at Kashi Art Gallery, Kochi, and Galerie Mirchandani + Steinruecke, Mumbai. She lives and works in Kochi.
8. Sosa Joseph
After studying first in Kerala and then at the Faculty of Fine Arts, Baroda, Sosa Joseph (b. 1971) returned to her native state – and more specifically to Mattancherry, a populous enclave with a complex cultural mix of inhabitants – which proved to be a homecoming in pictorial terms. Sosa has held two solo exhibitions at Galerie Mirchandani + Steinruecke in Mumbai. Her works have been shown in the exhibition “Mémoires des Futurs | Modernités Indiennes”, Centre Pompidou, Paris (2017-18) and will be on view at the 21st Biennale of Sydney from March to June 2018. She lives and works in Kochi.
9. Vinod Balak
Vinod Balak’s (b. 1982) art engages with the aesthetics of the street and the temple, and the politics of his region. Vinod held his first solo exhibition at Galerie Mirchandani + Steinruecke in Mumbai in 2010. He lives and works in New Delhi.
Art Radar spoke to Ranjana Steinruecke about the exhibition as well as the gallery’s commitment to art and artists from Kerala.
Galerie Mirchandani + Steinruecke has had a close association with artists from Kerala. What is the genesis of this relationship?
In 2003 – a couple of years before the gallery opened its own space in Mumbai – we organised a solo exhibition of the work of VN Jyothi Basu at the Artists’ Center. Jyothi had identified an individual palette that could break into an exuberant riff – or seduce with layers of chromatic intensity. His paintings suggested elemental re-interpretations of volume and expanse. Engaging with his work and showing it was a formative experience for us.
In this exhibition, you have an interesting group – from senior artists like Jyothi Basu to younger artists like Siji Krishnan. How did the choice come about?
The nine painters in this exhibition were born and brought up in the southern state of Kerala, thus sharing a similar language, local culture and history. They form a significant part of the gallery’s programme, however this is the first time their works are being shown together. Many can be counted amongst India’s most “fiercely” individual and independent painters.
The subject matter of the paintings in “Nine Artists from Kerala” range from family and everyday life, to abstraction and political commentary. What was your curatorial vision in bringing together the artworks that are on display?
Kerala has a distinctive quality, a complex political and cultural mix, and the artists respond to this in diverse ways. Ratheesh T. fiercely examines the self, death, family, untamed nature and life in large paintings that are intensely moving and powerful. CK Rajan, on the other hand, achieves an affective intensity with limited means. His modestly-scaled paintings appear to speak about states of loneliness and isolation, remoteness, anxiety and withdrawal, and are dense with the atmosphere of threat and intrigue. Arun KS’s remarkable paintings – that measure up to four metres across and can take up to two years to create – take on the look and feel of illuminated manuscripts. Concepts of time and consciousness run deep in the work of all the artists.
Coming from a state with a deep-rooted history of the arts – particularly music, poetry and dance – what do you think binds this group together? And what sets them apart from other Indian artists?
Revealed in the works of the nine artists are the contemporary possibilities of the classic – the tangible qualities of form, light, colour and texture, and the intangible ones of high imagination, subtle evocation and an intrinsic acknowledgement of all that is unknowable. The works do draw from nature’s own lyricism, and from the history of art and literature.
As a state that plays host to India’s only biennale and using your experience as the owner of a gallery that has promoted art from Kerala for over ten years, do you feel that the Kochi-Muziris Biennale has given an adequate platform to local artists?
The Kochi-Muziris Biennale is a major incentive for art lovers to come to India. It has brought increased awareness for artists in Kerala and the rest of the country as well, encouraging ambitious work, providing greater visibility and a broader international context.
Could you share with Art Radar readers about what is on the anvil from the stable of Galerie Mirchandani + Steinruecke for the rest of 2018?
In August, we will open a solo exhibition with Ratheesh T. From 15 May to 31 July we have a show titled “From the Collection”. This is a unique body of works from the 1950s to 2003, including works that were exhibited at our gallery in Berlin.
“Nine Painters from Kerala” is on view from 9 March to 3 May 2018 at Galerie Mirchandani + Steinruecke, 2, Sunny House, 16/18 Mereweather Road, Behind Taj Mahal Hotel, Colaba, Mumbai 400001.
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