Divine art

Updated: Aug 28 2005, 06:07am hrs
Religion and art have always played a significant role in the development of human civilisation. Art gives religion its magnificence. And now, comes an exhibition that captures the essence of religion: Art For Gods Sake which showcases contemporary work of art by Angeli Sawani, Anjolie Ela Menon, Tyab Mehta, S H Raza, Datta Bansode, Chotu Lal curated by Mumbai-based Vickram Sethi at the Visual Arts Gallery, India Habitat Centre held from August 21-27.

For Sethi, coming to Delhi is a first and he admits to being nervous. Delhi has so many galleries, it seems to be throbbing with artistic activity. It took me three years to find myself a gallery space. Then it was time to decide on a theme and I couldnt think of anything better than religion. For me there can be no art without religion.

In India the temples of Vijaynagar, Hampi, Khajuraho, the caves of Ajanta and Ellora are perfect examples of how art and religion can create powerful monuments.The best examples of religion in pop art are in the images of Ganesha, which might be kitsch art for snobs, but the masses love it. The visual appeal of religion is very important.

Among the many works being exhibited at the show are: Anjolie Ela Menons The Christ, Haku Shahs We Can, Jogen Chowdhurys Ganesh, Krishan Khannas Pieta, Shuvaprasannas Lakshmi-Icon. One of the high points of the show is the fact that we are putting up Tyeb Mehtas Kali, worth Rs 3 crore. We also have two miniature artists: Chhotu Lal from Udaipur. Chhotu Lals The Mind, a 10x12 gauache on handmade paper is particularly interesting.

Yugalkishor Sharmas The God, a 11x11 gold leaf and tempera on paper is another favourite. There are also many first-timers showing in Delhi, including, London-based Angeli Sowani and Mumbais Datta Bansode. Bansodes Buddha With Peacock, a 34x26 mix media on handmade paper and Sowanis Out of The Blue, an oil and mixed media on canvas should also be among the high points of the exhibition besides, of course, Raza, Anjolie Ela Menon and Jogen Chowdhury. Again apart from Menon, Laila Khan Rajpal and Sanjay Bhattacharya, all the artists are from Mumbai or Kolkata.

Sethi has been curating art shows for two decades and has spent the last 10 years doing Tina Ambanis Harmony show, besides organising art camps for Harsh Goenka.

For someone who never trained to be an artist, Sethi says his informal training in London art classes (Id attend three-day art workshops to learn the nuances) and the ability to be guided by aesthetics has been helpful. My first show was, Masters of India in 1986, held at The Oberoi, Mumbai and luckily I got great reviews. After that there has been no looking back.

Sethi also points out that collecting and buying works of art are no longer just a matter of social prestige. In most cases, buying good works of masters mean appreciation in three years time!

The urban 40-plus Indian whos well-travelled and has about Rs 3-4 crore to invest doesnt necessarily invest in real estate. Investing in art is a great option, but you have to buy wisely. Bad works of art dont appreciate even if they have been made by masters. Corporates like RPG,and Reliance buy art.

Later in the year, Sethi curates a fund-raising art show for the Mumbai Police. We do this annually and the money is being raised to set up a colony for policemen. Corporates in Mumbai donate generously to the cause.

For Sethi, theres life beyond art: in between art shows and camps, he devotes a lot of time to birdwatching, a hobby that takes him to Gajner and Bikaner. The Delhi show promises to be crucial: if the reviews and feedback are good Id like to return again.