Conquering old conquerors

Written by Suneet Chopra | Updated: Nov 13 2005, 05:30am hrs
The West had better be prepared for aggressive Indian entrepreneurs bringing the best of our contemporary art over to Europe and North America. Grosvenor Gallery and Saffronart have mounted a wide-ranging exhibition of sketches, drawings and canvases of F N Souza. The New York exhibition was held from October 13-27 while that in London was from November 9-19. Among the important works are a Female Nude of 1940, an ink and water colour. Here, we see for the first time what Souza owes to the forms of Indian classical sculpture of the Gupta period. That element persists in his nude study, a gouache on paper of 1950.

Souza was interested in portraying reality and to do that he sought models in sculpture, in Gupta sculpture to give three dimensionality to two-dimensional space.

One understands that if there is the lure for Souzas work in London and New York, it is for a modernism rooted in the Indian environment and within the context of an anti-imperialist movement. Clearly, Souzas success in New York and London cannot be seen in isolation from the mood of disgust with the fraudulent and unipolar world order today.

Indian art provides a respite from these and confronts their logic frontally. That is why it is being bought at prices over $200,000 per work. While these prices are being paid for the works of a select few, there are galleries willing to take works of other artists out as well.

One of these is the Art Pilgrim Gallery which is exhibiting the work of Shanti Dave, Anjolie Ela Menon, Paritosh Sen, Shyamal Dutta Ray, Ganesh Haloi, Jogen Choudhury, Prabhakar Kolte, T Vaikuntam, Shuvaprasanna, Neeraj Goswami, G R Iranna and Prakash Karmakar. The exhibition, which opens at the Nehru Centre in London on November 19, reflects a bold and wide sweep of our contemporary art.

The exhibition is proof that good contemporary Indian art is accessible at dollar and pound sterling prices in four and five figures.

In fact, the Art Alive Gallery of Delhi, in collaboration with the Air Gallery in London, is showing a large corpus of T Vaikuntams work there and a book on him is being released along with the exhibition. Sidharth Tagore of Art Konsult recently teamed up with a gallery in Singapore for a major exhibition, while the Aryan Art Gallery is taking a show of S H Raza to Hong Kong. Renu Modi and Payal Kapoor have both taken exhibitions out a number of times.

So the world is the oyster where contemporary Indian art is concerned. But that holds good only as long as our contemporary art remains Indian. The moment an artist ventures into copycat activity, he is out of the reckoning. Trendy gimmicks that sell to the cocktail set here are not what galleries take out of the country. Those works are well executed, profound in content and original in impact. That is where we have an edge over run-of-the-mill works of the West. That is what it pays to take out and galleries are doing just that.