At Jaipur’s Nahargarh Fort, contemporary art marries historical architecture! Result is amazing

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January 14, 2018 12:51 AM

There are more sculptures housed in the various rooms (once the quarters of the royal zenana) along the rectangular perimeter of the courtyard. In one of these rooms, one comes across French-American artist Arman’s work.

French-American artist Arman’s work, The Day After, showcases burnt pieces of vintage French-style furniture.

‘Choleric, phlegmatic, melancholy, sanguine’, read the signage besides a conjoined sculpture of four women in the courtyard of the Madhavendra Palace, Nahargarh Fort, Jaipur, Rajasthan. The installation, which captures the mood and ethos of the varied forms of women, has been created by Indian sculpture artist Bharti Kher. With a common body, but four different heads, the over 6-feet-tall sculpture (made of bronze and titled Choleric, phlegmatic, melancholy, sanguine) showcases the different emotions—from rage to serenity—that a woman experiences. Kher’s sculpture, along with 54 such installations, is part of the recently-inaugurated ‘Sculpture Park’ at the Nahargarh Fort. A collaboration between the Rajasthan government, Saat Saath Arts Foundation—a New Delhi-based private non-profit organisation, which supports art exchange between India and the world—and a host of corporate sponsors, this first-of-its-kind ‘park’ in the country has been curated by Peter Nagy, director of New Delhi-based art gallery Nature Morte.

The park, which is housed in the Madhavendra Palace’s courtyard and surrounding rooms, has on display the works of 24 artists—15 Indian (Anita Dube, Vibha Galhotra, Vikram Goyal, Subodh Gupta, Jitish Kallat, Reena Saini Kallat, Bharti Kher, Mrinalini Mukherjee, Manish Nai, Gyan Panchal, Prashant Pandey, Benitha Perciyal, Ravinder Reddy, LN Tallur and Thukral & Tagra) and nine international (Arman, Huma Bhabha, James Brown, Stephen Cox, Evan Holloway, Matthew Day Jackson, Hans Josephsohn, Arlene Shechet and Asim Waqif). The collection, which was inaugurated on December 11 last year, is up for viewing till November this year—visitors just have to pay a one-time entry fee (Rs 50) to the Nahargarh Fort. The courtyard of Madhavendra Palace houses four of the biggest sculptures of the collection. Besides Kher’s sculpture, there is also Huma Bhabha’s God of Some Things here. With sun rays deflecting off its rugged surface, the sculpture—made of bronze and resembling a giant deity sans any religious connotation—casts fragmented shadows on the floor and portrays a totemic, fertility goddess. “I am drawn to sculptures about death, destruction and the idea of healing,” says New York-based Bhabha. “I hope some of these ideas, which are part of an ancient tradition of art-making, come through my work.”

There are more sculptures housed in the various rooms (once the quarters of the royal zenana) along the rectangular perimeter of the courtyard. In one of these rooms, one comes across French-American artist Arman’s work. Titled The Day After, the sculpture showcases burnt pieces of vintage French-style furniture. The idea is ‘retention of identity’ irrespective of whatever form the physical structure may be in. “The artist has burnt them, so that they are not usable yet retain their identities, and then he cast these fragile remnants into the formidable material of bronze, which is used for public monuments of heroes and kings,” explains Nagy. Interestingly, Arman is considered to be one of the pioneers of ‘nouveau realism’, a French pop art movement involving works that critique the emergence of consumerism.

A common characteristic of the majority of sculptures here is the depiction of everyday objects, whether as an element in the work or the sculpture as a whole. Take, for instance, Jitish Kallat’s Annexation, which showcases a giant kerosene stove inlaid with carved figures of animals, birds and plants crawling over each other. Living beings struggling and fighting to live another day amid the chaotic rat race of cities is what drove Kallat to create Annexation, which is over 4 feet tall and made of black lead, pigmented resin and steel. The artist says the imagery has been drawn from Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus, adding, “But from the perspective of a sculptural experience, this reference or context is incidental. The dense cluster of animals invokes the daily grind for survival, but it’s also a pointer to the cycle of life, sustenance and perpetuation of life.”

There are many other sculptures that use such juxtaposition. From LN Tallur’s Carrying Capacity (an elephant carved out of a mountain, carrying the equipment for a campsite, or perhaps weapons of war on its head) to Subodh Gupta’s Stove (an assemblage of used cooking utensils), the sculptures provide a contemporary feel to historical architecture. Interestingly, the collection has no common theme, as the idea was to not have any restrictions. In the next edition (expected to start from December 1 this year), though, Nagy plans to bring down the number of artists, so that the collection can have a unifying theme. “In the next edition, we plan to reduce the number of artists to six or seven and have nine-10 of their works based on a common genre,” he says.

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