India Insight

First pictures of Taj Mahal to ‘Hairy family of Burma’: subcontinent photos from 1850-1910

A new exhibition in India’s capital showcases some of the earliest photographs from South Asia, taken between 1850 and 1910 when the region was under British rule.

Around 250 images from India, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Nepal are on display at the “Drawn from Light: Early Photography and the Indian Sub-continent” exhibition in New Delhi.

Dr. John Murray’s images of the Taj Mahal are recognized as the first-ever photographs of the monument. The surgeon, who was employed with the East India Company, took the pictures between 1858 and 1862.

“[The exhibition] shows there was great conflict. We’ve got photographs of the famine that was hitting India while the elite cultures were developing. On the other hand they showed a kind of confluence of cultures because there were European artists or photographers who were documenting the royalty and the rising middle class,” said Rahaab Allana, the exhibition’s curator.

The photographs were collected by the Alkazi Foundation for the Arts from various sources over the years including through auctions, dealers and donations.

Photo gallery: The body as an art form in India

Bodhisattva Head, 1st-2nd century AD (Lucknow State Museum)

Bodhisattva Head, 1st-2nd century AD (Lucknow State Museum)

‘The Body in Indian Art’, on exhibit at the National Museum in New Delhi, is a pan-India project showcasing over 300 artworks from 44 institutions. The show is an exhaustive study of the body’s myriad representations in Indian art, roughly covering a period of 4,000 years across regions, religion and culture.

The exhibition has been put up in eight adjoining galleries, each with a specific theme such as death, birth, divinity or rapture.

Chances are you may get lost during the tour as the show is cyclical in its set-up, representing the circle of life the body stands for.

Photo gallery: Inside is everything in Subodh Gupta show

Dada (2010-13) (grandfather)

Artist Subodh Gupta’s exhibition in New Delhi features images from everyday Indian life on a grand and theatrical scale. The cycle rickshaw, the sewing machine, utensils and the Mumbai taxi are some of the motifs that dominate his work in ‘Everything is Inside’.

The show, on view at the National Gallery of Modern Art in New Delhi, is an artist’s journey to the “inside” of his home and his roots. His preoccupation with utensils stems from his passion for cooking. And in ‘Bihari’, painted around the time he moved to Delhi in the 1990’s, the 50-year-old artist seeks to assert his regional identity.

Gupta’s work acquires an earthy quality in an installation put together with cow dung and wood. Titled ‘My Mother and Me’, it is also his favourite. Another is a virtual kitchen, called the ‘Family Portrait’.

“Homelands” exhibit in Delhi examines identity through art

Indians give high importance to the concept of identity and kinship, especially in a land that is home to hundreds upon hundreds of different languages and ethnic groups. Indian curator Latika Gupta explores this theme in “Homelands”, an exhibition of works by 28 leading contemporary British artists, all wrestling with the idea of what “home” means in the 21st century.

The artists whose works are displayed include four Turner Prize winners, Jeremy Deller, Richard Long, Grayson Perry and Gillian Wearing. Work by World Press Photo (2007) winner Tim Hetherington, who was killed in Libya, also is on display.

“I wanted to see what it is that makes up our idea of what our identity is. Is it our language that we speak? Is it the place that we come from?” said Gupta. “The exhibition really hopes to raise a set of questions rather than provide answers.”

M.F. Husain, Swami Ramdev and the world’s largest democracy

M.F. Husain, India’s most famous modern artist, died at the age of 95 this morning, not in Maharashtra, his home state, nor New Delhi, where many of his ground-breaking works were exhibited, but in London, where he lived in exile with Qatari citizenship. The ‘Picasso of India’ has for five years felt unable to live and work in his country of birth.

Husain fled India in 2006, leaving behind court cases and death threats against him, and continued vandalism of his works from right-wing Hindu groups that accused him of insulting their religion by painting deities in the nude.

Husain, a Muslim, felt unsafe and unable to practice his particular art form in the world’s largest democracy. And he’s not the only one. Salman Rushdie, who was born in Mumbai but lives in the UK, saw New Delhi ban his Satanic Verses for its perceived depiction of the Islamic prophet Muhammad.

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