India Insight

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.

Curator Naman Ahuja has devoted a section to works belonging to traditions, such as that of Islamic art, which are opposed to depicting the body. Rare copper sheets inlaid with silver calligraphy, probably belonging to Mughal emperor Aurangzeb, depict the 99 names of Allah.

A giant egg of stainless steel (Subodh Gupta, 2010), defies the idea of corporeality. A steel tree-of-life, a Mughal-era tomb and modern reproductions of clay pots used in Vedic rituals also have the same theme.

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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