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Conversations in the art ghetto

columns Updated: Apr 08, 2011 23:21 IST
Amitava Sanyal

Journeys Vol 1 & 2
Yashodhara Dalmia
Oxford university press
Rs5,950 pp 588

There has been for long a large vacuum in Indian art writing. The void has hung roughly between ponderous, academic treatises and lush, zero-gravity reportage. Many have wrung their bejewelled fists at this gap, but few have tried their hand at filling it. Now, a set of art scholars has started churning out works that go straight into that void — artist interviews.

At the end of last year came Gayatri Sinha’s large-format Voices of Change: 20 Indian Artists (Marg). At the Art Summit earlier this year, the more accessible Dialogues Series (Popular Prakashan) was launched. Now we have two hefty volumes of Yashodhara Dalmia’s interviews with 30 artists ranging from past masters such as FN Souza and Paritosh Sen to contemporaries such as Anju Dodiya and Riyas Komu. Like Sinha, Dalmia has tried to map generational shifts. But whereas Sinha sorted Indian modernism into five generations, Dalmia marks out four.

The wordy self-portraits by Dalmia’s interviewees are often quirky. The bio sketches by the interviewer, though, are just sketches. And the images rarely correspond with the words. Yet the volumes add mass to the as-yet-uncongealed history of Indian modern art. And that’s surely welcome.