MTV makes its debut at the National Gallery of Modern Art. A sweeping exhibition that captures a decade-long perspective on ‘contemporary visual practices’ in India runs the gamut from desi cool to folk traditions.
Through 80 exhibits, including photographs, videos, installations and paintings by 34 artists and two collectives, Edge of Desire: Recent Art in India comes to the NGMA after having travelled to Australia, the United States and Mexico. In India, it marks the launch of the Asia Society India Centre.
From the metropolises of Delhi and Mumbai to the rural region of Kondagaon, Edge of Desire seeks to encompass a variety of visual cultures. It is organised around five themes — Location/Longing, Unruly Visions, Transient Self, Contested Terrain and Recycled Futures.
But, points out Chaitanya Sambrani, head of the Art Theory Workshop at the Australian National University in Canberra, “This exhibition does not purport to offer a survey of masterpieces from the last decade of Indian art. Experimental and contingent work that may not have been possible under normal market circumstances is a vital aspect of this project.”
So, MTV with its frequently humorous, always irreverent portrayal of urban youth culture in globalising India is acknowledged for its role in creating a visual revolutions on television, at least.
The visual contribution includes also Nilima Sheikh’s Firdaus series that looks at political strife and gender violence in Kashmir while seeking to reclaim the beauty and rich imaginative history of the state.
Pushpamala N and Clare Armi explore the various stereotypes in their performative series on Native Women of South India.
Atul Dodiya’s ironic triptych Tomb’s Day with the Taj Mahal as the backdrop features signature visits by the Putins and the Clintons. The series ends with the vision of magician PC Sorkar making the Taj vanish.
If the exhibition falters, it is in its one-sided portrayal of contemporary art.
To be fair, Edge of Desire does not “pretend to a ‘potted history’ of recent Indian art. Rather it is hinged on a particular — and necessarily partisan — perspective on recent history,” writes Sambrani in the exhibition catalogue.
That partisan view comes through only too amply.
The undeniable trauma of secular India dominates. Vivan Sundaram’s installation — a memorial to the crumpled body of an unknown riot victim photographed by Hoshi Jal is encased in a transparent tomb, with nails and bricks surrounding him. NM Rimzan’s Speaking Stones is centred on a crouched man surrounded by a circle of rough stones under which black and white photographs document a succession of horrors.
Even the traditional folk art forms from Bastar iron works to the Mithila paintings of Bihar conform to the secular view. Sonadhar Viswakarma’s Bastar iron works follows the progression of the rath yatra that culminated in the toppling of the three domes of the Babri Masjid while Santosh Kumar Das uses the Madhubani form in a series of paintings that show the Muslim-Hindu divide in Gujarat.
The political correctness, informs Shilpa Gupta’s video installation Blame, is “tastefully packaged in small bottles for your convenience”.
The outcome of a project conducted on the streets of Mumbai and in commuter trains, Blame is a response to the events in Kargil, George Bush’s ‘war on terror’ and violence against Muslims in Gujarat.
Edge of Desire is an important landmark. Its ambition and scale is overwhelming. And, if nothing else, you have to applaud the government-run NGMA for its courage to put up MTV on its hallowed walls.