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Indian artist wins UK's largest art award

india Updated: Apr 26, 2008 12:18 IST

Indian artist NS Harsha, known for combining details for everyday life with world events and images, has bagged the UK's prestigious 40,000 pound Artes Mundi Prize, in recognition of his outstanding work focusing on human condition.

The award was presented to Harsha on Thursday night at the National Museum in Cardiff by Jack Persekian, Chairman of the Judging Panel, and Chinese artist Xu Bing, also a judge and the winner of the first Artes Mundi Prize.

An accomplished story-teller, 39-year-old Harsha has turned the Indian tradition of miniature painting into a form that enables him to mix the specific with the universal. He uses it to draw attention to the whimsical, the absurd as much as the tragic and to the internationally significant.

After collecting the prize, Harsha revealed that it was a double celebration because it was also his birthday. "I feel numb. It's a great responsibility that's been handed to me. Everyone believes in you and I have to take my work forward from here. It gives you strength to keep on believing," Harsha, who lives and works in Mysore, said.

The artist plans to share some of his prize money with the arts community, although he said he had not had time to think about how he will use his prize.

Harsha studied painting at the Faculty of Fine Arts in Baroda in 1995. Since then he has taken part in a variety of collaborative projects and exhibitions internationally including the Singapore Biennale 2006, the 2nd Fukuoaka Asian Art Triennial 2002 and the Asia Pacific Triennial of contemporary Arts, Australia 1999.

Awarded every two years, the Artes Mundi Prize is the largest international art prize in Britain and one of the largest art prizes in the world.

Among Harsha's work entered for the award is the painting Mass Marriage, which at first seems a gentle and amusing narrative on Indian marriage around the world. But, on closer inspection, it also reveals loss, sadness and the complex nature of human relationships.

Harsha beat off competition from eight other finalists, including a duo, to win the prize. Chairman of the judging panel Jack Persekian said, "We were impressed by the scope of his work and its range and variety of approach, from painting and installation to community activities.

"We based our decision on the artists' work over the last five to eight years and were particularly interested in work that added to our understanding of humanity and the human condition.

"Basing his work upon his locality, cultural traditions and the shifting world of today, Harsha engages and connects with an ever broadening public."

The biennial award was launched in Wales in 2004 to recognise outstanding emerging artists from across the world. Harsha is the third person to win the Prize. Xu Bing won the Prize in 2004 and Eija-Liisa Ahtila was awarded the second Prize in 2006.

Two selectors - Isabel Carlos, a freelance curator based in Lisbon, and Bisi Silva, director of the Centre for contemporary Art, Lagos - travelled the globe to choose this year's finalists.

The judges were particularly interested in pieces that added to the understanding of humanity and the human condition. Work displayed in the exhibition ranges from film and installations to sculpture and textiles.