How the 1950s shaped Indian art and design
The 1950s were a heady time for Indian art and aesthetics. India was newly independent, and exploring its unique design idiom. It was during this period that both the National Institute of Design (NID) as well as the Weavers’ Service Centre were inaugurated — a celebration of both Nehruvian socialism and institution building.
“Design became a central feature of state planning. As a result, there were many artists who were able to take advantage of the new opportunities this period gave them,” says Mortimer Chatterjee, director of Chatterjee & Lal.
The Mumbai-based art gallery is hosting a series of exhibitions that chart design thinking in India during the 20th century. The ongoing exhibition, IMPACT: Design thinking and the visual arts in young India, focuses on the cultural environment in India between the 1950s to the 80s. The exhibition celebrates the fluidity between design and visual arts. It gets reflected in the work of artists, such as KG Subramanyan and Haku Shah, whose works intersected the fields of art and design in modern India.
On display at the gallery are 150 exhibits ( some of them never exhibited before) cutting across genres of book design, animation, advertising, industrial design, photography, textile design and painting. The exhibits include works by Prabhakar Barwe, Sooni Taraporevala and Nina Sabnani.
“We are fascinated by the manner in which artists during this period could move seamlessly between the commercial arts and the fine arts. In the case of KG Subramanyan, we see him moving between book design, textile design, and his own gallery practice. In the case of Haku Shah, there are examples of his crafts documentation, his textile design, and, also, his canvas painting,” says Chatterjee, adding, “It differs from today’s arts and design scenario where disciplines are divided into silos, and it is not easy for artists to make the same journey between the commercial arts and the fine arts.”
The initial impetus for the exhibition was getting access to the newly opened up archives of the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, says Chatterjee. Around the same time, they also came across some material related to KG Subramanyan’s time with the Weavers’ Service Centre.
A section of the exhibition — Souvenir Shop — revolves around the role of collectives and groups functioning between art and design during the period. Another section highlights the works of Riten Mazumdar, head designer at Fab India.
To source the images, the gallerists travelled across the country, and received help from the Seagull Foundation for the Arts, the Godrej Archives, and the National Institute of Design.
IMPACT: Design thinking and the visual arts in young India, the first in the series of exhibitions is ongoing till November 3.