Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Indian masters ‘in search of the vernacular’

A new exhibition tries to tease out some of the complexities involved in a pattern of rejection, influence and echoing between maters from India and Western Modernism in the various ways they articulate a vernacular visual language.

Featured in a significant show ‘In Search of The Vernacular’ at Aicon Gallery, New York, are Post-Independence South Asian Masters like M. F. Husain, Jamini Roy, Abindranath Tagore, Nadalal Bose, F. N. Souza, S. H. Raza, Bikash Bhattacharjee, Jagdish Swaminathan, Laxma Goud, and Anjolie Ela Menon.

Elaborating on the theme, a curatorial note states, “Since the beginning of the 20th century, several Indian artists have articulated a vernacular visual language. It has often taken the form of taking Western art as something to be either rejected outright, or significantly altered in an effort to address an Indian vernacular.”

For example, Jamini Roy’s somewhat paradoxically, in turning away from Western Modernism, aligned himself with Modernism's stripping back of ornament in favor of line and color planes. His rejection of the then modern style of painting and his foray into the realm of Bengali folk paintings marked a new phase in the history of Indian modern art.

Abanindranath Tagore deliberately sought an indigenous style through firstly referencing the Mughal manner and subsequently through the development of a pan-Asian style. Nandalal Bose played a leading role in the renaissance of art in India.

Several other artists including those belonging to the Progressive Artists' Group (PAG) utilized Western Modernism yoked to Indian subject matter. They looked toward Western Modernism, even while trying to make it India- specific, often foregrounding rural inhabitants of the country as a way to mirror its life.

Icons of Indian culture through the ages seek to capture the quintessence of M. F. Husain’s subjects, such as Mother Teresa, Krishna and the goddess Saraswati. F. N. Souza’s repertoire of subjects covers nudes, icons of Christianity, still life and landscape, all rendered boldly in a frenzied distortion of form. Breaking away from frames like nation and specific locations in time and space, S. H. Raza’s body of work is trans-cultural in its appeal. Laxma Goud is recognized for his graceful, yet powerful line drawings, etchings and watercolors.

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