Saturday, June 29, 2013

Cut & Paste: Popular mid 20th Century art

Shekhawati collages came to be assembled around the 1930s using a cut-and-paste technique. These small format works were patronized by members of the Marwari community originally from the Shekhawati region of North-East Rajasthan who, by the early 20th Century, had spread their business interests to the major urban centers of India.

The medium for the particular group displayed at Mumbai-based Chatterjee & Lal (in collaboration with Aditya Ruia) are Chromo lithographs, produced either in Europe and America, onto which various types of indigenous prints,  printed in Bengal, are overlayed.

The magic of these works lies in the transformations that are set in motion by bringing together visual material from such startlingly diverse sources. The finished collages uniformly delve into Hindu mythology, most often with an emphasis on the Vaishnavite tradition. Whilst the narratives remain faithful to the epics to which they relate, the environments into which they are placed reveal much about the aspirations of both those creating the works as also their patrons.

The process of assemblage was undertaken with an obsessive eye for detail, often leading to wonderful vignettes within the broader compositional structure of individual works. As exemplars of 20th Century popular art from India, Shekhawati collages represent an intriguing, if lesser known, high point.

Chatterjee & Lal was formed in 2003 by Mortimer Chatterjee and Tara Lal. In the early years the gallery, though housed in a 200 sq ft. space, was the site of exciting projects such as a two-part retrospective of Nasreen Mohamedi’s work. The present exhibition space, which is 1600 sq ft. and located in a Victorian era warehouse, was opened with the exhibition of Berlin and Lahore based artist Sophie Ernst in 2007.

In addition to the exhibiting of work within the confines of the gallery, Chatterjee & Lal has also organized a number of projects that have utilized non-traditional spaces within the city by artists that use mediums as diverse as performance, video and sculptural installations.

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