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C-MAP on the Subcontinent: New Delhi, Goa, Bangalore & Dhaka

In late January 2016, a team of seven from The Museum of Modern Art's C-MAP Asia Group traveled to India and Bangladesh. The itinerary began in New Delhi, where the India Art Fair was underway, continuing on to Goa and Bangalore (with side-trips to Baroda and Bombay by individual group members), and concluding in Dhaka where the bi-annual Dhaka Art Summit had gathered important works, practitioners, and art professionals from across the Indian Subcontinent and further afield. Along the way, the team visited numerous artists' studios, exhibitions, and institutions. Impressions from and reflections on these visits are articulated in the individual trip reports published below.

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Rattanamol Singh Johal

C-MAP Fellow for Asia The Museum of Modern Art Rattan is the C-MAP Fellow for Asia in the Department of Media and Performance Art at MoMA. He has previously worked in various capacities, including curator, archivist... Read more »
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C-MAP on the Subcontinent: New Delhi, Goa, Bangalore & Dhaka MAP

C-MAP on the Subcontinent: New Delhi, Goa, Bangalore & Dhaka

In late January 2016, a team of seven from The Museum of Modern Art's C-MAP Asia Group traveled to India and Bangladesh. The itinerary began in New Delhi, where the India Art Fair was underway, continuing on to Goa and Bangalore (with side-trips to Baroda and Bombay by individual group members), and concluding in Dhaka where the bi-annual Dhaka Art Summit had gathered important works, practitioners, and art professionals from across the Indian Subcontinent and further afield. Along the way, the team visited numerous artists' studios, exhibitions, and institutions. Impressions from and reflections on these visits are articulated in the individual trip reports published below.

Show More

In late January 2016, a team of seven from The Museum of Modern Art's C-MAP Asia Group traveled to India and Bangladesh. The itinerary began in New Delhi, where the India Art Fair was underway, continuing on to Goa and Bangalore (with side-trips to Baroda and Bombay by individual group members), and concluding in Dhaka where the bi-annual Dhaka Art Summit had gathered important works, practitioners, and art professionals from across the Indian Subcontinent and further afield. Along the way, the team visited numerous artists' studios, exhibitions, and institutions. Impressions from and reflections on these visits are articulated in the individual trip reports published below.

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Reports by trip participants

Tagore in Bangalore

Sprawling and choked with traffic, though lushly verdant, Bengaluru (formerly Bangalore) is likely best known as an international IT hub. So perhaps it is a bit surprising to discover that the city is also a rising artistic center. It is home to Suresh Jayaram’s No. 1 Shanthi Road, a multifunctional art space and residency program that just marked its tenth anniversary. Not far away, Sunitha Kumar Emmart oversees the eponymous Gallery SKE, one of India’s most innovative contemporary art galleries, which is housed in a fairy-tale cottage with gingerbread trim. And in 2000, Bengaluru was selected as the site for the third location of the National Gallery of Modern Art, joining branches in Delhi and Mumbai. In 2009 the former Manickyavelu...

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Tagore in Bangalore

Sprawling and choked with traffic, though lushly verdant, Bengaluru (formerly Bangalore) is likely best known as an international IT hub. So perhaps it is a bit surprising to discover that the city is also a rising artistic center. It is home to Suresh Jayaram’s No. 1 Shanthi Road, a multifunctional art space and residency program that just marked its tenth anniversary. Not far away, Sunitha Kumar Emmart oversees the eponymous Gallery SKE, one of India’s most innovative contemporary art galleries, which is housed in a fairy-tale cottage with gingerbread trim. And in 2000, Bengaluru was selected as the site for the third location of the National Gallery of Modern Art, joining branches in Delhi and Mumbai. In 2009 the former Manickyavelu Mansion, a colonial-style manor built in the 1930s and sited on several green acres, opened following a renovation of the existing building, and an addition to house supplementary gallery space and an art reference library. In the airy, domestic-scale spaces of the historical building, I found a surprisingly rich display of works by three members of the esteemed Tagore family: Rabindranath (1861–1941), and his nephews Gaganendranath (1867–1938) and Abanindranath (1971–1951). Each of these artists made a distinct and exceptional contribution to India’s modernist tradition, but it is quite rare to find examples of their work to study in person.

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National Gallery of Modern Art, Bengaluru. Photo: Jay Levenson.

A brilliantly talented polymath who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1913, the poet Rabindranath was credited with reviving Bengali literature and music, and charted a new pedagogical course for artists at Kala Bhavana in Santiniketan, where students were encouraged to loosen the tight reins of studio academicism in favor of observation and a life integrated with nature. His own work tended toward studies of vaguely mysterious figures. Abanindranath was a founder of the Indian Society of Oriental Art, and sought to incorporate traditional Eastern methods, materials, and ideals into contemporary practice. In creating what would come to be known as the Bengal School, Abanindranath sought to rediscover nationalist themes and subjects that predated the colonial period. His brother Gaganendranath was interested in a similar kind of synthesis, but he pushed his formal experiments toward a Cubist syntax, with fractured facets and partial planes, in a visual style that was uniquely his own. The Tagore name echoes throughout any study of India’s recent history of art, and in Bengaluru, one can discover the many moods and moments of its artists’ oeuvres.

North_West_South_East

In my new role as MoMA’s C-MAP fellow for Asia, which I assumed in January 2016, my first assignment was to plan the annual group trip to India and Bangladesh—with only a couple of weeks to organize travel for a group of seven people from six museum departments (Media and Performance Art, Architecture and Design, Drawings and Prints, Painting and Sculpture, Library and Archives, International Program). The nearly two-week itinerary was to include visits to artist studios, museums, galleries, the India Art Fair, and the Dhaka Art Summit. Though I am tempted to offer a blow-by-blow account, I trust that the collective publication of the group’s individual reports on post will achieve that end. This, then, is a collection of short snippets—...

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North_West_South_East

In my new role as MoMA’s C-MAP fellow for Asia, which I assumed in January 2016, my first assignment was to plan the annual group trip to India and Bangladesh—with only a couple of weeks to organize travel for a group of seven people from six museum departments (Media and Performance Art, Architecture and Design, Drawings and Prints, Painting and Sculpture, Library and Archives, International Program). The nearly two-week itinerary was to include visits to artist studios, museums, galleries, the India Art Fair, and the Dhaka Art Summit. Though I am tempted to offer a blow-by-blow account, I trust that the collective publication of the group’s individual reports on post will achieve that end. This, then, is a collection of short snippets—highlights, if you will—from each city.

New Delhi, India’s capital, is also arguably the country’s busiest hub of art-world activity. The city’s network of institutions range from the imposing state-run museums and academies to prominent galleries dealing in modern and contemporary art, small nonprofit spaces, and a range of cultural activities supported by foreign embassies and foundations. In the midst of this, there is also a private museum founded by Kiran Nadar, which is housed in a largely unoccupied (in terms of commercial establishments) shopping mall. It is here that Dayanita Singh had set up her Museum Bhavan, or “Bureau of Museums” (bhavan loosely translates as 'building,' but often connotes an institutional site for the activities of state bureaucracy). The artist’s intervention took place through a series of specially designed wooden structures—boxes, columns, screens—that housed selections of black-and-white images from her vast photographic archive. These “mini-museums,” which she constantly arranged and rearranged as she conversed with invited interlocutors, appeared thematically organized along a logic largely governed by subject-matter associations—for example, the "museum of little ladies," the "museum of chairs," etc. Over the course of the afternoon we were there, the “museum of erotics” slowly emerged as the result of a dialogue between Singh and Shanay Jhaveri, observed by a small group composed primarily of art-world insiders.

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Dayanita Singh, Museum Bhavan, Installation view with artist, Kiran Nadar Museum of Art. Photo: Rattanamol Singh Johal.

Our next destination was Goa, known for its extensive coastline dotted with beautiful beaches and its lush hinterland scattered with sleepy villages. The current state of India’s metropolitan areas, riddled with issues of uncontainable population growth, pollution, astronomical living costs, and insufficient infrastructure, has pushed many artists, across different generations, to relocate either full-time or for part of the year to Goa. Indeed, one wonders how long Goa can sustain this inflow, given its already bustling tourist economy, but for now it offers a lifestyle that is scarcely available elsewhere in India. Nikhil Chopra, whose career I have been following for nearly a decade, chose to relocate here from Bombay with his family. This shift has transformed his practice significantly, adding to it something of the roles of a mentor, pedagogue, catalyst, and institution builder (though he would probably never label himself as such!). Chopra, along with Madhavi Gore and Romain Loustau, transformed a Portuguese-era hotel into the Heritage Hotel: Art Spaces, a residency-cum-exhibition space for young and emerging artists working in performance. This is an important initiative for a number of reasons, not least of which are the region’s sparse landscape for performance-art pedagogy and residencies as well as the unusual event (at least in India) of an established, mid-career contemporary artist’s devoting substantial time, attention, and resources to nurturing a younger generation.

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Heritage Hotel: Art Spaces, Goa. Photo: Rattanamol Singh Johal.

Bangalore, a city that has grown exponentially over the past two decades owing to a booming information technology industry, is also home to an alternative art scene with strong leanings toward experimental film, media, sound, and photography. Our relatively brief visit here introduced us to number of unfolding trajectories, beyond the practices of well-established artists such as Sheela Gowda and Pushpamala N., emphasizing the need to return when we have more time on our hands. I found it particularly useful to understand the sustaining influence of Srishti—a private institute of art, design, and technology—which was set up in 1996. A number of artists experimenting across media, including Ayisha Abraham, Shai Heredia, and Abhishek Hazra, currently teach at this relatively young institution. Here, again, it seems that a platform for interaction among different generations of practitioners has been incredibly generative.

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Gallery SKE, Bangalore. Photo: Rattanamol Singh Johal.

The final stop on our trip had us flying east to Bangladesh whose capital city was once again playing host to the biannual Dhaka Art Summit. This platform promised to bring together art and artists from across the subcontinent and farther afield, presenting a very ambitious series of exhibitions (six at my last count), panel discussions, a writing workshop, and a film program on the premises of the Shilpakala Academy (the state academy of fine art). The consolidation of all the summit’s activities across one venue allowed visitors to easily engage with most of the programming offered. One exhibition that stands out in my mind, titled Rewind, was curated jointly by Sabih Ahmad (Asia Art Archive), Amara Antilla (Guggenheim Museum), and Beth Citron (Rubin Museum) with Diana Campbell Betancourt (the Summit’s artistic director). The small show presented a gathering of little-known late-modernist works from across the region, revealing diverse engagements and interests in textiles and tapestries (Rashid Choudhury, Monika Correa), painting (Zahoor ul Akhlaq), printmaking (Krishna Reddy, Safiuddin Ahmed, Anwar Jalal Shemza), photography (Lionel Wendt), and projected image (Nalini Malani, Akbar Padamsee). A research publication or catalogue would have greatly enhanced the understanding and reception of the exhibition’s historical implications (and, undoubtedly, also bolstered the marketability of the works/artists included). As a broader observation, it seems that almost every exhibition at the Summit contained the kernel of an extended presentation in a museum-like setting accompanied by a publication and programming. In its current format, with a limited three-day run (we are told the next one will go ten days) and the need to move works and people across tense international borders, this is understandably both logistically and financially difficult. That said, the research outcomes, speculations, and possibilities for further exploration laid out by each of the exhibitions are rich and compelling.

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Rewind, Installation View, Dhaka Art Summit. Photo: Rattanamol Singh Johal.

Art-Driven Adaptive Reuse in Several Indian Cities

During recent C-MAP visits to Mumbai, Delhi, Goa, Bangalore, and Kochi, I noticed how artists and gallerists are adapting neglected and abandoned structures for use as studio, exhibition, and performance spaces. This caused me to wonder about preservation policies in India, and artists’ unofficial role in relationship to them.

I learned that various public and private institutions address preservation, but also that there’s no national mandate for buildings less than one hundred years old. At the city level, initiatives vary. As a result, preservation and adaptive reuse are often the results of enlightened self-interest as much as organized planning. And that’s where the art community comes in. Several examples encountered during 2015...

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Art-Driven Adaptive Reuse in Several Indian Cities

During recent C-MAP visits to Mumbai, Delhi, Goa, Bangalore, and Kochi, I noticed how artists and gallerists are adapting neglected and abandoned structures for use as studio, exhibition, and performance spaces. This caused me to wonder about preservation policies in India, and artists’ unofficial role in relationship to them.

I learned that various public and private institutions address preservation, but also that there’s no national mandate for buildings less than one hundred years old. At the city level, initiatives vary. As a result, preservation and adaptive reuse are often the results of enlightened self-interest as much as organized planning. And that’s where the art community comes in. Several examples encountered during 2015 and 2016 C-MAP visits to India are discussed below.

Along Mumbai’s Marine Drive I noticed beautiful Art Deco buildings in various states of repair (Mumbai is said to be second only to Miami, Florida, in its number of Art Deco buildings).1 Regarding their preservation, it seems that in Mumbai, as in many cities, public initiatives and private developments form what is a patchy safety net. At the international level, the district was proposed for UNESCO World Heritage site status in 2013 (Delhi’s Old City was chosen instead),2 while on the local level, artist groups are starting to incorporate Deco preservation into their missions.3

New Delhi has its own architectural identity, and adaptive reuse patterns reflect it. Yet like Mumbai, economic growth and a swelling urban population are driving much of the demolition and rebuilding, often destroying significant modern architecture in the process. A case in point is the planned demolition of the Hall of Nations and Nehru Pavilion by Raj Rewal and Mahendra Raj at Pragati Maidan (1972). Recent efforts to save these endangered icons of Indian modernism demonstrate complex social and legal forces at work.4 As a representative from the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) put it: “More than the fact that there is difficulty in wrapping one’s head around the idea of modern architectural heritage, it is the bureaucratic apathy that is causing trouble.”5

The C-MAP group also visited Bangalore, a thriving, tech-driven city. One writer claims that the city has more alternative spaces than traditional galleries, positing that “in the absence of government infrastructure or commercial enterprise, artists and art students have taken on the responsibility of leading Bangalore’s art scene.”6 The group visited an exuberant example: 1Shanthiroad, a collective founded by artist and historian Suresh Jayaram and designed by architect Meeta Jain.

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Heritage Hotel: Art Spaces, Goa. Photo: Jennifer Tobias

In Goa, the group visited the Heritage Hotel: Art Spaces, a one-hundred-year-old Portuguese-style villa turned hotel turned artist residency space founded by artists Romain Loustau, Madhavi Gore, and Nikhil Chopra. Artists from all over the world come here to share seven studios, several bedrooms—and a cat. Pleasant shared spaces have been adapted to facilitate interaction among residents but also with the community beyond, which is invited to visit during the program’s regular open studio days.

Of all the sites visited, the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, an ongoing project to integrate architecture of the past into the city’s present and future, is the most expansive example of artist-driven adaptive reuse. Kochi is a historical port town on India’s tropical southwest coast. Long a center for international trade (especially of spices), the built environment strongly reflects the city’s heritage, especially in its Portuguese, Dutch, and British colonial architecture. The biennale is sited within historic venues in or near the Fort Kochi heritage area, from the maritime warehouses known as “godowns” to public parks to former military barracks to empty houses. To visit is to feel thoroughly oriented in place and time, and to experience art in ways that strongly resonate with it.

Aspinwall House, built in the 1860s as a waterfront warehouse and now serving as the biennale’s anchor space, makes this immediately apparent. In this context, Sheela Gowda and Christoph Storz’s installation Stopover (2012) is especially resonant. The pair collected and installed more than one hundred wet-grinding stones in a central, symmetrical room that opens onto a small pier. Such stones were once used domestically to grind spices and other ingredients for cooking. Usually embedded in the floor, they were standard fixtures in Indian homes built well into the early twentieth century, but are now being abandoned.

As an installation the stones represent once unmovable objects set in motion by irresistible global forces. One is left to guess at the next site for the stones, the fate of the building, and the future of the biennale as a global force. In this way Stopover and Aspinwall House vividly manifest the spirit of art-driven adaptive reuse that is bringing new life to historic but marginalized structures in Indian cities.


1: See Naresh Fernandes, “A Guide To Mumbai’s Art Deco Masterpieces,” National Geographic Traveller India online, posted March 24, 2015, accessed May 18, 2016, http://www.natgeotraveller.in/magazine/month/october-2013/mumbais-art-deco/

2: See MessyNessy, “Miami of India: The Forgotten Capital of Art Deco," MessyNessyChic (blog), posted February 19, 2014, accessed May 18, 2016, http://www.messynessychic.com/2014/02/19/miami-of-india-the-forgotten-capital-of-art-deco/

3: Richi Verma, “Call to save Pragati Maidan hall,” Times of India City online, April 14, 2015, accessed May 18, 2016, http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/delhi/Call-to-save-Pragati-Maidan-hall/articleshow/46913809.cms

4: Adila Matra, “Engineer behind iconic Hall of Nations and Nehru Pavilion campaigns against ‘disastrous’ move to demolish them," Daily Mail India online, published March 16, 2016, accessed May 18, 2016, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/indiahome/indianews/article-3495806/Engineer-iconic-Hall-Nations-Nehru-Pavilion-campaigns-against-disastrous-demolish-them.html

5: “Forever Alternative: A Book on the Alternative Art Scene in Bengaluru,” Artehelka (blog), posted November 9, 2015, accessed May 18, 2016, https://artehelka.wordpress.com/2015/11/09/forever-alternative-a-book-on-the-alternative-art-scene-in-bengaluru/

6: “Biennale Venues,” Kochi-Muziris Biennale online, accessed May 18, 2016, https://www.kochimuzirisbiennale.org/venues/

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