Seed for History and Form

Tebhaga, curated by Sumesh Sharma in NYC

Aicon Gallery in New York is presenting Seed for History and Form – Tebhaga, a group exhibition curated by Sumesh Sharma, co-founder of Clark House Initiative, Bombay, featuring work by Richard Bartholomew, Jyoti Bhatt, Biren De, Haren Das, Aurélien Froment, Laxma Goud, Somnath Hore, M. F. Hussain, Mohammad Omar Khalil, Rachid Koraïchi, Aurélien Mole, Krishna Reddy, and Michael Kelly Williams.

According to  press release on the exhibit, “Survey shows deflect us from histories of art that engage in cross-pollination of ideas, form, and techniques across geography, language, and culture. Such seeds, often ignored and misunderstood due to endogamous art research, lead to untold histories and biases towards a linear understanding of the arts. Inclusion into art history and its long serving linear timeline to the Occident, that is fattened as it descends through survey shows and geography-specific exhibitions, only continues to serve an understanding of history that suffers from the lack of translation.  In art history, the act of translation should not be an act aided simply by a dictionary and etymology, but one that makes us rethink relationships to color, form and the idea of the visual.”

Conceptualism had its early history when Pablo Picasso and the Polish Avant-Garde were looking at face masks in the colonial collections that are now to be seen in the Musée du quai Branly in Paris. There was an idea of translation in this looking that gave birth to many etymologies. The etymology of modernism is a distinct idea in India, one that may manifest itself today in the homes Indians build for themselves, claiming them to be modern homes. If Joseph Beuys was the Shaman who performed a radical act that changed the possible definitions of the term artist, thereby allowing those heretofore outside the linear art history of North America and Europe leeway to enter, then these middle-class Indians may also define their own modernism.

What were the geo-political translations of a few men and women who gathered each year to teach printmaking through a series of workshops on the Atlantic coast of Morocco? This exhibition discusses those seeds of form, tracking geography from Santiniketan in Eastern India, to Dakar in Senegal, and ending in New York. It spans the life and work of Krishna Reddy and Mohammed Omar Khalil, and listens to the songs of Amadou Badiane and Somnath Mukherjee through Aurélien Froment’s cinema, while Michael Kelly Williams narrates the objectivity of form in sculpture that began in printmaking, and we study what makes Somnath Hore’s etchings both minimal and viscerally political. Does a drought effect conceptualism and modernism? Haren Das’s woodcuts narrate life in rural Bengal. How do blacksmiths in Dakar challenge form and materiality through history, like the standing sculpture of an ancient Surya (Sun God) or a stone Buddha from ancient Gandhara?

The right to land after the Bengal famine, described as the Tebhaga movement, where sharecroppers asked for a reduction in rent in return for giving grain to the landlords, was supported by the artists of Bengal.  In this exhibition, a painting from the 1960s by M. F. Hussain defines the seeds of India’s modernism as one based on the independence a nascent nation, depleted of its strength through colonialism, but now somewhat lost in its circumstances.

Jyoti Bhatt celebrates M. F. Hussain, who was later vilified by the Indian right for his art, by making a portrait of Hussain in the tricolors of the India flag. Aurélien Mole makes a poignant critique on India’s Progressive Artists Group, by inviting Akbar Padamsee’s muse, Arai Kesava Naidu, to the National Gallery of Art in Mumbai for her first time, despite her body being a source of that artist’s forms. Biren De’s drawings move from cubist renditions of pastoral Bengal to ones that circle out to tantric meditation and spiritualism, an element now celebrated in museum exhibitions of Indian modernism.

Laxma Goud, coming from the arid part of the Indian Andhras, puts a form to Indian erotica and an artist’s vision to vocabulary, camouflaging erotica in deep lines of cubist rendition uncovering many surprises. Rachid Koraïchi’s calligraphed ceramic hand in Arabic announces New Year wishes to the residents of the city of Saint Denis, a Parisian suburb. As the city welcomes 2017, it leaves behind the travesties of 2016 by celebrating an Algerian artist. Diasporas have created forms of conceptual intrigue in their role as a constant influence on creative thought. The Progressive Artist Group in Bombay was catalyzed by two Jewish refugees, Rudy Von Leyden and Walter Langhammer, who had fled Europe to Bombay and brought the rejection of classical form to the students of the Sir JJ School of Arts, among whom was M. F. Hussain.  Like the sharecroppers of Bengal, artists ask for their share in art history not through representation but adequate translation that hears their narrative.

The exhibition is open from February 23 – March 25, 2017 at  the gallery, located at 35 Great Jones St., New York NY 10012.

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