As more and more Indian artists collaborate with their foreign counterparts, cultures and nationalities blend in creative ways.
Jugalbandis are accepted practice in music, but in the plastic arts you rarely hear of collaborations. And collaborations across cultures and nationalities — almost never. That is now changing, with greater interaction between artists from different countries through arts residencies, exchange programmes or the Internet.
Take Amitesh Verma, a 34-year-old Delhi-based artist known for his detailed sketches of horses. In November last year Verma was in Marnay-sur-Seine, France, on an arts residency. He met and made friends with Brazilian artist Myra. When she came to India for a residency at the Sanskriti Foundation in Delhi, he went to meet her. There he met another artist, Andrew Connelly, associate professor of sculpture at California State University in the USA. Sharing notes on their travels and working at residencies around the world, the two found themselves agreeing about the “value to an artist in travel and the ability to work in different environments with other artists from far away and from different perspectives”, says Connelly. “We thought it would be interesting to show our work made while in residency from our respective experiences.”
The result, ‘Crossing Over’, a two-man show paid for by both artists, ended at Delhi’s Shridharani Gallery this Friday. It was a disparate show, with Connelly showing sculptural installations influenced by India, in materials such as bamboo, rice, Holi colours, and thread used for religious ceremonies. Verma, for his part, had paintings that revealed a classical European sensibility that he’d imbibed in France. Connections, and the oblique ways in which they are forged in today’s globalised world, thus, were what held the show together.
A similar chance connection brought together Shelly Jyoti, fashion designer and artist from Baroda, and Laura Kina, Chicago-based lecturer on art. They didn’t meet at a residency; it was their shared interest in textiles and cultural identity that got them talking at the show of a common artist friend, Shelley Bahl, and they went on to collaborate on Indigo, held in Delhi and Mumbai early this year.
The exhibition had other threads in common — such as indigo dye and the use of embroidery as a cultural artifact. If for Jyoti indigo evoked Mahatma Gandhi and its importance in the political history of India, for Kina its blue colour had more personal associations. Kina’s grandparents were sugarcane farmers in Okinawa, Japan, and wore indigo-dyed shirts and kimonos. Also, the colour blue is sacred to Judaism, to which Kina converted after marriage.
For Kina, the show was a truly trans-national effort. ‘Devon Street Sampler’, as her series was called, had works based on street signs that she saw in the multicultural, multi-racial neighbourhood of Devon Street, Chicago, where she lived. The works were conceived on computer in the USA and sent to women embroiderers at MarketPlace: Handwork of Work, a fair-trade organisation in Mumbai. “They would send pictures and I would coordinate from Chicago,” says Kina.
If there’s an element of chance in the coming together of Verma and Connelly, Jyoti and Kina, Mumbai-based artist and activist, Tejal Shah, and Han Bing, from Hunan, China, have had a more sustained partnership. They showed together at the Asian Triennial Manchester in 2008 before coming together in March 2010 for ‘A Cry from the Narrow Between’ at Gallery Espace in Delhi.
There’s greater synergy in their art too, in the way they make full use of video, performance, photography and public intervention to address issues of sexuality, power and violence. While the LGBT community is Shah’s concern, Bing’s works have an erotic charge, juxtaposing the naked human body with blocks of concrete and construction material. The violence of everyday life is presumably common across nationalities and cultures.
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