A sumptuous north Indian spread with butter chicken, rogan josh and gulab jamun was laid out for invitees at the inaugural dinner for the largest exhibition of Indian art in China on Saturday. But, as it turned out, the evening’s appetite for Indian art matched the taste for its spicy curries.
Not surprising. “Indian Highway”, a well-travelled exhibition of contemporary Indian art comprising paintings, photography, sculpture, video installations and internet-based art is a rare glimpse for many Chinese artists and art lovers into what’s happening in India’s contemporary art canvas.
Twenty nine Indian artists and more than 60 works are featured in this groundbreaking exhibition which in the late 2000s took about two years to put together. For this touring show, the highway leading to Beijing came through the cities of London, Oslo, Herning, Lyon, New Delhi, and Rome among others.
The range of artists is broad: MF Husain, Vivan Sundaram, Sarnath Banerjee, Subodh Gupta and Bharti Kher and Jitish Kallat to name a few. Some binding motifs: migration, movement, the information superhighway, transition and globalisation.
Two artists, Dayanita Singh and Sudarshan Shetty, were flown down by the Indian embassy here to be part of the first few days of the exhibition. For photographer Singh, it’s the first time in China. Her works titled ‘continuous cities’ is a collection of photographs of cities, cities that have not been named. “It is an effort to take the photos beyond the ‘where’,” Singh said at the Ullens Centre for Contemporary Art gallery, the expansive and prestigious venue located in Beijing’s corner for artists, the 798 Art District.
Both Singh and Shetty said there was little interaction between artists from the two countries.
“Europe seems to closer (than China). We take our works more to European cities and then bring them here (China). China seems further away,” Shetty said. Singh agreed. “I don’t know what’s happening in the art scene here,” she said.
For many Indian artists, after the name of the celebrated and, often persecuted, artist Ai Wei Wei, there’s a blank.
Indian Ambassador S Jaishankar called it an “extraordinary collection of contemporary, and some provocative, Indian art. It celebrates the freedom of expression.”
The two-month long exhibition should help in raising awareness and interest about Indian art among the Chinese long after the evening’s butter chicken’s forgotten.