The importance of Sculptural Art in the Indian gallery-circuit is often overlooked, in an overwhelming emphasis on painterly works. India bears an extremely complex and rich sculptural tradition. Our historic temple and cave-sculptures at Konarak, Ajanta, Ellora, Elephanta and Khajurajo, as well as those of the sublime neo-Classical Gandhara and Nalanda period, rank amongst the world’s finest wonders. Equally inspiring are the ‘social’ Terracotta Bas-relief facades found in Bengal’s maritime temples, the rivetting ancient Dhokra Tribal bell-metal Folk-sculptures of our most primordial villages, and the vast panorama of iconic religious sculptures spanning the length and breadth of India.
Such formidable sculptural stylistics have now evolved commendably into India’s current contemporary sculptural modes. Historically speaking, sophisticated examples of Indian sculpture served to document both our religious as well as our secular history, capturing Indian cosmic iconography as well as portraits of everyday life, stylised erotica and fragments of a colonised past. In a current context, the deep essence of Indian urbane-ness has been dramatically portrayed by masterful sculptors from the early 20th C. onwards --- from Debiprosad and Meera Mukherji to Seema Kohli, Radhakrishnan and Srinivas Reddy.
Art Pilgrim Gallery has organised an extensive sculpture-collection, which will be on display in a succession of important shows, beginning this March. The Gallery director Geeta Singh, who is particularly enamoured of Indian Contemporary Sculpture, has been collecting a fine body of works over several decades. Many larger sculptures remain in her private collection, in the expansive spaces of her farmhouse. At her Sushant Lok Gallery, the current Exhibition, Negotiating Spaces, offers a striking array of over two dozen Figurative and Abstract sculptures in varied media – including Bronze, Fibreglass, Marble, Iron weldings, Copper wire, Wood and Stone. In an accesible size-range, from 9 inches to four feet in dimension, the aim is to showcase sculptures that can be easily lived-with inside urban spaces. The gamut of India’s current sculptural talent is finely-represented in this well-selected Group-collection that is on view until 9 March. This is to be followed by a major Solo Sculptural Retrospective, by the leading sculptor K.S. Radhakrishnan.
To celebrate Women’s Day, I would like to begin by citing the marvellously-evolved sculptures of five gifted Indian Women-sculptors, who are well-represented in this Show: Varsha Athor, Seema Kohli, Sheela Chamaria, Suneetha K. and Dimpy Menon. Varsha has developed a quirky style of her own, that utilises welded iron nuts to create intricate figurations of a unique whimsicality. She also works in Fibreglass, Wood and Marble, in which media her forms are often of a Totemic, Minimalist nature. In the Exhibition under review, Varsha’s Reading Figure and Woman in Repose, both wondrously-crafted from hundreds of welded metal nuts, stand out in their contemporaneity and intriguing presence.
Seema Kohli’s Bronze sculptural works, in a more Classical format, are beautifully lyrical and meditative, evoking secular goddesses surrounded by symbolic lotuses. Seema’s skill lies in traditional figuration, which she renders with intrinsic grace, and a prototypical Indian Lasya. Seema is a painter as well as a sculptor, expressing lyricism and meditative energy in both visual categories.
As a contrast, Suneetha K.’s Modernistic Ganeshas, in Fibreglass, skilfully stretch the language of Indian religious Iconography. Sheela Chamaria’s Bronze Lovers evokes the sombre Abstract Modernism of Auguste Rodin. Sheela, who studied at Delhi’s Triveni Kala Sangam, has contributed her sculptures to the Ranbaxy Collection and Jindal Group. A more playful sculptural idiom is seen in the Bangalore-based Dimpy Menon’s simple acrobatic figurations, which manage to achieve a remarkable poise – emanating fluid urban and folksy energies.
Along similar lines are the swirling, skilfully-honed Bronze dancing figurines of Gagan Vij, Appalaraju and Ankit Patel, exemplifying a modern mastery of Bronze. Appalaraju’s Fibreglass evocations of Minimalist figure-clusters, set within symbolic ‘wheels’, belong to this same genre. Minimally-honed to linear proportions of graphic intensity, Gagan’s ebullient clusters of energetic ‘stick-figures,’ immortalised in Mudras of eternal play, convey a more heightened poetry. Ankit’s comparatively ‘grounded’ beings, playing with bicycle-wheels and balls, convey a charming spiritedness.
Arun Pandit’s unusual standing figures, often caught in the midst of reading daily newspapers, contain the quaint metaphysics of the Indian urban secular experience. This is further explored in Venkat Bothsa’s funky, ‘happening’ and skilfully-distorted Fibreglass ‘Surrealist’ forms, that are playfully overpainted with Car-Paint and Enamels. These quirky, ‘Op’ embodiments of Time, are among the Show’s more cutting-edge works.
Raj Kumar Panwar’s imposing black marble Heads, Atul Sinha’s primordially-simplistic wooden figures, Pramod Mann’s Rodinesque Bronze seated figures, and Sisir Sahana’s magically-lit Fibreglass Icons, all combine the secular and the iconic to striking sculptural effect. Sahana’s use of electric lights, lit within his mystical, semi-totemic Fibreglass ‘deities’, bears beautifully-soothing cadences.
The more ‘religious’ Indian sculptural idiom continues to express itself modernistically through such sculptors as Devidass Khattri and Sukhdev Singh. Devidass presents an unusual Bronze Buddha-Sadhana, with a green patina that incorporates ancient Tantric renditions of the Buddha in Nirvana. Sukhdev’s stylised Ganesha in white stone ‘modernises’ the ancient icon with fluency. In a similar ‘iconic’ vein, but crafted in a traditional mode, is senior Art Professor and Artist Biman Das’ classical Bronze Bust of Tagore.
Among the most rivetting works are undoubtedly the edgy, radical Copper-Bronze-Wire and Fibreglass Heads by Dhananjay Singh and Srinivas Reddy. These individualistic, all-seeing Profiles bear a complex mystical ‘gaze’, which stands out in the display. Srinivas Reddy’s sublime ‘Mask Series’, of elongated Heads in intense meditation, carved in a neo-African mode --- one of them bearing a lambent saffron ‘Bindu’ depicting the Buddha --- are strikingly evocative. Thus, this Exhibition indicates that the Human Form remains a vital art-component that cannot be compromised with --- and that the sculptural mastery of this human form is essential to all serious creativity. From the timeless, ancient secular figurations of Mohenjodaro and Harappa, to Gandhara Buddhas, Kumartuli Durgas and Chola Parvatis, the splendour of human figuration has transfixed art-lovers over the centuries. This same eternal wonder and awe is evoked in these compelling Contemporary Figurative sculptures.