For India, 2020 began amidst nationwide protests against the ruling government for asserting seemingly Hindu-majoritarian laws and violently quelling dissent. The protests are linked to the controversial amendment to the Citizenship Act passed on 11 December 2019, permitting people facing religious persecution from Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh belonging to Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi, or Christian communities in residence in India to apply for fast-track citizenship. The Act comes after the recent completion of a National Register of Citizens in the northeastern state of Assam in 2015, that rendered almost 2 million people illegal, resulting in the relocation of many to detention camps, with the deliberate absence of India's second most populous faith, Islam, in this list interpreted as contradictory to the secular fabric of the country and its founding constitution.
In the run-up to the twelfth edition of the India Art Fair, from 30 January to 2 February 2020, the makings and markers of the subcontinent are once again brought into focus, with a renewed understanding of the complexities and precarity of the contemporary moment.
Fearing loss of citizenship rights, in addition to the excessive use of violence witnessed in universities, the imposition of Section 144 across several states in December 2019, which declared city-wide public gatherings of more than four civilians unlawful, as well as the harsh suspension of telephone lines and the internet, have left many Indians outraged. The protests have emerged as a larger, emotionally charged, solidarity movement—spearheaded by students and involving outspoken members of the academic, literary, and creative communities, alongside people from all walks of life, faith, and economic backgrounds—that has brought national politics into Indian homes, places of work, on the streets, online, and in newsrooms.
Against this backdrop, the usual art happenings continue, but in an altered state. In the run-up to the twelfth edition of the India Art Fair, from 30 January to 2 February 2020, the makings and markers of the subcontinent are once again brought into focus, with a renewed understanding of the complexities and precarity of the contemporary moment. In an atmosphere where neutrality is next to impossible and sentimentality deepens, this Ocula Lowdown presents a list of exhibitions taking place across the country that resonate with anxiety, shifting socio-political identities, modes of individual and collective resistance, and explorations of temporality and place-making.
Shambhavi Singh, Purabiya (2019). Iron. Dimensions variable. Courtesy the artist and Gallery Espace.
Gallery Espace, 16, Community Center, Sujan Mahindra Road, New Friends Colony, 110025
24 January–24 February 2020
Gallery Espace's exhibit comprises Shambhavi's metal installations, drawings, and watercolours, that hark back to India's agrarian heritage, and places the rural landscape and the farmer at the centre of her practice. Punctuating organic and manmade materials and patterns, natural and engineered processes, with poignant insignia referencing land's bounty and ruin, Bhoomi is a reminder of earth's resilience, as much as it is of earth's plunder.
Shambhavi, Bhurukuwa 25 (2019). Clay, cotton, pulp, husk, and colour pigment. 99.82 x 40.89 cm. Courtesy the artist and Shrine Empire Gallery.
Shrine Empire Gallery, D-395, Dron Marg, Block D, Defence Colony, 110049
29 January–28 February 2020
Focusing on her works in paper pulp, this parallel solo exhibition comprises Shambhavi's articulations on elemental materiality through a softer, more introspective lens. Similar to the equation of a drop of water to the ocean, and a speck of dust to the earth, this body of work is a visceral inquiry into being and becoming, and the duality of existence.
Rajendra Tikku, An Oath Reorganized (2019). Bronze, wood, and jute rope. 27.94 x 25.4 x 15.24 cm. Courtesy the artist and Threshold Art Gallery.
Kintsugi / Bakhiya
Threshold Art Gallery, C-221, Block C, Sarvodaya Enclave, 110017
10 January–29 February 2020
Borrowing the language of the bakhiya stitch from Indian textiles, and gold embellishment on cracked ceramic-ware from the Japanese tradition of kintsugi, this show gathers works by Achia Anzi, Gargi Raina, Manisha Gera Baswani, Priya Ravish Mehra, Rajendra Tiku, Rubaba Haider, and Yael Bartana that observe and celebrate ruptured and blemished journeys, learning from and healing through life's various challenges.
Remen Chopra W. Van Der Vaart, Untitled (2019). Graphite, embroidery on cloth and glass. 213.36 x 157.48 cm. Courtesy the artist and The Gujral Foundation.
Remen Chopra W. Van Der Vaart: Memory's Cut; Its Deep Embrace
The Gujral Foundation, 24 Jorbagh Colony Road, 110003
31 January–24 February 2020
A series of multi-faceted, tableaux-like installations condense notions of time and space into a single frame and plane of reference, piecing together elements of photography, sculpture, drawing, writings, textiles, and sound intertwined with personal memories. Showing in New Delhi after a gap of nine years, under the curatorial direction of Reha Sodhi, the show underpins Van Der Vaart's need to excavate a more honest notion of home and belonging.
Exhibition view: Dhruvi Acharya, permeated absence, Nature Morte, New Delhi (11 January–8 February 2020). Courtesy Nature Morte.
Dhruvi Acharya: permeated absence
Nature Morte, A-1, Block A, Neeti Bagh, 110049
11 January–8 February 2020
A meditation on loss, Acharya's work continues to straddle guilt, fear, shame, depression, and the plethora of other emotions that challenge living, while also accepting death; embodied psychological states in figurative forms. The exhibition's central piece is the soft sculptural installation, after the fall (2016), which meditates on the sudden death of the artist's husband, merging reality with the intangibility of dreams and nightmares.
Exhibition view: Suññatā Samānta: Emptiness Equality, Devi Art Foundation, New Delhi (20 January–2 March 2020). Courtesy Devi Art Foundation.
Suññatā Samānta : Emptiness Equality
Devi Art Foundation, A-195 196, Okhla Industrial Area, opposite Police Station, 110020
20 January–2 March 2020
Towards reinventing equality and meaning through art, S. Anand curates a series of works from Devi Art Foundation's collection, added to by workers of the hosting venue's industrial location, Okhla. Leaning on the poetry of the mystic-saint Kabir who wrote on the role and purpose of all earthly creatures in easily accessible vernacular Hindi, along with ideas from figures such as Buddha and social reformer B. R. Ambedkar, the show seeks subjective responses from its audience on the vision and awareness of the self as much as that of the other.
Madan Mahatta, Lecture Hall (1967). © Madan Mahatta Archives. Courtesy PHOTOINK.
IIT Delhi: A Modernist Case Study
PHOTOINK, A-4 Green Avenue Street, Church/Mall Road, Vasant Kunj, 110070
18 January–20 February 2020
IIT Delhi (Indian Institute of Technology), one of modern India's architectural landmarks, designed in the 1960s by architect Jugal Kishore Chowdhury and engineer Gulzar Singh, is the focus of two photographers' work created five decades apart. A visual dialogue between Madan Mahatta's attention to the distanced construct of the building, and Randhir Singh's framing of the living, thriving spaces of the building, this exhibition reflects differences in artistic perspective as much as it does the changes in the very idea of India.
Ganesh Haloi, Untitled (2014). Gouache on Nepali paper pasted on board. 46.99 x 67.95 cm. Courtesy Akar Prakar Contemporary.
Ganesh Haloi: Form & Play
Akar Prakar Contemporary, D-43, Defence Colony, 110024
29 January–20 February 2020
One of India's early abstractionist painters, Haloi reveals a love for his homeland through calculated, tender markings and earthy colour fields that explore nature in its most elemental forms, simultaneously embodying the ethereal and the material. Under the curatorial advice of Roobina Karode, Kiran Nadar Museum of Art's director and chief curator, the show will travel to New York for Asia Art Week between 12 and 19 March 2020.
Zarina, House on Wheels (1991). Cast and painted aluminium. Courtesy and collection Kiran Nadar Museum of Art.
Zarina: A Life in Nine Lines
Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, No. 145, DLF South Court Mall, Saket, 110017
30 January–30 June 2020
Zarina's five-decade-long practice becomes the focus of yet another retrospective, her evocative personal journey questioning our sense of home, belonging, and movement through skeletal architectural structures created primarily with paper, carrying the weight of both her memories and of history.
Nalini Malani, The Witness Reverse (2019). Painted triptych on acrylic. From the collection of Kasturbhai Lalbhai Museum, Ahmedabad. Courtesy Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum.
Nalini Malani: The Witness
Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum, 1 A, Rani Baug, Veer Mata Jijbai Bhonsle Udyan, Dr Baba Saheb Ambedkar Road, Byculla East, 400027
11 January–31 March 2020
Curated by Tasneem Zakaria Mehta and Johan Pijnappel, the experimental evidentiary works of Nalini Malani spotlight the ruins of technological progress, neglect in socially stratified urban spaces, and the abuse of the destitute and marginalised. Her reverse paintings and video installations are seductive reminders of socio-political injustices across time, place, ethnicity, and gender.
Sudhir Patwardhan, Mumbai's Proverbs (2014). Exhibition view: Walking Through Soul City, National Gallery of Modern Art, Mumbai (30 November–12 February 2020). Courtesy the artist and The Guild.
Sudhir Patwardhan: Walking Through Soul City
National Gallery of Modern Art, Sir Cowasji Jahangir Public Hall, Mahatma Gandhi Road, Fort, 400032
30 November 2019–12 February 2020
Drawing focus to the human body and the cultural ethos of the city of Mumbai, are five decades of Patwardhan's oeuvre. Curated by Nancy Adajania, the retrospective transits through commonly observed faces, occupations, domestic interiors, and street scenes in a realistic inquiry into social bodies, from the collective to the individual.
N S Harsha, Donkeys giving birth here and there (2018) (detail). Acrylic and gold foil on canvas. 190 x 150 cm. Courtesy the artist and Chemould Prescott Road.
N S Harsha: Recent Life
Chemould Prescott Road, 3rd floor, Queens Mansion, G. Talwatkar Marg, Fort, 400001
9 January–13 February 2020
N S Harsha's works, on display in Mumbai for the first time in 13 years, are moments of everyday-ness, where the profound, the ordinary, and the absurd share space in the colourful drama of life in India, underscored by the artist's parallel inquiry into the workings of cosmic and relative time.
Vishwa Shroff, Partywall Bombay Series, 3 (2019). Watercolour, graphite and ink on paper. 63.5 x 53.34. Courtesy the artist and TARQ.
Vishwa Shroff: Folly Measures
TARQ, F35/36 Dhanraj Mahal, C.S.M. Marg, Apollo Bunder, Colaba, 400001
9 January–28 February 2020
In her most recent body of architectural drawings, inspired by dwellings in Mumbai and London, Shroff interrogates the meaning and curiosities of design, patterns, and motifs as she considers traces of colonial history, appropriated imaginings, and dislocated memories.
Riten Mozumdar, BHEL Asia Pavilion Sheathing designed in 1972. Courtesy Chatterjee & Lal.
Riten Mozumdar: IMPRINT
Chatterjee & Lal, 01/18 Kamal Mansion Floor I, Arthur Bunder Road Colaba, 400005
9 January–29 February 2020
Scholar and artist Ushmita Sahu's ongoing research and documentation of artist-designer Riten Mozumdar's prolific practice reflects the shared art and design languages of modernist India. This body of work, including furnishings, textile and design samples, wood blocks, drawings, and archival photographs, surveys his ability to champion craft techniques, retaining classical and traditional roots in the contemporary.
Prabhakar Pachpute, The Relic of Our Time (2020). Watercolour and acrylic paint on canvas. 213.36 x 487.68 cm. Courtesy the artist and Experimenter.
Prabhakar Pachpute: Beneath The Palpable
Experimenter, 2/1 Hindusthan Road, Dover Terrace, Ballygunge, 700029
22 January–4 April 2020
The 2020 Asia Arts Game Changer Award winner, Prabhakar Pachpute presents his third solo at Experimenter as an apocalyptic vision that confronts his continued engagement with the abuse of land and the people who labour to subsist from it. With specific lenses on the most disenfranchised farming and mining communities, he weighs desperation alongside hope; depravity alongside rectitude.
Bose Krishnamachari, 9 Rasas and One Soft Cut (2019). Exhibition view: The Mirror Sees Best in the Dark, Emami Art, Kolkata (21 December 2019–10 March 2020). Courtesy Emami Art.
Bose Krishnamachari: The Mirror Sees Best in the Dark
Emami Art, 777, Eastern Metropolitan Bypass, Anandapur, Adarsha Nagar, 700107
21 December 2019–10 March 2020
Artist-curator Bose Krishnamachari presents his first exhibition in nine years at Emami Art with nine new projects, comprising assemblages and installations that shift between minimalism and maximalism to explore the state of obsession. These materially rich works emulate the lure of a mirror as a locus for 'our relationships, our politics, our faiths, our wisdom, our communities, our gurus'. —[O]