| Edge of Desire main exhibition
In the spring of 2005, Asia Society and the Queens Museum of Art co-presented the first-ever major exhibition of contemporary Indian art in the United States. Co-organized by the Art Gallery of Western Australia, Edge of Desire: Recent Art in India included 80 cutting-edge works of sculpture, painting, drawing, installation, video and interactive media dating from 1993 to the present. Works of internationally recognized contemporary artists are shown alongside those of India’s most innovative, emerging artists. The 38 participating artists and collectives — representing three generations — live and work in their native India, in urban centers as well as remote rural areas.
Edge of Desire traverses conventional divides between urban, fine art and folk tradition art, and between high culture and popular culture. Reflecting a time of socio-political transformation in India, exhibition artworks address contemporary political, social, and environmental realities existing there.
“Edge of Desire reflects contemporary Indian society’s constantly shifting experiences of caste alliances, class structures, and global trends in localized settings,” notes Asia Society President Vishakha N. Desai. “To accompany this major exhibition, Asia Society has organized India: The Future Is Now, a full slate of multidisciplinary programming to examine these dynamic trends as well as aspects of India that generally escape Western attention.”
“The artworks in Edge of Desire challenge preconceptions of contemporary India, whose presence in Western culture is often limited to Bollywood, yoga and outsourcing,” notes Asia Society Museum Director Melissa Chiu. “This exhibition aims to do for contemporary Indian art what Inside Out: New Chinese Art did in 1998 for raising awareness of the vibrant art scene in China.”
“An exhibition of the magnitude of Edge of Desire, filling the galleries of both the Queens Museum of Art and the Asia Society, is a tribute to the depth and diversity of contemporary Indian art as well as to the shared goal of our institutions to engage New York in artistic conversations with international visual culture," said Tom Finkelpearl, Executive Director of the Queens Museum of Art. “This exhibition, paired with our complementary offering, Fatal Love: South Asian American Art Now, is a step in not only introducing South Asian visual art to the international art scene, but in urging New Yorkers to look closely at emerging communities here and now.”
Edge of Desire is curated by Chaitanya Sambrani, Lecturer, Art Theory Workshop, Australian National University, Canberra. The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated color catalogue with essays by leading scholars, including Ashish Rajadhyaksha and Kajri Jain.
Participating artists include: Ganga Devi Bhatt, Manu Chitrakar, Swarna Chitrakar, Atul Dodiya, Shilpa Gupta, Subodh Gupta, Archana Hande, N.S. Harsha, Rummana Hussain, Tushar Joag, Ranbir Kaleka, Ravi Kashi, Mallikarjun Katakol, Sonia Khurana, Raj Kumar, Nalini Malani, Umesh Maddannahalli, Kausik Mukhopadhyay, Pushpamala N. and Clare Arni, Surendran Nair, Open Circle, Cyrus Oshidar/MTV India, Sudhir Patwardhan, Raqs Media Collective, N.N. Rimzon, Sharmila Samant, Gulammohammed Sheikh, Nilima Sheikh, Nataraj Sharma, Dayanita Singh, Subhash Singh Vyam, K.G. Subramanyan, Vivan Sundaram, L.N. Tallur, Vasudha Thozhur, Santosh Kumar Das and Sonadhar Vishwakarma.
Edge of Desire is organized around five themes—Location/Longing, Unruly Visions, Transient Self, Contested Terrain and Recycled Futures—with the first two on view at Asia Society and the final three at the Queens Museum of Art. Works in Location/Longing (on view at Asia Society) address the desire for place and the relationship with locations real and imagined. Nilima Sheikh’s series of painted scrolls (2003-04) made specifically for this exhibition, reference several centuries of writing inspired by Kashmir in an extended meditation on desire and loss.
Swarna and Manu Chitrakar are members of a community of patua (scroll-maker) painter-performers from West Bengal (the surname Chitrakar, meaning painter, is a trade name that all painters from this community use). Though their work tends to be characterized as folk art—implying works that are decorative, even naïve and static in process—Manu and Swarna draw on their traditions and skills to articulate responses to contemporary life and events, as evidenced in Swarna’s scroll Titanic (2003) based on the eponymous 2001 film and Manu’s scroll Afghanistan War (2003).
Unruly Visions (on view at Asia Society) is concerned with the artists’ relationships with the many guises of popular culture in contemporary India: the visual culture of television, advertising, cinema and Bollywood, and the unruly, mixed-up visions characterized by everyday life on the street. Atul Dodiya’s triptych, Tomb’s Day (2001) makes parodic references to one of India’s stereotypical icons, the Taj Mahal. Executed in the visual style of billboard painting, the work is in part an ironic commentary on the media furor surrounding the visits to India by Presidents Clinton and Putin.
The section on Transient Self (on view at Queens Museum of Art) examines migration and transience as major features of the contemporary Indian experience. Works included under this theme range from personal histories and realist commentaries to fabrications of self-transformation. Subodh Gupta’s self-portrait, Bihari (1999) is a wry commentary on the artist’s migration from his native Bihar to upwardly mobile Gurgaon, in Delhi. In this work he uses cow dung to cover the painting with an LED spelling out Bi-ha-ri, a person from Bihar but also a derogatory term in India, implying uncouthness.
Contested Terrain (on view at Queens Museum of Art) addresses the pressures in contemporary Indian society spawned by globalization and religious fundamentalism. Nalini Malani’s installation, The Sacred and the Profane (1998) projects a play of shadows from images painted in acrylic on large, rotating Mylar cylinders. Her work challenges notions of separation and insularity. A series of works (2003) by the painter Santosh Kumar Das responds to communal violence in Gujarat, referencing a figurative tradition of Madhubani painting of juxtaposing recent events with historical figures such as Mahatma Gandhi.
The section on Recycled Futures (on view at Queens Museum of Art) encompasses works that conflate regenerating materials and renewal of tradition, and that are playful, often satirizing popular consumer culture. Sharmila Samant’s work, A Handmade Saree (1998), is painstakingly crafted from 1,800 Coca-Cola bottle caps fastened together with steel shackles. Draped as in a boutique display, it reveals traditional textile patterns such as mango motifs. On the floor, three framed texts provide the formal meanings of the terms “handmade,” “saree” and “coke.”
Another exhibition highlight is L.N. Tallur’s large scale and brightly colored, inflatable vinyl installation Made in England: A temple designed for India (2000), which addresses the mania for shrines and the search for spiritual roots. Viewer’s can enter the darkened sanctum of this easily transportable temple.
venues and dates
Edge of Desire: Recent Art in India and related programs were made possible with support from The Reliance Group, The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc., National Endowment for the Arts, MAP Fund, Purnendu and Amita Chatterjee, Gita and Sonny Mehta, Arts International, Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP, and Sir Dorabji Tata Trust. Additional support was provided by the Asia Society's India Fund, whose major donors include Rohit and Katharine Desai, Tara and Victor Menezes, Harish Raghavan and Ramaa Reddy Raghavan, Sribala Subramanian and Arvind Raghunathan, Lakshmi and Sandy Chandra, John P. and Jennifer Clay, Dr. Angela Anand Cobra and Dr. Suryanarayan Anand.
Society - March 1, 2005 – June 5, 2005
Museum of Art - February 27, 2005 – June 5, 2005
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