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Indian contemporary art vibrant despite melt-down

- Prakash Bal Joshi, Mumbai based artist/journalist


Indian art walked much ahead of corporate India before world took notice of vibrant Indian economy and began believing in Indian capacity to consistently maintain two-digit annual growth. Indian contemporary artists who were confined mostly to Indian sub-continent and ignored by western media and art world reached Europe and America even before IT professionals began crowding many international airports. Though , not noticed by Indian media or Indian establishments, Indian art helped to change the stereotype image of India into a vibrant country of immense possibilities. Today , Indian art is witnessing exponential growth both culturally and commercially. Despite meltdown, it is considered as the fourth most buoyant art market in the world.


During last decade when India was making strides and became confident of its bright future , Indian art was making a silent statement across the globe. Over the years , Indian art has seen transition periods – ancient art of temple and sculptures , art by darbar artists in courts of kings , Mughal and British periods and post independence period . It has grown without giving up its own uniqueness and the same time striking a cord at the international level. Artists by and large are now expressing concerns and aspirations of the nation as a whole in their own styles.


Two major milestones during post independence period. The emergency during which art world realized that its basic right to freedom of expression was fundamental to its existence and growth . Secondly, the process of globalization which began in early 1990s, helped it to move on with more confidence without any baggage from the past. It was not abrupt change but gradual awareness of its global relevance.


If one observes closely the trends in Indian art over the years, it has explored its own past , delved deeply in symbols and expressions available in our own culture to take further its journey to impress and impact art world at international level. Indian artists have also taken shelter behind philosophical thought that the “ absolute “ can not be created nor destroyed but it can only be felt and understood . Universal language of abstraction ism is also not new to the India. Using traditional abstract form of expression on canvas , Indian art has really become global . As a result ,Indian masters are being appreciated by major art auction houses , curators and art lovers from West.


Just to give a few examples, Jogen Chowdhry, Bhupen Khakhar, F.N.Souza , Gaitonde , Prabhakar Kolte are dominating art auctions world over . They stand out for one reason, they not only link with the Indian way of life but at the same time create modern myths based on their own personal interpretations. Author Ranjit Hokote, poet Gieve Patel, and other curators are putting Indian art with proper perspective for West to understand it in more meaningful manner.


During last decade art works from Indian artists including Subodh Gupta, T V Santosh, Jitish Kallat Thukral and Tagra are figuring quite prominently at Christie's Autumn sales of contemporary art in Hong Kong. A few years ago , it would not have been possible.


Indian artist Francis Newton Souza has fetched a world auction record price of 1,273,250 pounds at the Christie's auction in London.Amongst the masterpieces offered by the auction house ,Souza's 'Birth´ (1955) realized maximum price for the work , setting a new world auction record for the artist and for any Indian Modern and Contemporary work of art. It was possible only because , world had began taking note of vibrant India ,its people and art. Christie's global clients have began taking keen interest in works by leading modern and contemporary Indian artists.


Syed Haider Raza's key work 'La Terre´ is part of Christie's London Post War and Contemporary Art Evening. Raza was member of progressive artists group which was set up in early 1950s at the Artists Centre at Kalaghoda in art hub of Mumbai.


It is not only multi-million tag which is being talked about Indian art abroad but consistency with which Indian art is dominating discussion and debate about art in any forum. It is not merely region specific or style representative , but it is being taken seriously as a part of contemporary global art. If one merely takes a look at the price tag of some of the serious Indian art work, one will realize impact Indian art has on the art world. Contemporary art from the country has fetched record prices at various auctions conducted during last decade, especially during last year. As mentioned , the total auction market size of Indian art has jumped from $5 million in 2003 to nearly $150 million last year. Apart from appreciation of Indian masters, number of Indian artists are finding place of recognition across the continents. Recently , a group of 25 Indian artists had a group show at Serpentine Gallery in United Kingdom and attracted art lovers, collectors, artists , critics alike .


These developments and new found place for Indian art is very encouraging for young artists from the subcontinent. It is heartening to note that while art markets in the America and Europe have taken a beating as a result of bubble burst , Indian art together with its Chinese counterpart have been able to keep its head above. No doubt it has slowed down sales and brought down prices of art work , it is actually blessings in disguise as only good and serious work and artists will survive while pseudo artists and their supporters would vanish from the scene.


History of Indian Art is as old as the Indian civilization and no wonder the strides made by Indian art is making every Indian proud . It is not merely number of Indian artist who have been dominating art world , or being sold at higher price tags , but the fact that it largely represents Indian way of understanding life and complexities of nature that provides confidence to the nation, standing at a cross roads. India has been a melting pot of different cultures and Indian art has been influenced and yet survived its uniqueness by blending new influences.


Contemporary Indian art shows rare kind of maturity and high degree of sophistication. It is showing readiness to imbibe global trends without fear of losing its inherent strength and willing to experiment. Indian artist is also no more confined to one single medium of oil on canvas or water colour on paper , but is neither afraid nor against using all or mix of available mediums. If one takes a close look at contemporary Indian art , one will not find any distinction between paintings, assemblages, installations, collages and sculptures as Indian artists with new level of energy is exploring all available mediums.


As a result of globalization of world economy during last decade, support base for Indian art has also got transformed. Apart from supporting business houses, government agencies, and royal rich families, discerning Indian middle class which also benefited from economic growth has been supporting Indian art in a big way. This new found love for art has given immense sense of identity and pride to globe trotting professional Indians during first decade of the 21st century. We can hope that Indian art will be more at ease in experimenting and breaking new grounds in coming years.


( courtesy : One India One People )