K G Subramanyan is one of India’s leading modernist masters and an influential pedagogue. He has worked with an astonishing range of media, including paintings, murals, terracotta reliefs, illustrated books, glass painting, toys and textile designs. His responsiveness to a plurality of practices and styles has led scholars such as R Sivakumar to describe Subramanyan as one of the few among post-independent Indian artists to develop a coherent and culturally sensitive personal language, one that valued true versatility over the quest for narrow individualism and personal style usually associated with modernism.
In War of the Relics (2012), the artist draws upon motifs culled from myth and contemporary culture to depict a complex time-scape of conflict where even decorative motifs acquire theatricality and violence. According to the artist, all cultures have devised signs, symbols and rituals to demonstrate the underlying unity of mankind. With time, however, these devices get uprooted from their meaning and co-opted into sectarian ideologies, become hollow relics of the past; creating distance instead of unity; and bringing the world to war. This history of violence is depicted by Subramanyan through a hybrid range of characters, their intense confrontation capturing the ideological deadlocks at the centre of numerous conflicts, from medieval crusades to the War on Terror.