India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Mongolia: Flowering cultures

Imago Mundi

Contemporary Artists From India

The art of the South Asian region, with India at its heart, reflects the flowering of many cultural influences that have implanted themselves in a soil that is equally varied in terms of geographical and climatic conditions, cultural traditions, and even the people that inhabit it.

Nilesh D. Bharti - Untitled (2012)

The interesting thing about cultural traditions is that they are not limited by political borders. So while South Asia, in its post-colonial phase, is made up of a number of states, with all the differences that occur between them over time, their cultures not only intertwine but flourish beyond borders, as one.

Arup Lodh - Untitled (2012)

This is naturally reflected in the art of the region, which is shot through with connections to ancient Sumeria and Babylon, the Sassanid, Greek and Roman empires, with later infusions of the Huns, Mongols, Afghans, and even later the Portuguese, French and British, not to speak of today’s infusion of information technology and tastes with a predominantly North American flavour.

Abhijit Dutta - India (2012)

But the curious thing about influences in South Asian art is how they are digested, homogenized and recast in the South Asian mould with its own quirks and traditions. This is not so surprising as this art has been the repository of a number of traditions inherited over time that have gone on to become native.

A.S. Chitrak - Kamadhenu (2012)

What are these traditions? The most important one, of course, is the tradition of the various schools of miniature painting, which are not simple illustrations to texts but rather narratives in their own right. This genre of painting was given a fillip because Mogul emperor Akbar – son of the accomplished memoir writer Babur – was dyslexic and needed visual narratives rather than texts to understand the essence of epics and philosophical works. So a genre of miniature painting evolved that was independent of texts and innovative in its own right. This is what distinguishes our miniature art from European or Persian miniatures. At the same time, a familiarity with this genre allows South Asian artists to contribute to the Benetton Collection far more spontaneously and naturally than artists in parts of the world that do not share this tradition.

Sujata Achrekar - Untitled (2012)

This is obvious from the ease with which artists of different ages and regions of South Asia were able to respond immediately to Luciano Benetton’s call without being overly exercised about the matter. The capacity to respond naturally to any demand is, in my view, a major quality of this multi-faceted art.

Sarla Chandra - Untitled (2012)

Another aspect that characterizes South Asian contemporary art is the way it has digested the baroque and decorative elements of the past and made them part of the formal compositional structure of an artwork. From this perspective, the decorative becomes part and parcel of lyrical expression and new-age romanticism, quite different from decoration and distinct from its sometime function as the mere embellishment of an empty space.

Siddharth Sengupta - Buddha (2012)

This brings us to two other qualities of our contemporary art. The first is its refusal to conform to the limitations of one particular style. This has often been described pejoratively as eclectic art, but that is not what it is. Eclecticism does not necessarily reflect the choice of a synthesis that is determined more by the contradictions that emerge around the artist and less by an amalgam of seemingly unrelated forms. This logical blending of content with form – in a manner that reflects both the experience of society and of the individual whose expression it is – is something quite distinct from mere eclecticism in an artwork.

Banwari Lal Jangid - Untitled (2012)

Then there is the question of whether we can impose categories that evolved out of past developments in European and North American art and try to fit our present experience into them. If we take, for example, our non-figurative art, it has coexisted with our other art forms for centuries and has never had to grapple for space with them. Similarly, our miniatures are not illustrations of texts but independent narratives. While both the assemblage and the installation, not to speak of aniconic sculpture and found objects, are all part of our art tradition and have coexisted happily with each other as part of it.

Hema Upadhyay - Discussion (2012)

It is not the similarity or difference in art forms that characterizes our art but rather its content, both social and individual, which is reflected as modernity. It is perhaps this refusal of our modern artistic expression to fit into preconceived categories of vintage Euro-American expression that has found it admirers all over the world since the 1980s when people actually began to look for art that responded to the reality of a multi-polar world.

Dibyendu Bhadra - Untitled (2012)

One of the preconditions of this development, of course, was that the artist break free of the traditional patron-client relationship. The artist as a creator was kept in check by patrons – both the temporal and religious lords – which, in caste society, meant relegating artists to low-caste status. That is why our best stone carvers, metal casters and painters were mostly untouchables.

Devidas B. Dharmadhikari - Untitled (2012)

This changed with our anti-colonial and post-colonial movements that challenged caste prohibitions and the low status accorded to the artist through them. The anti-colonial movement and the struggles for freedom of expression that followed have brought the artist to the forefront. And they have, as a consequence, considerably changed the status of artists in society.

Sunil Dutt Mamgain - The Divine Melody (2012)

The flowering that we see in our art today reflects the joy of the artist in seeing things changing and for the better. This heady feeling of being liberated from the shackles of the past, both internal and external, has given our contemporary art a voice in all debates going on in our region, from minority rights to challenging gender and caste discrimination, to being able to express ideas beyond both the constraints of patronage and the market. That is why our contemporary artists have touched the hearts of the people and gained the recognition due to them.

Sachindranath Jha - Untitled (2012)

Tejinder Kanda - Untitled (2012)

This collection faithfully represents a cross section of different forms
of expression, their variety in style and content and, also, their underlying agenda of freedom of expression, with its many facets and democratic essence. This collection, no doubt, will communicate its sense of fulfilment and joy, ananda, to all who see it. The Luciano Benetton Project and Collection will serve as another window into South Asia’s contemporary ananda for the rest of the world in a format that is both unusual and fits comfortably into our artistic tradition.

Suneet Chopra
Art critic, writer, poet

Lok Chitrakar - Two Hands (2012)

Credits: Story

Project management
Neeraj Ajmani

Valentina Granzotto
Koshika Mehrotra

Editorial coordination
Enrico Bossan

Luciano Benetton
Neeraj Ajmani
Suneet Chopra
Demetrio De Stefano

Translation and editing
Anna Franchin (Italian)
Tom Ridgway (English)
Nishu Varma (English, Hindi and Italian)

Art direction
Namyoung An

Marco Pavan

Mauro Bedoni
Marco Pavan

Special thanks to
Sanjeev Mohanty

Snehal Ghangrekar,

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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