Artists, ironically, don’t always need liberty to create – art has always battled repression, sprouted through the cracks, sparked revolutions, mocked authority, and found a way to exist. Yet, the challenge of liberty remains fundamentally at the heart of creation – battles with perception, with invisible boundaries of past and present, with censorship, with one’s own demons, all inform an artist’s work. Tehelka, in association with Sotheby’s, commissioned 23 of the country’s most accomplished artists to interpret the greatest threat to their freedom on canvas. We’re proud to present Art for Freedom: The Challenge of Liberty
All artists resist classification, resist the academic impulse to box up and ‘explain’ their work. Akbar Padamsee foils the explainers, the amateur taxonomists by never standing still, never allowing his art to stagnate. In a career spanning six decades, Padamsee has never been afraid to experiment, whether with landscapes, nudes, figures and abstracts; with colour, form, technology; with mediums as diverse as painting, sculpting, filmmaking and writing. Born in Bombay in 1928, Padamsee moved to Paris as a young man. His work quickly found favour among the French capital’s critics and cognoscenti, before Padamsee made a triumphant debut in his native city in 1954. It heralded a lifetime of travel and acclaim: he has received the prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru fellowship, the Kalidasa Samman by the Madhya Pradesh government and, in 2010, the Padma Bhushan. None of it has made him an establishment figure. In his 80s, he’s still pushing boundaries, currently working with computer graphics.
Beautiful is the first word that comes to mind when confronting Anju Dodiya’s work, with its luminosity, its attention to form and fine lines. For an artist deeply influenced by medieval European art and Japanese Ukiyo-e woodblock prints, beauty is an essential subtext. But the works demand deeper attention, imbued as they are with emotion, with conflict and a disquieting, underlying sense of hysteria. She plays skillfully with duality, with a fine balance of reality and theatricality, evoked through her portrayal of the self and the world.
Through two decades, Anju has explored the fear and anxiety in the mind of the artist who faces the prospect of creation, how the capacity to make something extraordinary comes with the threat of doom. A student at Mumbai’s JJ School of Art, she works with watercolours and charcoal. She has shown at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Helsinki, Chicago Cultural Centre and Venice Biennale.
For the self-taught Arpana Caur, who grew up surrounded by literary and artistic influences, women have been a particularly evocative muse. Based in Delhi, Arpana has been celebrated for her textured depiction of women in contemporary urban India. Her all-encompassing depictions show more than just sexuality, focusing on the strength of the female body in the face of nature and violence. Since 1974, she has held solo shows in London, Berlin, Amsterdam, Munich, New York and Stockholm. She was commissioned by the Hiroshima Museum of Modern Art to execute a large work for its permanent collection on the 50th anniversary of the Holocaust in 1995. She founded the Academy of Fine Arts and Literature, along with her mother Ajeet Caur, through which she supports fine arts and vocational training for the underprivileged. A strong advocate for protecting the environment, she is also committed to the restoration of rural and urban environments.
It seems impossible to sum up the artistic impulse of Atul Dodiya, a master of improvisation and reinvention. His works can be playful and philosophical, lyrical and aggressive, populated by images from the media, national history, political events, billboards, movie posters, comic strips, religious oleographs, medieval and contemporary art, Indian and Western art. He is an artist shaped by everything around him, using his rich imagination to mine essential truths about our way of life.
Atul studied at the JJ School of Art in Mumbai, and is deeply connected to his roots, Ghatkopar in Central Mumbai where he grew up and continues to live. His art, however, has taken him far and wide. In the ’90s, he spent a year in Paris in a residency at the Ecole des Beaux Arts; he’s participated at Documenta 12 in Germany and the Venice Biennale, and shown at Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid and the Japan Foundation Asia Centre in Tokyo; the only constant in his work is the breaking of boundaries.
Having been exhibited in London, New York, Mumbai and New Delhi, Bose Krishnamachari still believes in the innocence of love. His works convey pain but survive on emotion and innocence, and his work as an abstractionist has no fixed centre. Born in 1963 in a small village in Kerala, he moved to Mumbai and expanded his artistic vision, experimenting with a wide palette of projects ranging from vivid abstract paintings to figurative drawings, but also exploring sculpture and multimedia installations. Saturated colours are a dominant force in his art, including his photographic and multimedia works, influenced, he says, by the alternately subdued and lavish colours of Indian ceremonies and rituals. Recipient of the Kerala Lalita Kala Academy award and first runner-up for the Bose Pacia Prize for Modern Art, Bose Krishnamachari has smoothly swayed his way through the Indian contemporary art scene, keeping love at the centre of his protean craft.
Not content with creating art as a solitary activity, Brinda Miller took artistic enterprise to a new level through her engagement with one of Mumbai’s largest annual festivals, the Kala Ghoda Arts festival. An alumnus of the JJ School of Art, Miller studied textile design before specialising in drawing and painting at Parsons in New York. Her work has undergone a steady and remarkable transformation over the years, where pastels, landscapes and birds have given way to complex and rich skycapes. Miller and her husband, architect Alfaz Miller, are responsible for transforming Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji Airport into an art-friendly space. But then in many ways, public art is a concept she has been responsible for introducing to the city through the creation of vivid murals across the cityscape.
Chintan Upadhyay is originally from Partapur, Rajasthan, where he was introduced to art through the state’s miniature style of painting and influenced by his father, a teacher at the Jaipur School of Art. In search of new styles, he went to MSU Baroda for a Bachelor’s and then in Fine Arts in painting. Now based in Mumbai, the 40-year-old is also a sculptor and an installation artist. His recurring motif is the large colourful baby—his highly individualistic critique on technology-driven, contemporary consumerist culture. But it is, in many ways, virtually impossible to slot Chintan in a niche—a deliberate choice, because he believes a signature style is a form of self-parody that is more an economic instinct than an artistic one. In 2003, he founded the artist initiative Sandharbh, where artists from all over the world spend a month in a village, exploring new modes of art and interacting with local communities. He has exhibited in galleries in Taipei, Korea, London, as well as all over India.
A student of Triveni Kala Sangam, Hemi Bawa is a contemporary artist and sculptor whose work is a dynamic tapestry of thought, form and colour. Her paintings are quiet compositions where space provides subtext for oils and acrylics, creating images that are almost spiritual; her sculptures — made of wood, stone and kiln glass — convey a sense of movement and evolution. In many ways, her works offer a still, calming clarity to the chaos and frenetic energy that characterise India. Her work has always played with scale, texture and materials and reflects her inner state and personality; a structured, calm person, these attributes reflect in the clean, minimal lines of her sculptures. Hers has been a career of many firsts: in 1996, she became the first Indian artist to exhibit sculptures in cast glass at the Jehangir Art gallery in Mumbai, in a series called Frozen Fire. Her contribution to the world of art was acknowledged nationally when she received the Padma Shri in 2009.
G. R. Iranna
GR Iranna is as experimental with his medium as he is with his message. His evocative images of pain and human suffering have found voice in media as diverse as oil on canvas and acrylic on tarpaulin. Having spent considerable time in a gurukul and an ashram, Iranna’s aesthetic is strongly rooted in Indian culture, a trait that informs his art. His works make strong statements: pain is an abstract force translated through bruised textures and razor-sharp edges, while more recent works explode with energy and visions of resistance. There is a sense of conflict being played out on canvas—a conflict not linked to the outside world but to the artist’s own mind and a desire, possibly, to break free from the establishment.
A graduate of fine arts from the College of Visual Art, Gulbarga, Iranna has won a host of awards in recognition of his art, including a National Award from the Lalit Kala Akademi in 1997 and a Singapore Art Museum Jury Award in 2008.
With two master’s degrees in sculpture, it’s not surprising that some of Jagannath Panda’s most evocative works are sculptural. Born in Bhubaneshwar, Odisha, the 42-year-old graduated, from MS University, Baroda, then went on to acquire a Masters in Fine Arts from the Royal College of Art in London. In 1997, he spent time as a visiting researcher at the University of Fukuoka, Japan, a stint that greatly influenced his art and imbued it with a striking simplicity. Through simple lines, vibrant colours and recurring animal imagery, his works embody the fundamental conflicts between life in cities and villages, between modernity and tradition and nature and nurture. He is also fascinated by the dichotomies of rationality and religion and often brings together binary opposites in his work, forming a coherent narrative from conflicting realities. Based in New Delhi, this Lalit Kala Akademi awardee’s works have been displayed across the world, including London, Beijing, Austria, Dubai and Rome.
Born in Faridpur, Bangladesh, Jogen Chowdhury migrated to Kolkata with his father right before partition. Living with an uncle who served in the police, Chowdhury made his first painting on a wall of the police residential quarters. Since then, his style — fluid lines, stark canvasses, solitary, distanced figures — has become iconic. Born and raised through one of India’s most politically turbulent phases, Chowdhury’s art is reflective of the isolation of the human condition, yet manages to retain a sense of the spiritual and the sensual in its form. An important figure in the narrative of 21st century Indian art, Jogen has been an inspiration to a host of younger painters and he has been widely acknowledged as ‘the master of the unbroken line’.
Chowdhury studied art at the Government College of Art and Craft in Kolkata, and then the Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux Arts in Paris. He currently lives and works in Santiniketan, Kolkata.
Madhvi Parekh’s art has been shaped by her experience of India’s most difficult years, through the time of Partition. Born in Sanjay, a village in Gujarat, Parekh’s art is unique for its juxtaposition of rural motifs and flat palettes, reflecting the contemporary influence of artists like Paul Klee and Clements. A self-taught artist, she gave up on her dream to become a doctor when she married her artist husband Manu Parekh—a loss for medicine but decidedly, art’s gain. While her initial works displayed a leaning towards traditional folk forms, her latter work makes strong, highly loaded statements on the place of women, the girl child and everyday encounters between the urban and rural India. The goddess Durga and Christ are both recurring images in her work, something she attributes to the formative years she spent in Kolkata in the 70s. Today, in addition to being a National Award winning painter, Parekh is also the author of a coffee table book called World of Memories.
Painting tableaus of the subconscious, Manjunath Kamath teases and provokes everyday objects into witty and surprising stories. He came to Delhi over a decade ago with a Bachelor’s in Fine Arts from Chamarajendra Academy of Visual Arts, Mysore, under his belt and absolutely no prescience of an art market that was about to explode. He has since been on a quiet and steady climb into the public eye for works ranging from sculpture and video art, multi-media installations and paintings. Manjunath brings out the essentially fluid meaning of images, of visual codes that retain an air of mystery through their many possible interpretations, the challenging of received information and notions. His work seems influenced by the everyday, the momentary, the fleeting, yet has universal rather than local relevance. “The objects in his work seem to be trying to displace and dislocate each other in order to find a place on the pictorial surface”, says art critic Johnny ML.
Five decades after Manu Parekh graduated from the JJ School of Art, his work continues to be fraught with an urgently youthful, erotic anxiety. As a design consultant to the Handicrafts Handloom Export Corporation of India, he worked with textile artists, weavers from Orissa and Kashmir, Mithila and Madhubani artists and deepened his art through research and travel. Even as he engages with the burgeoning of life and its inherent contradictions, his work is grounded in the present and the political—his mixed-media canvasses, for instance, reflected the Bhagalpur blindings and the Bhopal gas tragedy. The fluidity of concepts that lie on different sides of a dichotomy—eternity and time, youth and senescence, faith and secularity—are rendered in bold brush strokes. The city of Benares to him is a confluence of deeper concerns and a place of constant return. Parekh’s thoroughly modern sensibility, underlying an entirely Indian aesthetic, places him at a vital interstice of Indian art.
An underlying irreverence marks the work of Nayanaa Kanodia. She picks sights that are familiar to us – bustling streets, crowded cafes, joint families – and renders them afresh with a new way of seeing. It’s as if she’s playing a game with her viewers, challenging them through satire and humour to arrive at an understanding of a society in transition. An eye for irony and a perceptive simplicity underlie her work, offering a visual timeline of our society through everyday incidents and interactions; through quirky collisions of east and west, through the harmony and conflict that characterise these interactions. A self-taught artist, Nayanaa trained with Anjolie Ela Menon and has shown at galleries worldwide, including the Victoria & Albert Museum in London and Ueno Royal Museum in Tokyo.
To describe him as an artist-activist is not enough. Komu uses his work “to ring alarm bells” and confront the uncomfortable truth. There is no other way for him, shaped as he is by his father’s political leanings and his homeland Kerala, and the explosive urban environment of his adoptive city, Mumbai. He came to study at the JJ School of Art in 1991, the year of liberalisation which was followed by that dark year in Mumbai’s history, the 1992 riots. Ever since, Komu finds himself going back to the themes of political chauvinism, religious identity, gender disparity, and violence and death.
Though he specialised in painting, Komu is a wizard of varied art forms, using sculpture, photography, sound and video installations to convey his emotionally-charged messages. The 41-year-old participated at the Venice Biennale in 2007 and has shown at prominent museums across the world, like the Centre Pompidou and the Museum of Contemporary Art at Lyon.
Roohi Kapoor’s vibrant canvases have that quality that artists most yearn for, the ability to make time stand still. At her most recent exhibition, the titles of Kapoor’s work received almost as much attention as the art—The Dreamer, Purple Haze, Mr Here and Mrs Now—evocative titles that lend a storyteller’s verve to the static canvas. Mostly, her art is an expression of her life, moods, feelings, though the techniques to depict these change and evolve constantly. An admirer of European experimental art and in recent times particularly influenced by the methodicalness of the sight-size technique, Kapoor’s work—though still new—has been applauded by critics and curators for its surreal blending of the abstractions of thought, with the minutely detailed human bodies that experience them. Having attended a range of experimental courses in Europe, Roohi enjoys playing with technique to evoke curiosity and response, and has held widely appreciated solo exhibitions in recent years.
Sanjay Bhattacharyya became an artist to pay homage to his city, Kolkata. One of the most gifted students of the legendary Bikash Bhattacharya, he began his career with a stint in advertising before art consumed him full time. His paintings are an ode to the city of joy and the city of decay, of colonial grandeur and dilapidated palaces, the Calcutta full of contradictions. As a young artist he would sit often at Howrah Bridge and Sealdah Station, drawing board in hand. A spirit of romantic haunting pervades the empty houses, dark bedrooms and portraits he paints in oil and watercolour. One of the country’s most influential artists, Bhattacharya has shown globally, including at Boce Pacia Modern and Aicon Gallery in New York.
If you find yourself at the International Departure terminal of Delhi Airport, it would be good advice to factor in extra time to truly appreciate Seema Kohli’s ambitious 10×100 ft mural, depicting the myth of Hiranyagarbha, or the golden womb. Layers and layers of rich colour depicting animals, birds, flowers, rivers, trees, and human figures, and the one symbol that is to be found in almost every panel, the orb, the centre of her artistic vision. The orb is the giver of life, symbol of universal energy, at once the sun and the womb.
The self-taught artist loves working on large-scale canvases, often lying on top of the canvas as she paints. Based out of Delhi, Seema studied Philosophy at Miranda College but is truly a life-long student of mythology, intrigued by the concepts of birth, death and regeneration. She has created an influential body of work that includes paintings, sculptures and installations, and has shown at art fairs and galleries across the world.
Kolkata has always been an artist’s muse but rarely can a muse ask for a more committed patron. In over four decades of painting, Shuvaprasanna Bhattacharya has been a chronicler of a city and its people. From the politically turbulent Calcutta of the 1970s to the modern-day Kolkata, the West Bengal capital has offered him innumerable themes. Once an illustrator with The Statesman, Shuvaprasanna is also the man behind creative endeavours such as the College of Visual Arts in Kolkata. At ease with forms as varied as oil on canvas, charcoal and mixed media, the emphasis on detailing makes his works visually rich while his insight and affection for the city gives him a unique eye into its strengths and quirks, its varying moods, its remarkable character. He aspires to create work with universal appeal, where words aren’t needed to translate the artist’s vision for the viewer. Shuvaprasanna is also a prolific writer on art and writes regular columns in many newspapers and journals.
Is it possible for an artist displaced from his homeland to tell stories and paint pictures of anything but the forbidden landscapes of his youth and his imagination? A Kashmiri Pandit in exile, Veer Munshi left his homeland in 1990, and went on to acquire a BFA in painting from Baroda. Now based in Delhi, Kashmir remains the primary concern in the artist’s works, which contain bleak empty landscapes and human figures in pain. Instead of hardened political statements, Munshi is famous for speaking out on human rights issues for all displaced minorities. His canvasses reflect a deep anguish, a visceral reaction to the horrors his homeland has witnessed.
In 1999, he led the team that designed Jammu and Kashmir’s Republic Day tableau and won first prize. He won the National Award from Lalit Kala Akademi in 2002. He has exhibited in major galleries in Mumbai and Delhi, as well as in Scotland and Perth and participated in the 11th Asian Art Biennale in Dhaka.
It is difficult to stick a label on Walter D’souza. Once a student of economics, D’souza decided to wander away from his home in Mumbai to join the Faculty of Fine Arts in Baroda. Completing his graduation in painting, and then going on to study print-making, D’souza credits the diversity of his subject-matter and quality of prints to the external influences that nurtured his muse—a pop-art obsessed brother, Warhol soup cans, and afternoons spent viewing slides with friends. Not one to churn out exhibitions, D’souza prefers to pace and savour his craft, and particularly enjoys the process of making paper from pulp and choosing frames for his prints.
Based in Ahmedabad, Walter enjoys a host of techniques but has been especially fêted for his lithographs and mild steel murals that dot the urban landscapes of Mumbai, Ahmedabad and Chennai. He’s a reluctant exhibitor, preferring to bypass large art movements in favour of more personalised encounters.
It is said that artists live in a parallel world. Not Yusuf Arakkal. Painter, sculptor and poet, he consciously grounds his work in reality. A man of the street, courtesy his experience of working in hotels and construction sites, he depicts the dismal lives and resistance of the common man on canvas. His own life, ironically, has been at once privileged and harsh—born to an affluent family, he lost both parents as a child; perhaps it’s possible to trace some of the bleakness in his work and sensitivity to the human condition to his own early loss.
Trained by artist Jay Verma in European academic painting, and at Chitrakala Parishat, Bengaluru, he likes to continually experiment with his technique. One of the country’s most illustrious artists, he has won national and international awards, including the Lorenso de Medici Silver and Gold Medal at Florence International Biennale 2003 and 2005. His solo shows have struck the art world across London, New York, Singapore and Dubai.