When the Centre of International Modern Art (CIMA) opened 20 years ago, the Indian contemporary market was firming up, and some of the practitioners were already getting the recognition they deserved on the international art scene.
There was always a market for Indian miniatures and antiques, but it was only then that works of modern Indian masters began to make waves in the sale rooms of Sotheby’s and Christie’s, and both auction houses opened shop in Delhi and Mumbai.
CIMA had made its agenda quite clear from the outset, and the spacious gallery in Ballygunge has hosted several important exhibitions from abroad. At the same time, it has upheld tradition by organising some huge shows of Bengal and Indian masters.
The gallery’s 20th anniversary exhibition, Transition, opening on Friday once again connects the past with present, the classic with the cutting edge.
Hanging in one corner of the gallery is Shilpaguru Ananta Maharana’s patachitra of Hanuman. It is fantastically detailed yet monumental in scale. This work carries worlds within worlds in truly epic style.
Close to it on the floor lie Tapas Biswas’s complex beds of bright electroplated wires of welded brass, and not far from it is Anjum Singh’s tubular form with antlers fashioned out of iron.
While the two young sculptors are trying to forge a vocabulary of their own, the elderly, traditional artist from Odisha is trying to transcend and break out of his mould. All three artists are, in spite of their disparities, trying to explore worlds of their own creation.
A classic oil painting of 2003 by Arpita Singh of an elderly woman is literally framed by the patua Swarna Chitrakar’s painting of a woman’s life as it is, and in her expansive dreams.
Close to it is Sumitro Basak’s work composed of tiny plastic toys sold on pavements and in village fairs. With these he creates innumerable curious vignettes as in his larger paintings. The whole composition is framed like an unlikely picture.
Hanging close to it, but at another end of the aesthetic spectrum, is Chittrovanu Mazumdar’s huge painting of roiling red and grey, which again is juxtaposed with Rashmi Bagchi Sarkar’s pillow of thorns.
Come to think of it, all these works seem to be engaged in a conversation of the varied trajectories of today’s Indian art.
Not in the same corner, but linked to these is Kinghsuk Sarkar’s Million Bird’s Fly, a sprawling work composed of natural plant fibres, stretched mulberry cocoons, and actual bird’s nests which had been abandoned.
Again, Pankaj Panwar’s fibreglass wrestling angels on skateboards are in a face-off with Sushen Ghosh’s halves of a ghat (an earthenware pitcher) moulded in bronze and arranged in a semicricle on the floor — the very picture of tranquillity.
Rabindranath Tagore’s mysterious portrait of a lady looks on from above. The poet’s mask-like face of beaten bronze by Somnath Hore is placed under it, creating conversations that did not originally exist.
Lalu Prosad Shaw’s foppish babu and Abir Karmakar’s chilling photograph of flesh wrapped in plastic seem to be two sides of the same coin — the stylised and the visceral.
Another interesting conversation piece is created by the proximity of Sreyasi Chatterjee’s embroidered canopy and Debasis Barui’s multi-level installation straight out of a nightmare. Chatterjee has turned needlework into a highly personal form of self-expression. Barui uses technology to create the vision of severed legs which seem to float on several layers of astral light.
Transition, the 20th anniversary exhibition at CIMA Gallery reflecting the changing landscape of Indian art over almost a century, will open on December 13 and be on display till January 25, 2014