Friday, April 2, 2010

Art India

Taj in the morning mist, Agra.
by Michèle Gerber Klein

Just out of the terminal in New Delhi after my 21-hour trip from New York I am assaulted by mixed scents of jasmine, rose and the smoke from dung cakes Indian workers burn to cook their food and warm their shanties. Through this dense night air I can see no stars.

A Sikh warrior guards the entrance to the Imperial Hotel, New Delhi.
The car that’s to take me to the Imperial Hotel where my visit to Delhi, Varanasi, Agra, Jaipur and Mumbai with a small group from MoMA’s Contemporary Art Council will begin — arrives. When the driver opens the door, he adorns my neck with ribbons of marigolds. Along the way kohl eyed street urchins wave and smile at me somersaulting and doing cart wheels.

Some even walk on their hands. Then they run along side us pointing at their open mouths. This is how they beg. In front of the Imperial, a Sikh warrior with a bright silk turban and fierce mustaches bows low to greet me. My hand bag must pass through the metal detector. Such is my welcome to India, a country brimming with what Rudyard Kipling called ‘strong light and darkness’: a land of contrasts with the fastest growing population in the world. It’s where the Bronze Age and the twenty first century collide.

By the Arabian Sea in Mumbai, also called ‘gateway’ to the continent, stiffly ornate British-Victorian architecture nudges the crescent of sky scrapers that stretch around the bay.

The frilled opulence of the late Raj’s palaces dominates the slums of Jaipur. Further to the north, in Agra and Deli giant Islamic mosques and tombs rise like vast jewel boxes from wide terraces or water gardens of heavenly delight. The remains of delicate, sensual Hindu temples and palaces carved with images of magical lovers both human and animal and ruined by the Mogul conquerors lie close to the massive, abstract, Islamic tombs, or border the holy Ganges in Varanasi which is the heart of India. There are no cities without shanty towns. Everywhere, streets teem.
View from my window on the 35th floor of the Trident Hotel in Bombay. The “Necklace of Pearls” wreaths the Arabian Sea, Mumbai.
The “Gateway to India,” Mumbai.
Victorian architecture by the port, Mumbai. The Victorian Church Gate Railway Terminus, Mumbai.
The Wind Palace, Jaipur.
Alla Broeksmit in the courtyard of the Maharaja's Palace, Jaipur. Evelyn Laurentzen Bell underneath peacock lintel in the courtyard of the Maharaja's Palace, Jaipur.
Close-up of peacock lintel, Jaipur.
Bobbie Foshay in the gardens in front of the Taj Mahal, Agra.
Clockwise from above: Water garden of the Taj, Agra; Detail of the Taj: lilies carved into the marble; Detail of the Taj ... hand inlays of cornelians, lapis lazuli, and malachite.
The swimming pool of the Oberai Hotel, Agra mirrors the fountains of the Taj Mahal, Agra.
The Persian Queen's Pavilion in Fatapur Sikri, Ackbar's abandoned capital, outside of Agra.
Humayun's Tomb, New Delhi.
Inside the Old Mosque, New Delhi.
Hindu temple ruins, New Delhi.
Hindu temple ruins, New Delhi.
Worshipping the Ganges, Varanasi.
Worshippers (Surya Namaskar) pay homage to the sun bathing at dawn in the Ganges, Varanasi.
Sun worshippers bathing at dawn in the Ganges, Varanasi.
Shoreline, Varanasi. Shelly wrote “I met a traveler from an ancient land.”
Inextricable from all this bustle, push and shove are the animals. It’s not just the sacred cows that gridlock roads unhurried by the jam of busses, taxis, motorcycles and dib haws all honking ceaselessly. Or the vast variety of birds: crows are ubiquitous as well as parrots, mina birds, herons, vultures and pea cocks. Or the pets: goats, the elephants, painted camels and festooned horses used for ceremonial occasions. It’s the light-footed, elegant wild dogs that frolic all around. Here, all animals tame or free are fed.
Shanty town, Mumbai.
A holy cow behind the MoMA bus, Mumbai.
Indian black and grey crows perched on shutters, Mumbai. Wild dogs frolic in a public park in New Delhi.
A goat with a coat roams at its whim in Old Delhi.
Pet monkey gets walked outside the Oberai hotel, Agra.
Official horses greet new visitors to the Rambagh Hotel, Agra.
Elephant polo at Der Amer, Udaijit Singh's hunting estate outside of Jaipur.
Similarly, one sees western clothing but often, men and women wear colors, fabrics and embroidery stitched, dyed and woven with methods discovered thousands of years ago. A case in point, the sari, almost as ancient as Hinduism itself, has been traced to an Indus Valley civilization dated 2800-1800 BC. Dabbawalla’s, the lunch-box deliverers of Mumbai are more contemporary. They wear white shirts and Nehru kepis.
Before the trishaw ride, Varanasi.
Tea shop in Varanasi. Varanasi shop door.
Trishaw ride through Varanasi street at night.
Charlie and Marilyn Bailye in trishaw. Gallerist Frederieke Taylor models Mahal's emerald necklace in a Varanasi jewelry store.
This hand-embroidered, emerald, ruby, and sapphire-encrusted bed canopy was made to order for a Maharaja in the 1930s.
Traffic, Mumbai.
Carpet merchant at the entrance to Old Delhi.
Street barber in Mumbai. A marble Ganesh is robed with pashminas in the window of a jewelry shop in Mumbai.
Stacks of fabrics, Mumbai.
Selling saris at Fab India in the Kahn market, Delhi. Fruit in the Kahn market, Delhi.
Bread in the Kahn market, Delhi.
In the Olive Restaurant, Delhi: Pat Whitman and Raju Singh.
Tent dining under the desert stars at Der Amer.
Pamela and James Heller at Der Amer. Lynne Tarnopol and Michèle Gerber Klein at the Indigo Restaurant, Mumbai.
Dinner on the roof of the Indigo Restaurant, Mumbai. Sylvia De Cuevas, Frederieke Taylor, Michèle Gerber Klein, and Raju Singh.
Way side produce peddlers, out door stalls, small stores are crowded in a huddle. Street hawking and trafficking of all kinds abounds. It seems that everyone has something to sell from jewels whose price and scarcity is beyond imagination, to grass to feed their holy cow. Restaurant architecture is often modern but open fire grills are the stove du jour. And the aromatic cookery, much of it Hindu/vegetarian derives from archaic recipes.
By the Taj in Agra. A religious man. Street, Varanasi.
Monks, Varanasi. Pilgrims from Tibet at the Deer Park, Dhanma-cakkappa vattana, where Buddha preached his first sermon. The round shape of the temple is the shape of an inverted begging bowl.
On a bench in Delhi.
A gardener brings her child to work at Humayun's Tomb, New Delhi. Chef and waiter at the Olive Restaurant, Delhi.
Schoolchildren at Humayun's Tomb, New Delhi.
In front of the Raj's Palace, Jaipur. Tradition meets modernity on the steps of Varanasi.
A Dalbawallah, a member of the Bombay Union Tiffin Box Carriers, with his tiffins, Mumbai. Dalbawallahs, Mumbai.
Artists in India discover new meanings by re-arranging timeless symbols to comment on change in their world. Bharti Kher decorates smashed mirrors and wardrobes with patterns made of pasted bindis. Anju Dodiya’s self portraits play with occasionally sinister images of the wedding necklace. “Rescuing”: the ceremonial statues of gods and goddesses that have been “returned” to rivers Subodh Gupta resurrects them in his work.

I am reminded of my friend the sculptor Joel Shapiro who told me it was his peace-corps experience in India that gave him the “possibility of making art.” Now I understand him. Here, where history weaves into the present icons and rituals of daily existence art is not separated. It’s pervasive and persuasive. It’s part of the fabric: living and art.
Bharti Kher's swirling collage of bindis.
Bharti Kher's swirling collage of bindis. Bharti's daughter helps with the pasting.
Anju Dodiya.
Anju Dodiya. Image of necklace. Reena Kallat, portrait composed of “official stamps” comments on the drop of status of many people from certain regions of India.
Reena Kallat's shoe iconography.
Detail of Reena Kallat portrait: official stamps.
Reena Kallat in her studio with assistants. Reena's husband, Gitsh Kallar, in his studio.
Gitsch Kallar, car sculpture.
The T and T team of Thukral and Tagra. The T and T team of Thukral and Tagra.
Jajannath Panda, work on paper. Jajannath Panda, pashmina-enveloped rhinoceros.
Mumbai street shops inspire the art of Atul Douya. A “Beyond the shop gate” painting by Atul Douya.
Subodeh Gupta, Bharti Kher's husband. Atul Douya in his studio with Sarah Suzuki, assistant curator, MoMA.
Shiva in an alcove in Varanasi.
Ganesh and a fighter pilot from World War I co-exist at the entrance to Subodeh's studio.
Subodeh will use this Ganesh icon, rescued from a river, in his sculpture. Anna-Marie and Robert Shapiro in front of a photograph of Subodeh Gupta in the farmhouse of collector Anupam Poddar.
Dinner with the artists at Anupam Poddar's farmhouse. The coffee tale is covered with tuberose blossoms. L. to r.: Evelyn Laurentzen-Bell, Dudley Del Basso, Carol Blake, and Lynne Tarnipole.
A work from Poddar's collection. A work exhibited at Poddar's Devi Art Foundation.

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