An Exhibition of Contemporary Art Acquisitions

Presented by Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum in collaboration with DAG

Curated by Dr. Giles Tillotson

The Bhau Daji Lad Museum is pleased to present an exhibition of works by contemporary artists acquired over the past 10 years as a part of its celebration of the 160th year of its founding in 1857. The Museum which is the erstwhile Victoria and Albert Museum, Bombay, had been neglected was restored by INTACH Mumbai Chapter with support from the Jamnalal Bajaj Foundation and the Municipal Corporation. It reopened to the public on January 2008. The Museum had an umbilical link with the Sir J. J. School of Art, which was also founded in 1857. The Museum’s curator was also the principal of the School of Art.

In 2008 when the Museum reopened after a 5 year restoration, a new exhibitions programme called ‘Engaging Traditions’ was conceptualized as a partial residency for artists whose practice engages with subjects that are relevant to the Museum’s collection. The artists are invited to address issues especially relating to identity and the life of objects as well as critically engage with the Museum’s history and archives. Each artist is invited to work with the entire Museum space, making interventions within the cases or in the building. Each artist’s response marks a site specific conversation. Most of the works in this exhibition are gifts from the artists who participated in these solo exhibitions, with the exception of Nalini Malani who showed her work in our Special Project Space on the occasion of her receiving the Fukuoka Art Prize 2013, and Archana Hande whose work responded to our exhibition ‘The Doubled Frame: Interrogating Identity’.


The Museum's Contemporary Art Collection consists of works by renowned Indian artists: Archana Hande, Atul Dodiya, CAMP, Jitish Kallat, L.N.Tallur, Nalini Malani, Praneet Soi, Ranjani Shettar, Reena Kallat, Rohini Devasher, Sheba Chhachhi and Thukral & Tagra. These artists have presented exhibitions at the Museum.
The Museum is one of the few public institutions in India that collects contemporary art works. This is the first time we are exhibiting all the works together.

Archana Hande
POI / भारत के लोग, 2014

POI/Bharat ke Log, (POI standing in for People of India with a delicious vernacularsound to it – poi like oi) is artist Archana Hande's response to the Museum exhibition, The Doubled Frame: Interrogating Identity.

The latter exhibition draws from the Museum's collection of rare books, photographs, paintings and prints to essay a reading of how an Indian identity was constructed in the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries by the British. Using the Museum collection as the frame of reference Hande creates a topography of images both contemporary and historic that emerge like ghosts and disappear in a shroud that is actually a mosquito net, ephemera from the past seeking to inhabit a tangible form in the here and now. The artist speaks of her interest in the idea of how identity has no origin and is a constantly shifting ontological construction that changes with each passing moment. However she explains that the human need for security and certainty prevails and we are co-opted into believing that which others wish us to believe. The issue of what is authentic, what is pure and original as a cultural construction is questionable and difficult to substantiate as the very act of practice in the present mediates and changes the original.

Hande uses the idea of a mosquito net, a British import now used ubiquitously in India, as the protective layer which encloses the ephemeral images of the hundreds of types of people which she has sourced both from her own personal collection and from the Museum. She speaks of a semiotics of identity, signifiers which become codes of connection or disharmony. “This language is performed through a documentary practice which transforms the original idea in its very practice,” she says.

Using video, assemblage, popular imagery and sounds to create an immersive experience the artist asks us to reflect on who we are and how we have come to see ourselves.

Atul Dodiya
Gallery of Art Expansion Imphal, 2014

7000 Museums: A Project for the Republic of India was comprised of a comprehensive body of artworks, with oil paintings, water colours and sculptural assemblages. The works evoke a layered dialogue with varied conceptual frameworks from the Museum’s collection, as they reference defining moments of history, art history as well as the semantics of museums and museum displays.

Atul addresses the complexity of various simultaneous happenings in history of politics, art and culture, through playful interventions in his works. The water colour series humorously addresses ideas of local cultural representation through a construction of mock museums which represents both a lament and a hope.

The Country of the Sea, 2015
With Shunya collective/Clark House Initiative

In a remarkable Gujarati chart of the Gulf of Aden dated around 1810, we see a drawing of parallel Arabian and Somali coasts, heavily travelled by Gujarati sailors since the 17th century. The coasts in this map are crafted and detailed, and create the impression of a world populated on its edges by different civilisations, bordering and channelling the faraway movements of sailors and traders from India.

CAMP in collaboration with Clark House Initiative present a contemporary map of these seas, based on CAMP’s 5-year project with Gujarati sailors in the Western Indian Ocean, from Kuwait to Mombasa. This is an unusual sort of map that brings the coasts of India, Africa, Iran and the Arab states in dialogue with each other. Inspired by the chart from 1810 mentioned above, the coastlines now come closer together and evoke the cultural proximities and divides produced by these seas, so important to the city of Mumbai which also features prominently at one of its edges.

The map is 16.5 feet by 4.75 feet high, and produced as a single exposure solar cyanotype print. More than 100 cities and small ports from Khor al Zubair/ Basra to the Mozambique corridor from north-south, and from Mumbai to Berbera east-west, are marked on the map. But the shape of the map disorients an easy reading of this territory as the usual physical geography. It provokes an image of the sea as its own "country", with frontier towns at its edges. The work establishes the materiality of the sea that we (some of us) see out of our windows in Mumbai, but whose other faraway edges we have lost awareness of. It brings these edges back into geological and cultural play, as if the pre-historic "breakaway" of the Indian landmass from Africa in what has been called Gondwanaland, was never a complete success.

This map formed a centre-piece or title work of CAMP's solo exhibition, As If -III "Country of the Sea" that took place at the Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum in March 2015. It is a companion piece to a suite of works from the Wharfage project that include the film From Gulf to Gulf to Gulf, (2013) the photographic installation The Annotated Gujarat and the Sea, (2011) and constellation of cruciforms Boat-Modes. (2012)

Jitish Kallat
After Before, 2011
Regiments, 2011
George Buist Resignation Letter, 2011

Jitish Kallat’s five-month long solo exhibition titled Fieldnotes: tomorrow was here yesterday in 2011 was conceived as an extended, shape-shifting project where he continued to engage and make interventions across the museum in an intimate conversation with the museum’s collection, its history, its architecture and its archive. While the exhibition had major sculptural installations such as Circa and Annexation, several of Kallat’s works were diffused and tactically interlaced within the museum’s collection.
Re-staged now in 2017 are three key interventions from Fieldnotes: tomorrow was here yesterday. Placed along the central axis of the museum is the photographic diptych titled After Before. Two found images from the museum’s restoration archive, are placed in a vitrine along the central axis of the building such that the sequence of images is inverted; creating an inversion in chronology unfolding a new freight of associations and meanings.

Within Fieldnotes, one of Kallat's most perceptive and provocative interventions was the symbolic shattering of the Regiments cabinet, a vitrine that holds within it a record of the various armed forces deployed by the British. The splintered glass of the vitrine points to a forgotten episode in the museums pre-history. In 1857, at the time of the Indian Sepoy Mutiny an urgent order was passed to empty the museum of all its objects to store ammunition, a gesture which led to the demise of the museum until it was reincarnated in 1862. This episode from the museum’s history interfaced with a key moment of India's Independence Movement. Kallat also presents here a stained facsimile of the then curator George Buist’s disheartened resignation letter dispatched to the queen of England expressing his dismay at the insensitive destruction of the museum.

L. N. Tallur
Quintessential, 2011

A museum, normally exhibits the tangible and intangible heritage of humanity and its environment. I believe, when an object of art is “museumized”, that creates a fifth dimension; which is a further addition to Einstein’s 4 dimensions (time-space). This work quintessentially narrates Tallur's theory of “5th dimension”.

Object of the experiment: To prove the existence of a “5th dimension”.

Requirements: Live virtual translation/transmission system, Elephanta documentation, model elephant that needs completion.

Hypothesis: If an object of art is “museumised”, that creates a fifth dimension; which is a further addition to Einstein’s 4 dimensions (time-space).

Background: The stone Elephant at the entrance to Rajabunder Jetty at Elephanta Island is believed to belong to 540 AD. In 1864, The British attempted to carry the elephant from which the island derives its European name, back to England. During this attempt, crane crashed and the elephant was shattered in to several pieces. The fragments were brought to then Victoria & Albert Museum now, Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum and were reintegrated by Sir George Birdwood, the then curator of the Museum.

Independent Variable: Elephanta book.

Dependent Variable: Existing restored museum elephant near the entrance.

Procedure: An incomplete model of an elephant like animal body is provided to work on. There are a number of wood blocks that seems to be part of the model elephant. The investigator (viewer) can use these blocks to re-construct the Elephant.

Conclusion and Evaluation: Data gathered during the experiment proves the existence of power and possession and this in the context of a museum conclusively proves the existence of a “fifth dimension”.

Nalini Malani
Listening to the Shades, 2013

'Listening to the Shades' is an artist’s book by Nalini Malani and Robert Storr, inspired by the writing of Christa Wolf on the ancient Greek Myth of Cassandra.

Cassandra was loved by the god Apollo, who promised her the power of prophecy if she would comply with his desires. Cassandra accepted the proposal, received the gift, and then refused the god her favours. Apollo revenged himself by ordaining that her prophecies should never be believed. She accurately predicted such events as the fall of Troy and the death of Agamemnon, but her warnings went unheeded.

In the forty-two reverse paintings that are facsimile printed, Malani retells the story that implies what has been denied to women. Cassandra’s insights are ignored and considered heretical. She symbolizes the unfinished business of the women’s revolution - a woman’s thoughts and premonitions are not understood and recognized. Malani re-activates the myth pertinent to the time, germane to the contemporary that we are living in. Malani's breathtaking rendering of this classic narrative has deep resonance with the many challenges that women still face in every culture.

Praneet Soi
Untitled – Notes On Labour, 2017

Soi has been deeply engaged in exploring the process of creating an art work in conjunction with those involved with its actual production, the labourers and craftsmen, who are frequently unacknowledged. He is deeply interested in issues surrounding the politics of labour and his work and process of creation reflect this concern.

His collaborations with craftsmen have resulted in unique works that profoundly change the equations between the artist and the artisan, between what is fine art and mere craftsmanship. It addresses questions that are at the heart of the Dr Bhau Daji Lad Museum's invitation to artists to interrogate its history, which effaced records of the many artisans who produced the extraordinary works in the Museum.

A specially designed curvilinear wall echoes the curvature of the tympanum, a defining feature of the Museum. It presents the painted concave surface to viewers as they enter the Museum, becoming a canvas, which pays homage to the craftsman. The convex surface becomes the studio wall which showcases the collaborative method used with working-notes and sketches taped informally to its surface.

Ranjani Shettar
Varsha, 2012

The Museum of Modern Art Library Council, New York gifted an edition of book by Ranjani Shettar to the Dr Bhau Daji Lad Museum.
Now come the days of changing beauty,
of summer’s parting as the monsoon comes,
when the eastern gales come driving in,
perfumed with blossoming arjuna and sal trees,
tossing the clouds as smooth and dark as sapphires:
days that are sweet with the smell of rain-soaked earth.

- Bhavabhūti, eighth century
Translated from the Sanskrit by Daniel H. H. Ingalls
Ranjani Shettar’s Varsha, an artist’s book published by the Library Council of The Museum of Modern Art in late 2012, evokes aspects of 16 phases of the monsoon and the classical Indian astronomy used to predict them. The accordion-folding volume, bound in hand-worked metal, includes 16 original prints, each corresponding to a specific period of the rainy season.

Anita Desai contributed an original essay for the project, published in a brochure that accompanies the artist’s book, along with poetry by Bhavabhūti and Rabindranath Tagore and the lyrics from a Kannada folk song.

The artist’s drawn, painted, and photographic representations of changing skies, new vegetation, and other effects of monsoon rains are rendered in etching, silkscreen, hand-carved woodcut, pigment printing, and laser cut. The varied images (prepared on teakwood blocks, etching plates, and paper) in the artist’s studio in a rural part of the state of Karnataka, in Southern India, show a range of intensities of shadow and light, color, and texture to express the passage of diverse elemental experiences—a sky filled with darkening, premonitory clouds; a splash of gentle rain on a window; hoofprints on the ground. Cut out patterns of small spheres on each print represent the constellations present in the sky during the six- to seven-month period when first the expectation and then the effects of the rains dominate the rhythms of life in India. (The official monsoon period is from June through September.) In her treatment of these star clusters Shettar alludes to the nakshat ras, the ancient Indian star charts established some 5,000 years ago and still widely used in rural agriculture, almanacs, and calendars to determine the schedules of planting, harvesting, and religious events across the subcontinent.

The 16 prints in the book are named after 16 nakshatras (from a total of 28 in a calendar year), each with its own astrological, mythopoetic, and religious significance: 1. Ashwini. Solar etching and laser cut; 2. Bharani. Solar etching, silkscreen, and laser cut; 3. Krittika. Solar etching and laser cut; 4. Rohini. Solar etching and laser cut; 5. Mrigashira. Woodcut and laser cut; 6. Ardra. Laser cut; 7. Punarvasu. Laser cut; 8. Pushya. Woodcut and laser cut; 9. Ashlesha. Spit-bite etching and laser cut; 10. Makha. Woodcut and laser cut; 11. Purva Phalguni. Woodcut and laser cut; 12. Uttara Phalguni. Woodcut and laser cut; 13. Hasta. Woodcut and laser cut; 14. Chitta. Pigment print and laser cut; 15. Swathi. Woodcut and laser cut; 16. Vishaka. Solar etching and laser cut.

Reena Kallat
Untitled Cobweb/Crossings, 2013

In a pioneering initiative to engage the public imagination, the Museum partnered with ZegnArt, a project of Ermenegildo Zegna Group on a programme titled Public. Seven contemporary artists were invited to engage with the Museum and its immediate environs and create an artwork that reflected the nature of urban discourse and the tensions embedded in the idea of the ‘public’. The exhibition sought to encourage dialogue about the nature of public space and explore the dialectics between art and the urban environment.

In Untitled (Cobweb/Crossings), an oversized web made with hundreds of replica rubber stamps wove a history of the city onto the façade of the Museum, with each stamp bearing a colonial street name that has been replaced by an indigenous one. By recovering the memory of one aspect of the process of decolonization - the renaming of anglicised British street names with Indian or regional ones - the work forms a palimpest on to which generations may re-inscribe stories.

A cobweb is evocative of time, and just as a room left vacant, stories that are not visited gather cobwebs that appear to hold dust from the past - Reena Kallat.s

Kallat's web of 550 resin rubber stamps joined with steel rope weighs over 1 ton.

Rohini Devasher
RMERIDIAN: Experiments in Time Travel, 2016

“The deep-time sciences (astronomy, geology) demand a double feat of imagination on the part of their practitioners: to compass the gargantuan time scales in which life evolves or stars form; and to project their own discipline far enough back into the past and forward into the future so that the patterns that emerge only after eons can be recorded and detected. They are the guardians of the far past in the service of the far future.” Lorraine Daston

A planisphere is a star chart analogue computing and instrument of observation in the form of two adjustable disks that rotate on a common pivot. It can be adjusted to display the visible stars for any time and date. The Philips Planisphere (Showing the Principal Stars Visible For Every Hour In the Year) from the Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum collection is an instrument to assist in learning how to recognize stars and constellations. It is also an instrument of time travel.

Contemporary interactive planispheres allow us to plot the night sky backwards and forwards through time. Meridian is part archaeological record and engineered fiction. Pages from a timeline of the far future, a series of maps, both temporal and spatial; each map charts the sky above the Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum on August 20, at two times of the day 6:30pm and 10:00pm across twenty thousand years, beginning in 416 AD through this year, 2016, 5016, 9016 etc until 21016 AD.

Sheba Chhachhi
Mistri Ke Haath, 1999 / 2011

Behind every edifice lies the story of the worker, the artisan, the unsung history of labour. The collapse of the Nehruvian model of industrialization and the swift relocation of capital led to closed factories and mills, massive retrenchment and unemployment. Hundreds of thousands of workers found themselves disenfranchised, unequipped to reinvent themselves in the new globalized economic regime.

One such worker, holds the last remnant of his life as a factory worker in his hands. Transformed into a repetitive floor tile, the image acts as a reminder, an interruption, a testament. Bringing back into the public domain, forgotten and marginalized histories.

Thukral and Tagra
Summer 2017
Title - Chapter 9: Buddha - The Single Player A,B set of two (diptych)

The work is built around the structure of a single player game, upon the philosophies conveyed by Buddha in order to achieve the state of nirvana. The work explores the path of enlightenment through the game of ping pong.

Thukral and Tagra explore the idea of 'play' from a cultural, mythological perspective. The project is an extension of their project "Games People Play" at the Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum, Mumbai 2015

The circularity of the artwork refers to the Saṃsāra or ‘world’. The endless cycle of birth and rebirth get us caught in Samsara and the only way of liberation is through the attainment of Nirvana. The four patterns in the painting sync together to form the four noble truths. The truths are a contingency designed for dealing with the suffering that humanity faces.

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