As India celebrates the 69th milestone in its independent history, a collaborative art project is looking back by asking 69 young artists to visualise each year of the journey.
“All that has been written about history is linear, straightforward and textbook-ish,” said Kunel Gaur, curator of the Indianama project and a participating artist. “Art allows us to go vague, or have a point of view or go frivolous and show us a different context to a moment in history that we all have heard or read about. I see Indianama as an artistic documentation of the years after independence – a visual journey seen through the eyes of so many Indian artists.”
Curated by Animal, a creative agency, Indianama assigned a year to each participating artist depending on their style and concept. Mostly young and unrenowned, the artists picked some pivotal events or individuals and some obscure moments. The results are paintings, graphic designs, comic panels and other media of expression.
The year 1977 was not just when the Emergency ended, but also when Shakuntala Devi, renowned for her rapid mental math, wrote The World of Homosexuals. Artist Shreya Gulati believes the book was radical. “Even though the book went unnoticed, it was the first study done on the subject in India by an Indian, where she openly supported the decriminalisation of homosexuality,” said Gulati.
The signing of the Indo-Soviet treaty of peace and friendship in 1971 was artist Niteesh Yadav’s chosen issue. The treaty – which came against the backdrop of strengthening Sino-American ties – inspired Yadav to create a piece that is a mix of type and illustrations and reflects the history of handcrafted masterpieces.
Rituparna Sarkar, working on the year 1962, went in another direction. She chose to do a comic panel on the 1962 Indo-China war based on the stories she had heard from her father-in-law, a retired army major general.
Culture was the muse for artist Hari Krishnan. Assigned the year 1967, he marked the birth of the popular comic book Amar Chitra Katha with a colourful illustration. “In an attempt to simplify complex and obscure stories of the ancient past, Amar Chitra Katha spawned off a different kind of cultural movement,” said Krishnan.
He added: “It served as ready storyboards for mythological movies and TV serials; even fashion adopted the inimitable style of certain in-house illustrators; the vibrant graphics created cultural stereotypes like race and gender biases; what docile middle-class Indians swear by even today has its own contribution to popular depiction of dominant classes and violence.”
Shweta Malhotra, in her graphic art work, played with the dance form that enjoyed immense popularity in 1982: disco.
Gaur chose 1980, the year he was born and also when Sanjay Gandhi died in a plane crash. “Sanjay Gandhi was touted as the great dictator of India,” said Gaur. “A man of two sides, with people divided in opinion whether to love him or hate him. I want to portray that dilemma against a backdrop of the India that could be, had he survived the plane crash on June 23, 1980.”
Literature, love, cinema, science and food, all find mentions in Indianama. Here are some of the creations, the finished versions of which will be mounted at an exhibition in Delhi on August 13.
Indianama will be on display from August 13 to August 18 at KONA, Jor Bagh Market, New Delhi.