The latest edition of the India Today Art Awards, held in Kolkata on Thursday, rose above the personal spectrum to become essentially political.
Be it the expression of womanhood and feminism in N Pushpamala’s (Performance Artist of the Year) portrayal of Kali with her red tongue lolling out, or Rajyashri Goody’s (Emerging Artist of the Year) search for the Dalit identity in the home and kitchen, the artworks made an impact.
Ranjani Shettar’s solo exhibition of the year dealt with a more serious problem; the attack on nature and the rural world. Her famous exhibit Seven Ponds and a Few Raindrops’ was a subtle commentary on nature, and how trees are on their way out because of human insensitivity.
Artist Rajyashri Goody drew attention to the importance of promoting and upholding identity, especially when Dalits are becoming either political prey or pawns. Her installation Sky Scape’ was a spectacle of caste and class politics.
I picked up 300 pairs of shoes from dusty roads and dingy lanes, and hung them from the ceiling. The viewers then walked carefully underneath, so that they didn’t fall on them. The impact was terrific; a claustrophobic feeling, which is a metaphor for caste domination, she explained.
N Pushpamala, who loves to use her body to get into the narrative and question things that are not right, won the Performance Artist award.
Her friend, the late Gauri Lankesh, who was affectionately hailed as Aunty National, was brought alive in a 45-minutes live performance, where the artist, Pushpmala, dressed as Aunty National and was seen making rasam.
Gauri loved to cook. We exchanged recipes and she would often make rasam at our private parties. More than a tribute to a dear friend, this was a bold statement on the times the country is witnessing.
Vivan Sundaram’s 52 years of multifaceted career as painter, sculptor, installation, and activist won him the Retrospective of the Year. The artist’s historical and political references were comments of the past and the present.
Subodh Gupta’s fondness for pots, pans, and stainless steel utensils on a boat ready for a journey on the road or in a gallery was a stellar example of sharing food in an age of displacement. Gupta couldn’t be present to collect the Artist of the Year award.
The Collector of the Year was won by Abhisekh Poddar, whose work was a fascinating co-habitance of Ganesh Pyne, Tyeb Mehta, and folk art, tribal artefacts, crafts, and ethnic textile. It feels more blessed to give than to receive, he said in an audio-visual message.
The Best Artistic Collaborator of the Year went to Gauri Gill for her usage of papier-mâché and masks. Through her work, human bodies donned papier-mâché masks of different animals a tiger mask worn by a woman was seen sweeping the ground, and an elephant checking the heart beats of a human. This was a funny dig on dehumanisation of the supposedly intelligent creatures of the world.
Curator of the Year Arshiya Lokhandawala’s India Re-worlded’ displayed an array of modern and contemporary artists, and their take on freedom from colonial times.