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Canvassing the World
Text by Maria Louis and Illustration by Vinita Chand
Published: Volume 15, Issue 1, January, 2007

Contemporary Indian artists are capturing more and more territories overseas and are rapidly mastering the art of attracting attention and accolades not only from NRIs and Indophiles but from international collectors, curators and museums the world over, maintains Maria Louis

At Christmas, artist Jaideep Mehrotra and wife, Seema, were nowhere to be seen in Mumbai, as they had taken their daughters on a holiday abroad to celebrate the success of his exhibition at the 1 x 1 Art Space in Dubai. This was his second solo show outside India, the first one being a year ago in the Art House at the Asian Civilisation Museums in Singapore...and he is still quite excited. "The locals are intrigued by the sudden fondness for Indian contemporary art by Indian expatriates living around them...and are also venturing to visit such exhibitions," he observes. "I have given talks to students and art lovers and these have elicited positive responses." While he is just beginning to enjoy the thrill of India being the current rage in "countries that house large pockets of Indian residents", Jitish Kallat had his first solo show abroad at the Bose Pacia Modern, New York, in 1999, while Atul Dodiya's was held at The Fine Art Resource, Berlin, in 2001.

"This phenomenon began 10 years ago, thanks to a range of mid-career artists who are changing perceptions of Indian art abroad," declares Kallat, who has participated in key exhibitions abroad like the Innenseite, Kassel, Germany, way back in 1997. However, he grants that the level of acceleration is now much more. "The core of expansion has widened and there is greater curatorial and critical interest," he adds, insisting that a lot of the intrigue about this 'new, old' country stems from the robust nature of Indian art - which has become 'internally tuned and self-sustained'. While Atul Dodiya echoes his viewpoint when he attributes the widespread interest even from countries like Japan, South Korea and China to the fact that contemporary Indian art is "rooted within the country", he believes that the economic situation plays a major role. "When the economy is booming, people all over the world are interested in whatever the country is doing."

As Peter Nagy, curator and gallerist, Nature Morte, puts it: "I think it follows the international interest in English language literature from India and the growing worldwide popularity of Indian cuisine." He has detected an immense interest in Indian contemporary art coming from museums, collectors and private galleries in Western Europe - much more than that coming from the United States, with other parts of Asia (Australia, Japan, Korea, China) being second to Western Europe. "Many Europeans travel to India and European governments and businesses are actively pursuing financial collaborations with India," he explains. "This leads to an increased awareness of culture in general. Besides, Europeans are much more progressive and enlightened about the role culture can play in improving economic and diplomatic relations."

Independent curator, Ranjit Hoskote, offers two main reasons for the wave of artists choosing to show their work abroad: "First, many established and emerging Indian artists are working with concepts and media that cannot yet be supported by the available infrastructure in India; for instance, new media artists working with projection, video, broadband and virtual reality environments require programming skills that are more readily available in specialised centres in Europe or North America." He adds, "Secondly, many of our artists are now part of a global circuit of art, which is based on the periodic annuals, biennials, triennials and other large-scale international exhibitions (like the Documenta in Kassel, the Venice Biennale, the Armory Show, the Gwangju Biennale, Art Basel in Basel and Miami) - so it is important that they be seen in these contexts, if their work is to be received in the wider sphere of viewers/collectors outside Indian and NRI circles."