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Dwelling on the idea of tradition and transition as a cultural continuity, ‘India Seamless’ creates visual connections between temporally and geographically disparate Indias. Thus, history, living myths and popular perceptions are jumbled together to showcase India’s changing vocabulary of architecture and design elements in all their diversity across regions, climates and communities. 

This section was conceptualised as four talismanic panoramas, each an artistic rendition of the four regions of India – the north, south, east and west. When seen together, they become one, the story of India. These works through the creative collaborations between artists, designers and traditional craftspeople position cultural artefacts and legacy skills with the contemporary.


Nilima Sheikh & B.V. Suresh

Trained as a historian before she trained as a painter, Nilima Sheikh delved into the history of Kashmir, tracing the trajectories of its turbulent landscape. In keeping with the theme, Sheikh and BV Suresh, another veteran artist from Vadodara, conceptualised ‘Conjoining Lands’ as an imaginary world of symbolic landscapes that speak to cultural synthesis rather than geographic or political boundaries.  “ ‘Conjoining Lands’ isn’t about creating a utopian world. The very premise of a utopia suggests the presence of a polarised opposite, reality... It does not present Kashmir from a fixed point of view, or place it within our personal narratives as we would in our own work. Instead, we have tried to represent multiple ways of constructing history, geographies, time, and space through different media. Visual references from the region’s art history serve as reinforcements, drawing links between Central Asia and South Asia, hoping to throw open boundaries,” says Sheikh, including in the work, sections of a painted panel that quote Kashmir’s Persian antecedents. “Though Suresh and I have conceived the entire project, our intention is to make the work extend into a collaborative effort. So there are the canvases we created with many young artists at the painting workshop in our studio in Vadodara – Mahesh Baliga, Prasad KP, Chandrashekar Koteshwar, Sudip Dutta, Rashmimala, Raju Patel, Jayanth M and Sharath K. Sasidharan Nair, a senior artist and teacher at the Faculty of Fine Arts, is creating the glass sections, while Nehal Rachh worked on the ceramic elements” says Sheikh. Choosing to work closely with indigenous crafts people from Srinagar “because in addition to what crafts may be used to articulate in terms of the composition itself, they also tell their own stories of continuities and ruptures,” says Shaikh. “It seemed befitting considering our composition was inspired by a late 19th century shawl we saw in the collection of the Srinagar Museum. Adds Suresh, “The embroidery of the shawl represents a birds-eye view of Srinagar with its main street buildings and gardens. There are even tiny boats on the Dal Lake and the River Jhelum.” “We eventually narrowed down to crafts associated mainly with wood,” explains Sheikh. “So we included two distinct woodwork techniques of Kashmir – the pinjrakari lattice screens and the geometric patterned khatamband panels, which were custom-made for the installation by Shakeel Ahmad Najar& Associates and Mohammad Yousuf Najar & Associates respectively,” says Sheikh. Sheikh and Suresh also decided to include the crafted houseboats, commissioning Nazir Ahmad Muran, renowned for the houseboats he constructs from deodar. In addition a combination of the conventional papier-mâché technique and relief work or ubhrakaamis used to create three dimensional, ‘embossed’ forms on a flat surface. “The change in dimension changes the experience of the work, especially at this scale,” says Sheikh.Looking at creating a synthesis of elements and materials, the work attempts to destroy hierarchical perceptions of ‘art’, ‘craft’ and ‘architecture’. “One of the challenges we faced when we were conceptualizing the work based on the shawl map, and references from historic paintings, was the shift in scale. Miniaturisation, as a representation tactic, allows ‘reality’ to be filtered through artistry. Here we were working in reverse, using the pictorial language of the miniatures as a language, but dramatically altering the gestalt,” says Sheikh. Walnut wood - carving Walnut wood carving reached Kashmir from Central Asia 600-700 years ago, through the Sufi Saint Shah Hamdan, whose era is synonymous with peace, progress and prosperity. Kashmir is the only region in India bestowed with the presence of the majestic Walnut Trees; hence Walnut wood carving is among the most important crafts of Kashmir. Wood used for carving can be from the root or trunk of the tree. The wood derived from the root is almost black with the grain more pronounced than the wood from the trunk, which is lighter in color. It is the dark part of wood, which is best for carving as it is strong; it is also among the most expensive. The carving of furniture and smaller items is an elaborate process and involves a high degree of skill and craftsmanship. The Kashmir craftsman rejoices in carving intricate and varied designs, he first etches the basic pattern on to the wood and then removes the unwanted areas with the help of chisels and a wooden mallet, creating an overall effect which tends towards three-dimensional depiction of various motifs or scenes, depending on the number of layers. The motifs on the wooden artifacts are inspired from the various natural wonders of Kashmir, Chinar leaves, Vine leaves, flowers like Lotus and Rose. The craft was initially restricted to the creation of elaborate palaces, intricately carved buildings, shrines and mausoleums. A single piece can take from 2 days to 6 months depending on the intricacy of the pattern. Walnut wood has an inherent sheen which surfaces on its own when polished with wax or lacquer.


Desmond Lazaro & Ramesh Kalkur

Contemporary artist Desmond Lazaro, (also trained in pichwai painting - the cloth paintings that hang in Nathdwara temples as a backdrop to the idol) brings his sensibility of tradition and the present, together, in this collaboration with artist Ramesh Kalkur, a painter interested in how the body manifests itself in current imagery, in the age of globalisation. The result is a sculptural installation made of laser cut boards, pigment paint, fibreglass, stone wall, Kerala truck carving, hand painted Tamil statues of Garuda, stone carved Nandis and realistic figurative painting, in gold leaf and pigment. Kalkur and Lazaro have been working with iconic imagery for some time - the point where the sacred and the secular find confluence and often blur. "It is not a comment on religion more about how it pervades daily life new and interesting recent times," Kalkur confirms. The theme and focus of the work is divided in two parts: The lower section is a replica of a south Indian temple wall (red and white strips), with a life size ambassador, life-size figures, and an elephant. "The wall represents - the fecundity of south India temple structures, the strip of red is that of the menstrual cycle, the ambassador is a generic south Indian vehicle, the figures are ordinary people standing outside a temple and the elephant is transcription of 'Arjun's Penance' referenced from Mahabalipuram," says Lazaro. The upper section is a recreation of an actual Gopuram in which the Gods from various religious traditions, like Ma Durga, Lord Buddha and Saraswati Devi on their various vahanas (vehicles) along with other religious symbols are flying away from the temple. The temple is made from layered laser cut outs. There are two walls - the first is made from Kerala truck carving, the hand carved painted tradition used throughout the south. One sees the Gods as cut outs - with Kerala carving behind - some even rotate. South Indian temples are based on the principle of 'awe and reverence' hence the pilgrim is confronted by loud imagery which eventually fades as one enters the sanctorum which is often bare and empty consisting of a single black lingam. "The journey symbolizes one's own spiritual aspirations - from outside to the inner world. Our work played with the idea by reversing the outer and inner spaces of a temple. The Gods literally fly off the Gopuram and the viewer sees empty silhouettes of where the Gods should be," says Lazaro. He calls it a 'Lila', in other words it's a play which divides the space into upper (heavenly) and lower (earthly) sections.


Rajeev Sethi, Potter Probir Das, Painters Anwar Chitrakar, Rajesh Deo

Perhaps the most iconic images from Eastern India, are those of the pandals or tableaus, made in Bengal and Orissa during the Durga puja festival. Each year elaborate makeshift structures constructed in bamboo and covered in cloth are set up in playgrounds, traffic circles, town squares - wherever large clearings are available. The pandals house a stage on which a clay figure of the victorious Durga is enshrined. Seated on her lion mount, the goddess is depicted slaying the demon Mahisha, her many arms brandishing weapons. As homage to the often anonymous and self-trained artists whose ingenuity birthed this tradition of innovation and reinvention, 'The Atelier of Ephemera' features a series of installations centred around the theme of the Durga Puja pandals. The first of these, crafted by Subir Pal from Krishnanagar, is a life-sized fibreglass simulation of the studio of a Durga idol maker. Highly realistic figures depict a sculptor giving life to a clay idol of the goddess joining hands with  his son to celebrate the traditional apprenticeship system and the passing of skills across generations. Complementing this installation, and linking up to it physically, is a similar 'studio' environment. Here one sees the process of making the light installations such as those created by artists such as Suprim Paul in Chandanagar for the pandals: modern LED technology is adapted, to create a gateway in 3 parts depicting planes being guided to a safe landing in the City of Joy by Durga. Patua artists from Bengal, animate the tableau with their colourful work. Traditionally painter-storytellers, the patuas illustrate songs narrating epics, folk tales and topical themes, the patuas - Gurupada Chitrakar, Manoranjan Chitrakar, Sanuwar Chitrakar, and Mantu Chitrakar - have portrayed the bustling metropolis of Kolkata with its twisting snarls of traffic, winding roads and its escalating skyline, depicting a city struggling with its various identities. They also composed a song, which has been adapted by Ankit Gandhi Lall, a Kolkata-based music director to accompany the installation. Another section - created by contemporary sculptor Anup Mondal in fibreglass - depicts the Manasa Mangal, a tale from the patua repertoire. In a quirky departure from tradition, the mythological five-headed snake from the folk tale is transformed into the five aspects that have come to define the stereotypical Bengali identity - poetry/literature, sports, film, art, and travel/migration. Anwar Chitrakar, created the section with Kalighat style painting (artists' adaptation of traditional pats in the 19th century with contemporary imagery and materials). Chitrakar has depicted the Chandi Mangal, a common story depicted in many pats. Although based on the traditional, mythological aspect of the goddess Durga, Chitrakar gives the work a Cubist-inspired three-dimensional form. The last two segments of the installation are dedicated to woodwork. Patuas from Midnapore, Bhakta Bhaskar and Srikanta Bhaskar of Nutangram have produced a suite of woodcarvings depicting urban Kolkata, seamlessly merging into the cityscape painted by the patuas. A piece by contemporary woodcut artist Rajesh Deb, taking inspiration from the Bathtala woodcuts of 19th century Bengal, combine the real and the mythological aspects of finance, trade and commerce of what was once one of the largest commercial ports and banking cities in the world. "Even while celebrating specific regions, these montages express the synergies between the cultural and creative industries, the traditional and the contemporary. Collectively, they are a metaphor for our incredibly diverse country, where the sum of the parts is greater than the whole," says curator Rajeev Sethi in conclusion.


Rajeev Sethi with potters from the villages of Mulela and artists from Indore and Jodhpur

“I wanted to play with the idea of the airport as a virtual metropolis, and with the city that disappears and reappears around these 21st century hubs,” says Rajeev Sethi. The installation is like an enormous mosaic-like city that resembles Mumbai as seen from an airplane. Magical flying machines and whimsical airplanes,  crafted in terracotta circle overhead. Interspersed in between are contemporary studio photographs of young men and women, ‘re-touched’ by painters who bestow upon them the grandeur of the Rajasthan of yore. The installation is a collaborative endeavour between Rajeev Sethi Scenographers, contemporary artists from Indore, and the potters of Molela, a small town in Rajasthan, home to over 40 potter families who make an assortment of domestic vessels and votive plaques featuring figures, animals and foliage modeled in high relief, through pinch work and coil work. “Using diverse imagery as a catalyst, the potters created airplanes shaped like flying elephants (a playful take on the term ‘jumbo jet’), the monkey god Hanuman, the mythical eagle Garuda, a flying boar (referencing Lord Vishnu in his avatars as varaha), even an entire flying city with Ram, Sita and Laxman seated in first-class seats! There are several versions of birds that simulate the form and shape of an airplane—in fact, one carries several smaller birds in its beak,” says Sethi. The fibreglass scenography is more than just a background; it is almost architectural. Sethi began with a mobius strip or twisted cylinder as a basic form, working in clay to create large hollow solids. Amid this textured surface, the cross runway, unique to the Mumbai Airport, appears as a large X. Funnel-like, the X transforms into a vortex that appears to draw in the terracotta planes into its centre and emit them from the other end. Sethi explains: “I wanted to play with the idea of the disappearing and reappearing city, that grows bigger when you approach it and smaller when you fly away.” The fibreglass surface was accordingly collaged over to suggest an aerial view. Fields are reduced to a mottled patchwork punctuated by cities dotted by clusters of miniature buildings. The final element of the work, the photo-realist paintings which were painted by contemporary artists from Indore, was inspired by a visit to a souvenir shop in Jodhpur. Here, the local artisans had discovered that many tourists had developed a taste for vintage hand- tinted photographs. “I decided to include a series of hand-painted photorealist portraits floating in the clouds around the airstrip where the terracotta planes land and take off. These obscure found images that once were proudly displayed portraits of loved ones seem to evoke the anonymity of the millions of nameless immigrants that throng the megalopolis of Mumbai,” says Sethi in conclusion.