A trace of sorrow and void surrounds the air as I write my editorial. India and the art fraternity at large mourns the demise of the legendary painter M.F. Husain, who passed away in London on 9th June 2011. We, at TAKE on art, offer our heartfelt condolences to his family and friends. An obituary by Shuddhabrata Sengupta bids ‘alvida’ – farewell to one of our greatest legends who according to the author attained what the Sanskrit scriptures sometimes call ‘Kaivalya’ – that unique freedom, that exceptionality, that carries with it a tinge of isolation, a shade of autonomy, a sliver of loneliness.
The fifth issue of TAKE on art focuses on ‘Curation’ and builds a chronological and art historical trajectory of ‘exhibition-making’, producing a textual and visual supplement that methodologically journeys through inspirations of the times – past, present, future; the changing and evolving meaning of the artist-curator relationship; rebellious and enduring narratives of the creative spirits and movements spun within the structure of this exhibition-making along with the experiments in contemporary curation that go beyond commercial strategising.
A decade and a half ago, circa the 1980s and 90s, there was a profound reverence for the term ‘art critic’ rather than ‘curator’—which as per its Wiktionary definition is a manager or overseer, a curator or keeper of a cultural heritage institution! Cut to 2010-11, these last two years have been witness to workshops and events such as ‘Dialogues on Curating I & II’, ‘Figuring the Curator’, ‘The IFA-KHOJ Curatorial Grant’, which took place in New Delhi along with several other seminars and exhibitions. These examined the opportunities and institutional frameworks that have made curatorial work possible in India, affording a discourse on the brief history of curating in India and the anxieties, dilemmas and challenges consorting it. This transitional gap reeks of ignorance and anxiety, which proved itself to be productive, since roles were less defined, systems more fluid and possibilities more open. This phase precisely coincided with globalisation and accelerated capital production, which directly integrated the art industry in India to the global cultural industry and gave birth to a local-global discourse more attached to specific roles and functions. This revelation and debate undoubtedly has to circumvent the premise of ‘exhibition-making’ and ‘museum-formation’ and touch nodal points such as the key expositions and moments in Indian art of the last century to trace the history of curation.
One of the early public expositions of art was The Fourteenth Annual Exhibition of the Indian Society of Oriental Art in Calcutta in 1922. In Bauhaus Calcutta, Anshuman Das Gupta and Grant Watson build a semi-fictional account of what remains of this ‘fragment of art historical folklore’ that surfaced a clash between accepting the international avant-garde vis-a-vis art that was shaping the Indian modernity. In When a Philosophy was Materialized; Excavating a Herald for present day Curatorial Practices, Avigna Bhattacharya sequentially recounts the glories of the ‘good old days’ of Santiniketan under the reign of towering art figures such as Nandalal Bose, Benodebehari Mukherjee and Ram Kinker Baij who laid the foundation of public sculptures, murals and relief works in the campus. The setting of these throughout the educational complex was akin to a planned curatorial project, where although most of the sculptures have been built over time, they collectively reflect upon the common environment and cultural disposition they are a part of.
Special contributions in the form of photo-essays from the rich reservoirs of two archives form part of the issue’s theme. Images from the archives of the Jehangir Nicholson Art Foundation (JNAF) unfold the schema of the formation of the museum and Jehangir Nicholson’s personal collection of selected photographs along with his aspiration to facilitate setting up his dream museum. Analysing a similar stream of intentions, Mayank Mansingh Kaul extols a chronicle of the personal museum set-up by artist-designer-photographer, Dashrath Patel, in the remote location of Alibaug, which not only houses “a repository of the ‘remains’ of the artist’s compelling praxis, but is also a ‘home’ to the playful experimentation that Dashrath revelled in”. The other photo-essay culled from the Asia Art Archive (AAA) brings forth a spread of the catalogue covers and press clipping of the historic exhibitions selected from the digitised personal archive of Geeta Kapur and Vivan Sundaram. This is concurrent to their own lives and work which has closely observed some of the most rebellious moments and exhibitions in the Indian art history. The photo-essay acts as a visual catalyst to these events in absence of any substantial documentation available of them.
The co-editors of the issue, Natasha Ginwala and Vidya Shivadas, have strategized this issue in not only a chronological order but have also stressed on examining those exhibitions which have created a benchmark and ignited a stimulating discourse on/in the history and politics of exhibition-making in India. Chaitanya Sambrani examines the role of J. Swaminathan in the formation of Group 1890 while senior artist Sudhir Patwardhan articulates on the exhibition Focus 1979 and defines it as a definite breakthrough in Indian art. These articles along with some other in the issue are accompanied by their original catalogue essays, providing a sense of context and time. It is important to note that the practice and process of curatorship is bound to deliver a reading of artistic practices and these readings have the responsibility of rewriting history. The writers discoursing on these exhibitions today make an attempt to read these cultural interventions made in a social and artistic context and in this way they re-visit the history of curatorship in India.
Each genre in art has its own set of specificities, poetics, value issues and market space. Photography as a medium along with these polemics poses questions of evanescence and permanence as well as second person curation. The issue brings out the curatorial engagements by photographers Gauri Gill, Sunil Gupta and Ram Rahman. who along with pursuing their art, transverse to plan and organize works of other photographers lying in archives or in heaps of memories. If Ram Rahman’s approach seems too personal, the conversation between Gauri Gill and Sunil Gupta brings out the methodical advance adopted by them to practice photography that dwells into issues of activism and personal struggle towards the individual and the community.
The discourse of formal exhibition-making runs parallel to the need of an organized market as well as institutional space to support and facilitate the curatorial practice. However, most of the historical exhibitions that have sought to develop the art historical veins of the country created by the condition of the avant-garde movements and groups, have been held outside the formal zone. This, along with other divergent thought systems makes for the fact that there are many divergent schools of curatorial practice. Especially today when there are different types of curators working both within the white cube and influential market spaces delivering one mega-performance after another whereas the other lot more like romantic trotters work in structures that are less demanding and are more open ended, experimental and liberated.
Besides looking at art exhibitions from the historical point of view and examining the past events to find direction and coherence as well as discussing the present day interventions, the issue as it advances probes some future curatorial projects and biennales. Veeranganakumari Solanki in her discussion with Yongwoo Lee, the founder of Gwangju Biennale and now the director of the Gwangju Biennale Foundation, brings to light the interventional and multi-disciplinary role of international curators in biennales and Georgina Maddox converses with artists Riyas Komu and Bose Krishnamachari to explore their rather bureaucratic role in the forthcoming Kochi-Muziris Biennale and the nature of this decentralised art event which has been conceived on the lines of the Venice Biennale underpinning their geographic similarities. In addition, a special spread has been devoted to depict a curatorial game project conceived by artist L.N. Tallur called Colonial Sisters.
The topic of curatorial production also leads us to the character of the curator’s labour. Applying the definition of Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt, the curator’s immaterial work could be described as a combination of intellectual and affective labour. What they produce are thoughts, fluid imaginable models and social connections. By choosing, rearranging and installing artworks, certain effects are produced. Saloni Mathur in her article Century City, Ten Years Later… traces these links while analysing one of the most ambitious exhibitions about the Indian microcosm. She says, “I prefer to view the 2001 collaboration between Geeta Kapur and Ashish Rajyadakshya as the culmination of an intellectual trajectory that began over a decade earlier in the pages of the generative, but short-lived, Journal of Arts and Ideas. The emphasis on the politics of cultural practice; the themes of secularism, civil society, and the public sphere; the relationship between visual culture and democratic politics in India, these were the ground-breaking themes of the journal that were sustained by Kapur in her seminal book, When was Modernism, and enacted in the principled stance of the curatorial partnership at the Tate Modern.” Our first time contributor Deepika Sorabjee analyses in-depth the booming trend of Indian galleries participating in international art fairs and examines the feasibility factors for doing so along with the brisk strategies employed to attain commercial ends.
My special thanks to Vidya Shivadas, whom I have known for several years now but got a chance to work with closely for the first time when she initiated the idea of an issue on curation/exhibition-making in TAKE, also suggesting Natasha Ginwala as a co-editor for the same. The two editors worked painstakingly on every detail, making this issue a ‘collectors copy’—more than a magazine less than a book! I would also like to thank Suruchi Khubchandani and Joe Randhawa without whom this issue would not have been possible. A special thanks to the artist Manjunath Kamath for creating a fabulous digital work for TAKE Editions.
 India Foundation for the Arts (IFA) Curatorial Program Exhibition curated by Oindrilla Maity and Gitanjali Dang as part of a four-year curatorship program conceptualised by IFA. KHOJ hosted the curatorial residency from 20 July- 20 September 2010.