Other Ways: Contemporary Ritual Painting from India — 14 April to 14 May 2011
Curator: Ace Bourke
Exhibition dates: 14 April to 14 May 2011. Closed over Easter
Talk by Ace Bourke: Saturday 16 April at 3pm
A selection by Ace Bourke of contemporary Indian paintings reflecting the themes and rhythms in the tribal art of the Warli of Maharashtra and Jangarh Singh Shyam in Madhya Pradesh, and the Khovar, Sohrae and Madhubani village folk artists of Bihar.
Many of these paintings, with long traditions stretching back to pre-Hindu and animistic origins, are still painted on walls and floors: for decoration and for ritual; for celebrations and festivals; for protection and blessing. The subject matter varies according to tribal beliefs and myths and legends, but common themes are regeneration and plentitude, the universal rhythms of the natural and ancestral worlds and the everyday.
Ace Bourke’s travels to India in the 1980s and 1990s included staging in New Delhi an exhibition of Papunya paintings at the Lalit Kala Akedemi in 1987, and an artists’ cultural exchange at the National Crafts Museum in 1999. He was struck by the parallels between the complex world of Indian tribal and village art and Australian Aboriginal art. Common claims and counter-claims are made about transferring traditional imagery to contemporary mediums and the struggle to participate equally in the market place.
These artists face social prejudice and discrimination, and the lack of opportunities and education to participate in the dominant culture. They also have to contend with many issues and questions raised by Western art discourse including art versus craft, tradition versus the contemporary, individuality and innovation versus anonymity and collectivity, authenticity and ‘reprimitivism’ or re-enacting the tribal self.
In India, these conceptual issues have long fascinated artists, art historians and a small group of curators. These members of the art world have also advocated equal access to art institutions and resources for tribal artists, and approaches to differing art traditions to simultaneously illuminate and intertwine difference. A few experimental museums won global reputations for cross-cultural creative and critical presentation of tribal art in a high-art framework, notably Bharat Bhavan in Bhopal, at the time directed by legendary poet J. Swaminathan and a base for the late master Jangarh Singh Shyam (1962-2001), and the National Crafts Museum, New Delhi, which was directed by Jyotindra Jain whose publications include ‘Other Masters: Five Contemporary Folk and Tribal Artists of India’. Increasingly, what was experimental is now a more mainstream dialogical practice in new museums such as Quai Branly in Paris.
Around the world, indigenous cultures face dispossession from their lands and their natural resources. In India, globalisation and privatisation have unleashed brutal contests over ownership of natural resources — mining, forestry, the damming of rivers and now National Parks and animal reservations — as corporations invade tribal lands and governments promote big dam schemes.
Jangarh Singh Shyam (1962-2001), Deer with Twelve Antlers, 1990.
Acrylic on paper, 203 x 153.5 cm
Balu Dumarda, Woman on the Mountain, A Warli Creation story,’ 2010
Graphiti, The Telegraph Magazine, Calcutta, ‘Coming of Age: Indian tribal art is making a splash’ by Aarti Dua, 31 October 2010
Jangarh Singh Shyam, installation view.
Khovar Tribal Artists Of South Bihar, Traditional images from wall paintings (animals, snakes, deer, flowers etc), 1990s. Natural earth ochres, on handmade paper.
RHS: Putli From Gangu Tribe (in window), Traditional images from Khovar wall paintings, c. 1996; LHS: Jason Wing, artwork on ‘temporary’ hoarding outside gallery
About Ace Bourke: Ace’s curatorial interest is re-presenting Australian foundational narratives through the perspectives of Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists. He staged several important national and international exhibitions of Aboriginal art in the 1980s and 1990s. Ace’s recent innovative curatorship has evolved from his synthesis of family, Indigenous, and national narratives in a series of exhibitions at Sydney museums: Flesh & Blood: A Story of Sydney 1788–1998 at the Museum of Sydney in 1998; EORA: Mapping Aboriginal Sydney 1770–1850 (co-curated with Keith Vincent Smith), NSW State Library in 2006; Lines in the Sand: Botany Bay Stories from 1770 to 2008 and Shifting Sands: Botany Bay Today (2010) both at Hazelhurst Regional Gallery and Art Centre. Recently, Ace Bourke’s co-authored book, A Lion Called Christian written in 1970 (at the age of 24) was republished worldwide and he is again immersing himself in wildlife and conservation projects.
Thanks: Hervé Perdriolle in Paris; Bulu Imam of INTARCH World Heritage Project in North Karanpura Valley in Bihar; Warli art curator Narmada Smith of Sydney.