Contemporary Indian Art – An Overview

What started as a movement to revive and regenerate the Indian cultural scene some decades back – contemporary Indian art has now caught the attention of art critics and enthusiasts all over the world. There is a strong Indian presence in art galleries, exhibitions and auction houses globally.

Young artists from all over the country are experimenting with new styles and forms of art, shedding the clichéd and taking an altogether different approach on the contemporary, as opposed to the one conceived during the pre-colonial and pre- nationalist era. There is a huge boom in the art market across the sub-continent. This is evident from art galleries and exhibitions mushrooming all across the country.

Contemporary art in India takes a different trajectory from the West – gathering varied trends from all over the country spread across multiple regional schools of art. It is a mix of the radical and the provocative, with new artists experimenting with multiple and immersive forms of expression.

Many Indian artists have also immigrated towards the West and have started incorporating new forms of expression in their works, thereby creating artworks with a fine balance of their past in India and their new-found experiences in the west.

A striking feature which engages young artists from different regions of the country is the adherence to the medium of easel painting. Today, when more technologically advanced forms of art like new media, installations or photo performance are taking over, the decision to stick to the two dimensional surface of the canvas by young artists is, in itself, unique and a distinctive feature of  contemporary Indian art.

The return to more conventional mediums of art, viz. easel painting, and not entirely embracing the advanced technological approaches to art, is an indication of a developing avant-garde movement in the country spearheaded by young artists in the country. Their assertion to represent a contemporary experience, cutting across a wide variety of art styles and forms, within the constraints of a two dimensional surface is laudable.

The return of easel painting is reminiscent of an erstwhile prevailing trend in the 1980s in Europe and the United States when dialectical discourses on the choice between the figurative and the abstract were hugely debated.

However, the point of contention among contemporary Indian artists revolves around reconsidering the prospects of easel painting as opposed to the radical alternatives of Minimalism and Conceptualism.

The art scene in the country is a far cry from imitative representation; the conflict in modernist art in India emerges from within the figurative modes of art representation themselves. The conflict is not within the historical and the contemporary, but the medium itself.

Contemporary Indian art is highly vibrant and integrated. Artists have intricately impressed on layered contemporary art canvasses with ground-breaking and innovative art works transcending across cultural barriers. One can notice the fine blend between the traditional and the modern in the works of these artists, while leaving no stone unturned to preserve the rich legacy left by their worthy predecessors.

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Lookbook – Whose looking at you this season?

I never doubted the link between fashion and marketing, and while I was transferring responsibility from my line of thinking over a cup of coffee, my thoughts were fixated at the launch of Lookbook – a fashion and lifestyle magazine.

When the magazine came together, I kind of felt that it was like a curator’s handbook at a fashion carnival. As I pored over pictures from the season’s collections, gathered from runways around the world, my thoughts sailed back to the time when I was with my fashion editors trying to bring these pages to life – by combining artistry with humour and fashion with extraordinary storytelling.

We rummaged through pages and pages of fashion kitsch and prevailing awkward trends, including tropical animalistic prints to wacky camouflages, before finally landing a role for the more straightforward, or with a turn of phrase if I be allowed to say, the vintage and classic approach to summer dressing.

We made it a point to approach Lookbook in a different way from the already existent fashion magazines. With a primary focus on engaging what was in it for our consumers personally, we zeroed in on various aspects like the context, the perverse twists, and the narrative.

The creativity of various designers and stylists were ushered in – the need to capture the sheer vigor and chutzpah of youth was a unanimous choice. Of course, there were timeless yearnings and timely style (and we all know that the years can get the better of any clothing: the John Travolta leather jacket and motorcycle boots from Grease you swore you would have forever? Doesn’t work anymore.), and suddenly you have your moment of despair, and swing back to fervent faith in the passivity of the young.

But isn’t there always a perennial drive to express ourselves by any means possible? Or, the desire to come to grips with the prevailing trends relevant to the way you live now? It is a gargantuan task of being in fashion without being fashionable.

In the hours and the minutes that followed, portfolios after portfolios were circulated, and we were spellbound more with fear than awe because of the looming proximity of the launch. There was summer suits – light-weight, softly lined, easy-to-carry and slim fitted. There were sporty separates – windbreakers, sweatshirts – with more focus on technical efficiency and aesthetic simplicity. Then, there were beautiful shirts and exquisitely designed tops, intricately patterned and drenched in multiple hues, that impart a certain elegance. No coats or jackets necessary.

And there we were, all perched on our swivel chairs, delivering our goods in our quietly determined voices; weaving in imagination, art and fashion altogether in a little glass room. Devising smart fashion for the here and there, and quite possibly, for a few years to come – encapsulating into the magazine: the various incarnations of style and trends to galvanize generations and to start a fashion revolution.

When Lookbook hits the high-streets and newsstands, the story will begin.

Fashion And Art

Much has been discussed over the defining point at which fashion becomes art – the co-mingling of these two worlds and if they share a genuine exchange of creativity. Both fashion and art require the translation of ideas from one form into another and they have established well-known collaborations, feeding each other in many ways.

However, the überbranding propelled by PR agencies by overlooking their aesthetic integrity paints a fairly faint picture that commercial aspects alone drive their conceptions, especially fashion. Critics have, in fact, gone to the extent of labeling fashion as a trivial offshoot of capitalism and vanity.

It is true that fashion specifies no medium. It is easier to express ideas in terms of fashion which can be accessible to audiences in a way that contemporary art cannot. Paintings and sculptures are a mirror of changing fashions, but fashion per se is devoid of boundaries and refers to any aesthetic change for its own sake.

Styles of painting or other artworks might evolve in pursuit of form, but the change in styles of coats or skirts are seen merely to entice. The changes are strongly influenced by whatever the subjective eye craves for, with an aesthetic logic of their own.

Not all fashion is art but fashion has been influenced by art over the ages, and it is evident in modern playful illustrations which are a mash-up of pop art, op art, surreal art, and even vintage and classical art.

Fashion designers and labels including YSL, Zara, Levi’s, Tommy Hilfiger etc. put a fresh spin on an artist’s work by combining it with their own imaginative and aesthetic creations. Pop art artists – Richard Prince and Takashi Murakami – have designed the most recognizable bags of all time for Louis Vuitton.

No Art Fair or Fashion Week is complete without an event that involves collaboration between a designer, gallery, museum, and a major fashion brand. The new sponsors for museums are no longer banks and insurance companies, but the who’s who of the fashion industry including Armani, Gucci and Prada.

Not everyone can afford to own an original Picasso, but for much less you can have a bit of the maestro in your wardrobe and wear his art on the streets.