Seduction is an apt word for Mumbai. No other city has gripped the fantasy of the common Indian masses as Mumbai has, the megalopolis of dreadful urban angst and mythical prosperity which has its dark roots in the notorious opium trade of 19th century Victorian era. They called it the city of dreams, the capital of India’s visual arts where reality becomes lost in the imagination of an artist, who creates a world of his own. This is best exemplified in the Indian film Industry, but besides the cinematic arts Mumbai is also a major center for fine arts. It was here that the revolutionary progressive artist groups formed in 1947, which strove to create a new art space in India, free from the colonial and revivalist nationalist influence. The ideology of this group and the work of the artists associated with it influenced fine art in India until recently. All this made Mumbai a place which sustained forces, molding the present and future course of Indian art. Similarly, exhibition of artwork in Mumbai’s art galleries is always a significant event as it draws in-depth analysis with penetrating insight from fellow artists, art critics and gallery owners, which you will not get anywhere else in India both in terms of numbers of visitors and the quality of observation. Recognizing the tremendous importance associated with art exhibition in Mumbai, a group show titled “Enigmatic Encounters” recently displayed the work of six Indian artists including painters, a sculptor and a ceramicist held at Jehangir Art Gallery in Mumbai from November 17 through the 23, 2014.
Jehangir Art Gallery, situated in the famous Kala Goda art district of Mumbai is considered a mecca of Indian art, a place where every Indian artist wants to display his work at least once in his life time. Jehangir Gallery’s more than six decades presence has evolved into legendary status which arouses unparalleled reverence among Indian artists. It was founded by Sir Cowasji Jehangir an important Parsee businessman of Mumbai in 1956, to provide a place for Indian artists to display their artwork. Amidst the fast changing contemporary Indian art scene, largely driven by the unique Indian situation and the global art world, Indian galleries are refraining themselves from displaying simply art on canvas. Instead they prefer to engage with the artwork based upon new media. In this scenario Jehangir Art Gallery maintains its traditional ideal of displaying artwork without any differentiation to medium. In the elitist world of Indian art galleries, Jehangir stands unique because of its easy accessibility to the common Indian masses.
The latest show “Enigmatic Encounters” was curated with an intention to display those works of Indian artists in less frenzied regional centers; work created in an environment far from the tumultuous art scenes of megacities driven by premier art galleries, elitist interior decoration firms and highly opinioned art critics. All the artists who participated in this show were born and raised in rural India. Deep in their consciousness they imbibed the enigma of Indian reality where everything comes in front of you, enveloped in the mist of mythological riddles. In it, life is not for living only; it is a medium for self-realization. Artists in this show are striving for a similar aim through their artwork. This self-realization doesn’t concentrate only on the individualized self, it address dilemmas of contemporary Indian life, rooted in its unfathomable past. Thus their work encounters the impossibility of defining Indian reality.
From opening day the show has drawn significant attendance by artists, art critics, gallery owners and the common public. Most people agree that this show is refreshing in one aspect that the artwork displayed doesn’t mimic seriousness in their production from dominant art discourse; rather they have created their own individual statements in compact composition executed with earnest dedication. Rama Suresh, a very senior figurative artist from Chennai expressed that although the work of all the artists has been produced at regional centers they undisputedly match the global standard. Rama Suresh noted that the stone sculptures of Shekhar Dahiwal are very evocative and the selection of medium is very bold, similarly he considered Rahul Wagh’s color scheme a very refreshing blend of Indian brightness with modern dense hues. Chandra Sachdeva, a prominent gallery owner of Mumbai rated the whole show favorably. Chandra particularly enjoyed Shekhar Dahiwal’s sculpture as she has been following his work for a long time. She said that his work has evolved brilliantly and it successfully retains the rustiness of rural Maharashtra. She also praised the innovative aspect of Balu Chaudhari’s work. Professor Satish Kale of Abhinav Art College Pune said that the noteworthy characters of the artwork displayed are their classical base, as it is immune from outside alien referential impact. According to Prof. Kale the experimentation in graphics, painting and drawing by Rahul Wagh is very bold in its idea and execution, with a very brilliant color scheme. He complained that too much control by the galleries on artists is not good which reduces the possibility of honest work. He accepts that the refreshing nature of the present show is because all the participant artists are far from gallery influence. Vibhu Kapoor, a prominent gallery owner of Gallery Beyond in Mumbai, found Balu Chaudhari’s work quite unique in terms of its medium and final production. He said that Balu’s work left you puzzled about the process and it attracts you instantly. He also recognized that the ceramic work of Sanjay Samanta is very daring as the forms Sanjay uses are not easy to materialize in ceramic. Vibhu Kapoor praised Bhopal for its uniquely stimulating art environment as three of the 6 featured artists are currently living and working from Bhopal. Kavita Palit another gallery owner concentrated only on Balu Chadhari’s work. Kavita found his work to be very modern but at the same time quite unique. Ruchi Shah a contemporary artist and designer working simultaneously in India and Canada said that she found Pramod Gaikwad’s work very meditative in its form and color. Ruchi found the subjects of displayed artwork very different from everyday art shows in Mumbai. According to her in the predominance of installation art shows that can be found in Mumbai’s present art scene, this show represents a bold step by expressing continuity with regional art scenes.