Paper Jewels: Postcards from the Raj

From Omar Khan Collection and The Alkazi Collection of Photography

Curated by Omar Khan | Consultant Curator: Rahaab Allana

AUG 19, 2018 - OCT 01, 2018


Origins of Mumbai Gallery | Kamalnayan Bajaj Gallery | Special Projects Space

The rise of the picture postcard in the 1890s heralded the birth of a ubiquitous, new media form. Not only is it associated with the invention of photography 50 years prior, and the mass-produced Kodak camera that came out in the 1880s and greatly democratized photography; illustrated postcards also established a swift channel of communication between families, friends and businesses across the world.

While printing technologies like rapid press lithography were being exploited by small workshops and artisans in European and Indian cities, the very first advertising postcards of the subcontinent were apparently published by the Singer Manufacturing Co. in 1892 for the World Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. The Exposition also marked the first official exposure of America to India: Swami Vivekananda explained Hinduism in a series of historic lectures, and the painter Raja Ravi Varma won a Gold Medal.

Probably the earliest from an Indian-based publisher is the postcard Greetings from India, seen in the exhibition by W. Rossler in Kolkata from around 1897. Billions of postcards exchanged hands between 1898 and 1903, and postcard production in Germany went from under 100 million to almost 1.2 billion/year, two postcards for every single person on earth. The story of the picture postcard in India is closely intertwined with that of Germany and Austria, where most image postcards were first printed. Their very nature was international: a photograph was sent to Dresden by a publisher, postcards were struck from it by a printer and shipped back to Jaipur, then sold outside the Hawa Mahal to a tourist who later mailed it from Mumbai to London, due to arrive in two weeks, a minor miracle for a few annas or pennies.

This following exhibition charts the life of the postcard in major metropolitan cities across India, as well as associated themes of urbanism, art practice and popular culture, industrialization and tourism, social transformation and eventually, the rise of freedom and nationalism.The exhibition also extends to the projection room on the opposite side of this floor and in Special Exhibitions Gallery. The opening room begins with the representation of the Presidency states and then covers the larger South Asian ambit of postcards in Ceylon. Given our location, the second room is devoted to images of Mumbai (erstwhile Bombay), seen not only in the cityscapes and elite communities but also the mythological, allegorical works of Ravi Varma, who founded a Press just outside the city. The artistic renditions of M.V. Dhurandar, who spent his entire professional life in the city, are displayed in the Special Exhibitions Gallery at the rear of the building – this year marks the 160th year of his birth. The last section explores popular images from the hills stations (Shimla, Ooty) and Kashmir, and concludes with images from the Independence movement.

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AMINA AHMED

The song "Oro Santo” written and sung in Spanish by Concha Buika - Translated for me by my daughter Amanda.

"In the over cast shadow of this pitch (she doesn't say a word that could literally translate to pitch- the word is 'prieta' and is usually used to mean very dark skin) and divine night - over the tundra that populates my ever-awake soul, is heard a lament as a prelude to the dead hours – hours that pass in the agony of a slow death. The silence returns to clothe my saint in gold (this could also be 'to dress me in gold, my saint') -returns the memory of my grandmothers to sweeten my wait – returns the records that taught me to adore music returned my father after 20 years. If you would return - if you would return I would dress you in gold, my saint. I would quiet things so that you could hear my desperate /distressed cry of grief”.

Amina Ahmed, born in East Africa 1964, of Kutchi Turk Indian heritage. She grew up in England, and has lived in Iran and the USA. Ahmed graduated from Winchester School of Art and Chelsea School of Art. She received her MA in Visual Islamic and Traditional Arts from the Royal College of Art.

ANNU PALAKUNNATHU MATTHEW

While we know that by 2050 “minority” populations in the U.S.A. will become the majority, who are these multi-coloured Americans? ‘To Majority Minority’ asks questions, beyond “Where are you really from?” to better understand immigrants who don’t look stereotypically “American.” In this project, I explore the personal stories of immigration starting with family photographs drawn from the immigrant’s albums. I collaborated with multiple generations of the family to photograph and distill down their resonant immigrant story. Old photographs reignite memories and spark conversation and like a time machine, transport us back in history. They reflect where we have come from and reveal family histories and shared stories of immigration. The final animation weaves through time, allowing the viewer to simultaneously ponder America’s immigrant history and these family’s stories. “To Majority Minority” spans time, national boundaries, and borders, to visualize migration in a way that no single image can.

Annu Palakunnathu Matthew’s photo-based artwork explores re-looking at cultural histories, identity, and memory. Matthew’s work takes advantage of the viewer’s uncertainty between the reality of photography and its manipulation through digital tools to get the viewer to re-examine and construct parallel identities and histories. Matthew's recent solo exhibitions include the Royal Ontario Museum, Newark Art Museum, Victoria & Albert Museum, Sharjah Art Museum, as well as the Smithsonian.

BARI KUMAR

These series of cloth constructions are done in Hyderabad. Inspired by the many trips I had taken to the Sari Matching Centers with my mother as a child, I was taken by the brilliant colors arranged on the shelves in all color variations and gradations. I was particularly interested in the fall material used to line the inner bottom of the sarees. The basic cotton fabric material gives the saree the durability and compliments it without calling attention to itself. Its brilliant colors and hues are invisible to the public eye. I wanted to pay homage to that fabric with these works. By creating a miniature version of the fabrics just as they are rolled over flat cardboard pieces and stacked on the shelves in the shops. Cutting the fabric into strips of 2 x 18 in each, they are rolled over a piece of cardboard that is 1 x 2 in and then stacked like books on the shelves made of clear plexi. The final image is the deconstruction of paint into pigment; the unseen to be seen; the inside brought to the outside. This series ‘Organica Sensoria’ represents the 5 senses but not in a literal manner. Even though they are represented by the anatomical parts of the body relating to the senses, the images and its titles refer to a more subversive look at the connect and disconnect between the physical self and the psychological state of being.

Born in Andhra Pradesh in 1966, Bari Kumar studied at the Rishi Valley School founded by philosopher J. Krishnamurti. He moved to L.A. to study graphic design at Otis/Parsons School of Design, graduating in 1988. After his BFA, he worked as a graphic designer for a clothing company, then for many years in the animation industry as a Color key artist on T.V shows and as a Color Supervisor on ‘Futurama’ for which he received an Emmy award in 2000. Kumar has exhibited in several group shows in Los Angeles, New York, London, Mumbai, Kolkata and other cities. He lives and works in Los Angeles, U.S.A and in Hyderabad, India.

CHITRA GANESH

‘She the Question’ was originally published as a 24-page comic book that was commissioned in 2012 as part of a large solo exhibition of the same name at the Gothenburg Kunsthalle in Sweden. The comic is part of a larger body of work inspired by images from the ‘Amar Chitra Katha’ series for children created and published in India since the late 1960s. Born and raised in New York City while visiting India frequently, Ganesh was an avid Amar Chitra Katha reader. She says of her interest in this imagery:

“I began to draw upon these images because I feel how potent a collectively shared set of visual images can be when they are reconsidered. These comic fragments were submerged in my deeper memory banks and were haunting in ways I couldn’t understand until I saw them again with adult eyes. I construct each comic frame by merging pen and ink drawings with re-drawn appropriated fragments drawn from the ACK compendium. I create new textual narratives for the panels, drawing from the syntax of lyric poetry and surrealist language games. I’m interested in the mythological form and how it enables the formulation of questions that seek to articulate who we are, where we are headed, what specifically constitutes humanity, and how we might come to terms with a cyclical relationship between creation and destruction, or death and life. My aim is to create a mythology that poses questions rather than giving clear answers; one in which ‘good’ and ‘evil’ are no longer constitutive categories organizing our worldly experience. Abject imagery and disjunctive narratives interrupt traditional storytelling forms, offering alternative articulations of conflict, desire, and power.”

Chitra Ganesh graduated from Brown University with a BA in Comparative Literature and Art-Semiotics, and received her MFA from Columbia University in 2002. For over a decade, Ganesh’s work has been exhibited widely internationally and are held in prominent public collections such as the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Baltimore Museum, the Whitney Museum, and Museum of Modern Art.

HAMRA ABBAS

“Hamra Abbas lives and works between Boston and Lahore. Her works originate from encounters and experiences - an image, icon or gesture - that are manipulated by the artist transforming its scale, function or medium. In the last few years, Abbas’s primary investigation has been to employ the visual language of religion and contemporary acts of devotion to addressing transformation and individual experience within a changing society. Kaaba Pop-Ups, a series of 24 hand-made paper sculptures, in various shades of blue, intricately folded into Islamic stalactite patterns, which at their center contain a three-dimensional boxlike space…” - Laura Egerton, Dubai-based writer and curator

Abbas was born in Kuwait in 1976. She received her BFA and MA in Visual Arts from the National College of Arts, Lahore before going on to the Universitaet der Kuenste in Berlin where she did the Meisterschueler in 2004. She is the recipient of the Jury prize at Sharjah Biennial 9, the Abraaj Capital Art Prize in 2011 and was shortlisted for the Jameel Prize in 2009.

JARET VADERA

Jaret Vadera's work across print, video, and installation explore the poetics of translation and the politics of vision. In the ‘Pangea series’, Vadera examines the relationships between representation, power, violence, and territory. In other works in this series, Vadera imagines a flag for Pangea, a borderless land populated by mythical Emperors, chronomads, sleepwalkers, and avatars made of water.

In ‘On Kings and Elephants’, a robotic narrator reads different English translations of the story of the ‘Four Blind Men and the Elephant’. Over the centuries, this story has traveled across cultures, and has been translated into a number of different languages. Each version carries with it, the overlapping accents of the time, the storyteller, and the translator. At the heart of the story lies an enduring warning against the trappings of ego, religion, and certainty. ‘On Kings and Elephants’ is based on the English translations of ‘On the Blind Men and the Affair of the Elephant’ by Sanā’ī, a 12th century Persian poet, ‘The Elephant in the Dark’ by Rumi, 13th century Persian poet and ‘Four Blind Men and an Elephant’ by Ramakrishna, an Indian philosopher from the 19th Century.

Jaret Vadera is a transdisciplinary artist whose work explores how different social, technological, and cognitive processes shape and control the ways that we see the world around and within us. Vadera was born in Toronto in 1976. His mother and father both immigrated to Canada in the 1960s as part of a large wave of immigration. Vadera's father was born in India and his mother in the Philippines. Vadera describes how growing up in his family, in Toronto, at that particular time, "set the stage for his ongoing explorations into the ways that beliefs, codes, and processes of translation shape and control how we see." Vadera completed his undergraduate education at the Ontario College of Art and Design University in Toronto and the Cooper Union School of Art in New York. He received his MFA in Painting and Printmaking from the Yale School of Art in New Haven. Vadera's work has been exhibited and screened internationally at venues such as the Queens Museum, Museum of Modern Art, Asia Society and Aga Khan Museum.

KRISHNA REDDY

Krishna Reddy’s work is informed by the many places he lived and his interaction with people. Born in Andhra Pradesh, he studied at Santiniketan under Nandalal Bose, Benode Behari Mukherjee, and Ramkinker Baij, leaving India in 1950 to study at Slade School London. He then moved to join the printmaking studio of Stanley William Hayter in 1951 in Paris where he lived for a few years and then left for New York in 1974. He pioneered the art of color viscosity prints, experimenting with intaglio printing as a three-dimensional process in which abstractly - contemplative organic forms appear as unique landscapes of color. These meditative works such as ‘Life Movement’ embody his various experiences embroiled with color and technique are undertaken with extraordinary complexity that can only be experienced.

Krishna Reddy, (b 1925, Nandanoor, Andhra Pradesh, India) studied Fine Arts at Viswa Bharati University, Santiniketan (1942-47) and taught at the College of Fine Arts, Kalakshetra, Madras as the Head of the Arts Department until 1949. Thereafter he joined the Sculptor Course at London’s Slade School of Art and studied under Henry Moore. In 1950, Reddy moved to Paris and joined Stanley William Hayter’s Atelier 17, which he later directed. In 1976 he moved to New York and joined as Director of the Department of Graphics and Printmaking at New York University and finally at the print department at Copper Union, where he continued his experimentations in New York.

Reddy has had numerous solo and group exhibitions throughout his career. He was awarded the Padma Shri in 1972 by the Government of India and the Gagan Abani Puraskar in 1980 by Viswabharati University amongst several other awards and recognitions. Reddy lives and works in New York.

MARIAM GHANI

‘Permanent Transit’ is a road movie about the state of statelessness, filmed through the windows of cars, trains, buses, planes, boats, airports, hotels, and borrowed houses in 11 countries between East and West (or as the narrator terms it, Sharqistan and Gharbistan). The narrative thread that loosely links these locations is a story retold by the artist's mother, through many gaps of memory, from a Syrian comedy sketch popular on Lebanese TV during the civil war. Like almost everything else that happens in this film, the story is told entirely off-screen. Each image of the window is effectively dislocated by being paired with sound from at least two different places, making the windows both screens and borders.

Mariam Ghani (b. 1978, New York) is an artist, writer and filmmaker. Her work looks at places and moments where social, cultural and political structures take on visible forms. Notable exhibitions and screenings include Documenta, the Dhaka Art Summit, the Liverpool Biennial, the Sharjah Biennial, the Secession in Vienna, the CCCB in Barcelona, Garage in Moscow, and the Queens Museum, Met Breuer, MoMA and Guggenheim in New York. The artist currently lives and works in New York City.

PRIYANKA DAS GUPTA

‘Another’ imagines the circuitous journey of the modernist sculpture, ‘Remorse of an Egg’, by Prodosh Dasgupta, the artist’s grandfather, which disappeared in New Delhi in 1991, and re-appeared on an episode of the series ‘Antique Roadshow’ in Tucson, Arizona, in 2016, masquerading as a planter. Through performing the transformation of the sculpture and imagining its passage, traveling undetected, without its papers of authentication, the work draws comparisons with instances of human passing. The act of turning the modernist sculpture upside down demystifies the sculpture’s formalist purity, exposing its construction to the audience. It also lends the sculpture a function, that of a planter. The juxtaposition of pure modernist sculpture with the laborious act of planting stimulates the audience to decipher new meanings for the work. The inert modernist sculpture is activated in its newly formed hybridity - a strange creature - that generates new digressions, associations and possibilities. Its reimagining, or passing thus, has potentially extended its survival.

Priyanka Dasgupta’s installations include photography, video, sound and sculpture, trespassing boundaries between digital and traditional media. She has an MFA from City College/CUNY, an MA in from New York University and the International Center of Photography. Dasgupta has exhibited her work at Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum, Milwaukee, Changjiang Museum of Contemporary Art, China, and Queens Museum, New York. She lives in New York and teaches contemporary art and education.

RANU MUKHERJEE

These works are part of ‘Shadowtime’, a long-term project utilizing images of urgency, intimacy, and action. The project builds relationships between the tools of the moving image - animation and choreography, and the tools of painting - line and color, to position the long-standing pictorial concern with figure-ground relationships as a question of social and political agency, sensation and sensitivity. In collaboration with the Bureau of Linguistic Reality, Mukherjee coins the term ‘shadowtime' in 2015 and defines it as the sensation of “living simultaneously in two distinctly different time scales” or “the acute consciousness of the possibility that the near future will be drastically different than the present”. Within this project, she uses the term to consider the intersecting types of historically defining episodes we are witnesses and subjects to, those occurring through ecological events and those occurring through cultural watershed moments, particularly related to the rise of isolationism globally and the unfolding public discourse around race in the U.S. These particular works include imagery derived from a variety of source photographs. There is the imagery of trees shot in Sonoma in the aftermath of the recent Northern California fires.

Ranu Mukherjee creates hybrid films and video installations, bodies of drawing and painting and collaborative projects that have to date included choreography, pirate radio, procession, exhibition and book making. Her works embody the experience of colliding time-frames marked in cultural, ecological and technological terms and the ongoing construction of culture through the forces of creolization, migration, ecology, speculative fiction and desire. She received an MFA from the Royal College of Art, London and BFA, Massachusetts College of Art, Boston and has exhibited at the Asian Art Museum, San Francisco, Los Angeles County Museum of Contemporary Art and the San Jose Museum of Art.

RINA BANERJEE

"Oh to retreat in flight to the "good old days" when tradition was best not altered in eye of monsters are those that aristocracy made waters flow, take flight to those other parts China, Korea, Africa with soft blisters coil and tangle in hair of all mothers make country witchcraft"

Rina Banerjee demonstrates the complexity of the senses between her native ‘blood line’ and her ‘forever foreign’ land allowing her work to open up to multiple textual meanings and linguistic legacies, in which her work draws on contradictions between the ancient, contemporary and popular cultures that lie within her, male and female, materials and colors such as feathers, textiles, epoxy horns, beads that are political, poetic and social critiques that question mythology, fairy tales, anthropology and diaspora. In this sculpture, a bird in flight Banerjee traversing territories seeking perhaps to nest, instead engages in the cross-fertilization of cultures, languages and trade, opening and collapsing differences so that a singular, united humanity emerges.

Rina Banerjee was born in Calcutta, India in 1963. She grew up in London, England, and eventually moved to New York, NY. She received her Bachelor of Science degree from Case Western University in 1993 and took a job as a polymer research chemist upon graduation. She eventually left the science profession to receive her MFA from Yale University in 1995. Banerjee’s work has been exhibited internationally in US, France, England, Japan and India. The artist’s works are included in many collections such as the Whitney Museum of American Art, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Centre George Pompidou, Paris and the Brooklyn Museum, New York. Rina Banerjee currently lives and works in New York City.

SHAURYA KUMAR

Shaurya Kumar is a Delhi based artist currently living in the US. He sees himself as an artist of recollection who immerses himself in memoirs and imagery of history, context and time; who works in shadows of memory and pulls up fallen and forgotten objects, even if temporarily. Indicating notions of presence and absence, these works play with architectural ruins, transient ephemera, and contextual displacements that inform his work and life. Inspired by recent travels and memories of places and objects that he has encountered, here each gold leaf symbolizes a mark as if left by a pilgrim on a religious site as an act of reverence or devotion. While each mark and drawing is different in the way of handling, all works share the equal investment and intensity; and the beauty comes from the profound act of engagement, the kind of empathy towards the object that is looked at, met and respected, and not seen through.

A native of Delhi, where he studied printmaking and painting at the College of Art, Shaurya Kumar graduated with his MFA from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville in 2007. Since 2001, Kumar has been involved in numerous prestigious research projects, like ‘The Paintings of India’, a series of 26 documentary films on the painting tradition of India. Kumar's work has exhibited widely internationally. Shaurya Kumar currently lives and works in Chicago, IL and teaches at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

'Singing Suns' is an extension of Shahzia Sikander’s recent animation work, all of which explores ideas of conflict and tension over the control of strategically desired geography and historical events. A recurring form, one of many she developed as part of her visual language, is a silhouette of the hair worn by a female worshipper of Krishna known as a Gopi, and is at the forefront of both 'Singing Sun's and 'Singing Spheres', another related work by the artist. The single unit of the Gopi hair silhouette has tremendous possibilities. When reproduced in the millions, the hair silhouettes operate as a pulsating mass of movement that oscillates between several representations, such as the sun, spheres, swarms, birds, bats or insects. What is important is the kinetic thrust, the enormous energy charge at the interface with this undulating movement. It is simultaneously tangible—a rigid icon—and elusive, constantly morphing and altering. Powerful and subliminal, the beauty of the Gopi particles is that they can operate as both the unhinged and the durable, functioning as a force, an engine for survival.

The 'Singing Suns' and 'Singing Spheres' are voices in motion, the final iteration of the Gopi hair particles. At once singular and representational, they call into question the philosophical and the political, as they represent an unfolding of narrative based on shifting migratory patterns, interactions, cultural quarantine, autonomous verbal and poetic languages, and the quest for human identity.

For the music of 'Singing Suns' Sikander collaborated with composer Du Yun. Du Yun’s music is created in response to Sikander’s drawings. Du Yun is a gestural composer, which overlaps with Sikander’s practice in terms of her use of movement to disrupt static space. Shahzia Sikander often uses a gestural relationship to materials like ink to draft out a series of images. Yun also writes linearly to compose a non- linear event. The music is unfixed, which parallels Sikander’s disinterest in linear narratives.

SHELLY BAHL

Shelly Bahl’s interdisciplinary projects explore the surreal experiences of women who lead trans-cultural lives. These narratives are based in facts and fictions rooted in specific cultural histories, which she then re-contextualizes and re-imagines. She is developing new drawings and interdisciplinary works based on the fictionalized lives of historical figures such as Amru Sani, a mysterious Indo-Caribbean jazz singer and actress who performed internationally in the 1940’s-60’s, and who, at the peak of her fame, disappeared without a trace. Amru Sani’s story is similar to the main character in Bahl’s earlier installations and drawings for ‘International Woman of Mystery’ that were inspired by research into the real-life narratives of four true cultural interlopers and cinematic stars: Helen or Helen Jairag Richardson Khan, Bollywood actress; Yoshiko “Shirley” Yamaguchi or Li Xianglan, Chinese-born Japanese actress and singer; Anna Leonowens, Anglo-Indian or Indian-born English travel writer, educator and social activist; and Merle Oberon. These were all enigmatic and racially ambiguous women who created avatars to move fluidly between cultures, but who also left many deep ruptures in the wake of their disjointed selves.

Shelly Bahl is a visual and media artist born in Benares, India, raised in Toronto and currently based in New York City. Her interdisciplinary work in drawing, painting, sculpture/ installation, photography and video has appeared in a number of solo and group exhibitions in North America and internationally.

“A cage went in search of a bird.” -The Zürau Aphorisms of Franz Kafka

In this series of photographic interventions, images culled from the US Navy’s website, linked to the operations being carried out against pirates in Somalia, are cropped, cut, reassembled and reframed under the headings ‘Surrender’ and ‘Surround’. The lexicon of the sublime landscape is collided with that of military operations. While the sublime landscape is said to surround the viewer thus enticing his soul to surrender as strategic operations are carried out by the navy in order to surround the pirates, and force them to surrender.

In the era of globalized capitalism, the movement of goods across borders cannot be separated from the movement of people, whether state sanctioned or stowed away in the dark bowels of containers. Transnationalism is the condition of our present time, and each commodity that we purchase is attached to laboring bodies elsewhere; each political decision is ties to the political futures of people far away.

Sreshta Rit Premnath, born 1979, Bangalore, works across multiple media, investigating various systems of power and representation. Premnath is the founder and co-editor of the publication ‘Shifter’ and has had participated in several shows internationally. Based in Brooklyn, Premnath is Assistant Professor at Parsons, New York.

VANDANA JAIN

Vandana Jain's works explore a cross-section of patterns, symbol, spirituality, and consumerism. Raised in New York, the familiar logos encountered by her such as Target, U- Haul, Merrily Lynch, Cisco allows the artist to comment on capitalism, globalization, and consumerism. The logo Mandala symbolizes relationship of the spiritual to the commercial, and the larger political and economic power structures at play.

‘Fortune’ features the top 100 global companies as ranked by total revenue by Fortune magazine for the Fiscal year ending in 2011. The Walmart starburst, Pemex eagle, and IBM logotype appear slowly on screen in order of rank, accompanied by a variety of open-source sounds, ranging from the industrial to the spiritual to the natural.

Vandana Jain is an artist and textile designer based in Brooklyn, New York. She received her Bachelors from New York University and went on to study Textile Design at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Jain’s work has been exhibited both nationally and internationally.

ZARINA HASHMI

‘Home Is a Foreign Place’ consists of 36 woodblock prints, each of which presents a geometric monochromatic design. To make these images, Zarina jotted down a list of Urdu words that she considered meaningful, such as “axis,” “distance,” “road,” and “wall.” She sent the list to a calligrapher in Pakistan, who wrote them in the traditional nastaliq script. Back in her New York studio, Zarina developed what she has described as “idea-images, which flowed from these words.” The resultant images serve as a visual vocabulary to express feelings of home, memory, and loss. “I understood from a very early age that home is not necessarily a permanent place,” Zarina said. “It is an idea we carry with us wherever we go. We are our homes.”

Zarina Hashmi was born in 1937 in Aligarh, India. After receiving a degree in mathematics, she went on to study woodblock printing in Bangkok and Tokyo, and intaglio with S. W. Hayter at Atelier-17 in Paris. Her art chronicles her life and recurring themes include home, displacement, borders, journey and memory. She has participated in numerous exhibitions internationally. The artist lives and works in New York.


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