Art that preceded our post-colonial era

Art exhibition

The exhibition 'Zameen' project contains entire archives of sensation, intuition, memory, hope, loss and desire. While many of its subliminal reserves of meaning may resist translation, this Urdu word can be paraphrased to occupy a range of connotations: Earth, soil, territory; the boundary-marked ancestral land, the migratory cultural zone of belonging; the topographical or emotional guarantee of identity, genealogy or historical location.

Curated by Ranjit Hoskote and featuring Atul Dodiya, ArunKumar HG, Ashim Purkayastha, Baiju Patthan, Gigi Scaria, Gargi Raina, Jagannath Panda, Praneet Soi, Ranbir Kaleka, Ram Rahman, Ravi Agarwal, Ryan Lobo, Veer Munshi, Vishwajyoti Gosh and Zarina Hashmi, the exhibition is on at Art District XIII in Lado Sarai.

Ranjit Hoskote says, “It was with a small shock that I learned from a locality map, while preparing the present exhibition that the gallery was not far from Balban’s tomb. With an equal shiver of recognition, I realised that the little village through which my cousin and I would sometimes make a detour in the early 1980s – with its villagers taking their ease on charpoys outside low-slung houses, remnants of mirror-encrusted earthenware buried in the parched earth at their feet – is now, in fact, Delhi’s emergent arts quarter of Lado Sarai.”

Once in a while, we would hear the sky-wide cry of a peacock, echoing from beyond broken tombs, carrying across the windy emptiness from the Mehrauli tomb of the 13th-century Aibak vizier and later emperor Balban, recalls the artist.

Zameen also carries with it the aura of exile, upheaval or displacement. It assumes acts of journeying towards or away from the hope of anchorage: the traveller may be guided by sensory signals, visceral talismans; by smells, the remembrance of a touch, the thread of a melody, the flavour of food once eaten every day and now impossible to find in the ecology of estrangement.

Hoskote adds, “At another level, my choice of title for this exhibition refers to a specific precedent in the history of post-colonial Indian art. In 1955, the pioneering Indian modernist M F Husain (1915-2011) created a magnificent oil painting, Zameen, which won first place in the very first National Exhibition organised by the Lalit Kala Akademi. Of seminal importance, Husain’s Zameen now hangs in the National Gallery of Modern Art.

It enshrines the artist’s sustaining belief in India’s rural life, admittedly imagined and phrased in idyllic terms, emphasising folk festivity and the rhythms of labour in an
agrarian society.”

Zameen encoded a multitude of associations also, with regard to the earth, to the fructification or poisoning of soil, to strife over the control of land, water, routes of traversal and natural resources. Now palpable, now spectral, Zameen is a profoundly fraught concept as well as a compelling experiential reality.

The exhibition is on at gallery Art District XIII, Lado Sarai, till 5 January, 11 am-8 pm.

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