A new, unexpected, thought-provoking exhibit at downtown's Seattle Art Museum has our wheels spinning yet again. This time, curators dazzle with a vibrant and enticing exhibit called City Dwellers: Contemporary Art from India. This exhibition enlivens the Seattle museum's walls through Sunday, Feb. 15, 2015, providing an insider's view of contemporary urban life in India through the eyes of 12 artists who live and work in different metropolitan areas of the subcontinent.
Seattle Art Museum visitors can feast their eyes on this gem – "Reassurance" (color photograph) – from the "Definitive Reincarnate" series, 2006, Nandini Valli Muthiah, Indian, b. 1976 — Photo courtesy of © Nandini Valli Muthiah
The works showcase the mega-cities of India, areas where "ancient history and rituals, global consumer culture and a wide range of socio-economic spectrums meet in dynamic and surprising constellations."
All featured photographers and sculptors come from a generation typically known to be well-traveled and informed by international art and politics, making these artists' take on the people and mythology of their native country all the more interesting.
"As a result, their works highlight the contradictions, changes and subtleties that unfold in the private and public spheres," reads a statement by the Seattle Art Museum.
Gallery-goers find works like "Criminals" (after 2001 newspaper photograph) from the project "Native Women of South India: Manners and Customs" — Photo courtesy of © Pushpamala N. Photo courtesy Nature Morte, New Delhi.
All works in the exhibit come from the collection of Sanjay Parthasarathy and Malini Balakrishnan, a couple who live in the Seattle area. The Seattle Art Museum first began with an emphasis on Asian art collections, so this broader view of contemporary Asian art only seemed appropriate to present-day curators.
City Dwellers intends to present a potent mixture of India's ancient mythology and religions, hundreds of Hindu gods and goddesses, public rituals, dance performances and more.
Add into the mix the influence of Bollywood and the reality of a rapidly modernizing India (Think tech-savvy nation, where the IT industry thrives.), and the layers involved become even more complex. Works in this show demonstrate how some of these pressures are rubbing up against each other in 21st-century India.
The collection of Sanjay Parthasarathy and Malini Balakrishnan includes works like "Untitled" (digital print) of Godrej Typewriter Factory, 1984 — Photo courtesy of © Sooni Taraporevala
In discussing some challenges that arose in designing this exhibit, curator Catharina Manchanda speaks about the complicated history of photography as a medium in India (because of the former reign of British Colonialism in that part of the world); she admits the need to be conscious of "reams and reams of romanticized travel photography."
"Photography is a potent choice for contemporary Indian artists, perhaps because the country has been somewhat photographically over-exposed to western visitors," says Manchanda. "City Dwellers conveys the complexities and also the excitement of everyday life in India today."
Visitors can expect to see works, separated into three thematic rooms, that range from unique sculpture (like a life-size, bright red Gandhi listening to his iPod) to a surreal (and sometimes humorous) triptych work that takes up an entire exhibit wall.
For more information about the Seattle Art Museum and current exhibits, visit the museum website.