We Break Pencils

Art And Context Of A Changing Subcontinent


In this paper there will be the analysis of artworks, many of which are contemporary from Asia, specifically South Asia. South Asia, and specifically India, is undergoing a phenomenal transformation and following the remarkable and rapid socio-economic and cultural developments witnessed there, especially in recent decades, modern and contemporary South Asian art has gained in prominence globally. Artists in the South Asia and in its diaspora demonstrate an active political and social engagement, intensely examining complex issues in an Indian society undergoing transition that includes globalization, environmentalism, religious sectarianism, gender and sexuality plus class issues. The various works of art will be arranged in various categories and their characteristics analyzed and fused with the global context and the influence it has had on the society which was once conservative. The various pieces of art vary from paintings to animations to installations in the public and even sketches. The works of art to be presented are unique and have challenged the traditional boundaries that the Indian society thrives in and forged out a path that has made them the greatest artists of this generation. The various artists have used their respective mediums to bring forth works that show the workings of the society, the globalization influence on art and also the various issues that are facing the Indian society currently. They range from painters, animators to sculptors. The works of art will be grouped for easier analysis and a short discussion on the artist, as well as description and visual analysis of their works, will be examined with appropriate historical, national and global comparisons.

In this paper, the works of art will be divided into the mediums that have been used so as to make therm. There are various categories like oil on canvas, acrylic and oil on canvas, acrylic on canvas, animations among others. By using these categories, it will be easy to discuss these works of art easily and extensively.

The Medium: Oil on Canvas

Oil on canvas is used for painting and in our case there are various works of art that have been presented in this manner. This is the group of painters who have expressed their art on canvas using oil as the medium to reproduce their work. In this category there are several works of art to be looked into.

The first painting to be looked into is the Ragamala Series (1960). This was done by a painter known as Maqbool Fida Husain (1915-2011). Maqbool Fida Husain popularly known as M.F. Husain was born in 1915 and he became one of India’s most distinguished artists. He was born in Pandharpur and he spent his earlier years in Indore. He began his vocation as a painter of cinema billboards after going to art school in Bombay which is now Mumbai. By the use of freehand drawing and vibrant color he went forth to depict Indian way of life and other subjects using a very unique style that fused both the Indian techniques and European art movements. His style of painting was at par with the contemporary European art movements, principally Cubism.

The Ragamala Series (1960) is a painting that is made of oil on canvas. This painting was inspired by Ragas which are various Indian musical modes. It shows various musicians each with his tool of trade playing and dancing. There are different colors for each Raga showing the mood that they are in. Some are solitary while others are in groups. There is the usage of a myriad of colors to bring forth a complete painting. This painting shows the influence of the old schools of art in the medieval India and also by the European contemporary art. The painter has been compared to Picasso for his many works and also in the use of Cubism in his work.

The second painting is by the same artists as above. It is known as the Mahabharata (1990).This painting has used somber and neutral colors to bring forth a scene of conflict and war that is devastating. There are screaming horses, fire, death and destruction. This painting is based on the subject of Mahabharata which is an Indian epic that recounts a feud that exists between two fraternal families, the Kauravas and the Pandavas. The subject of the painting is the story is the Kurukshetra War which is a very grave war that hit the two clans. This painting has been likened to Picasso’s Guernica which was painted in 1937. The subject in Picasso’s Guernica was the overwhelming bombing of the town of Guernica which was done by the German and Italian legions during the Spanish Civil War.

The third work of art to be looked into is the City for Sale (1981-84) by Gulam Mohammed Sheikh. The painter, Gulam Mohammed Sheikh was born in Surendranagar, Gujarat in the year 1937. He went on to study painting in Baroda at the Faculty of Fine Arts, he then advanced his studies to the Royal College of Art in London. This painting depicts a very busy courtyard that is full of people. It looks like a market place as there are people selling their wares. There is the usage of colors that is very vivid. The painter has employed bright colors to contrast with the dull ones to produce an effect that is both overwhelming and thought provoking. The artist has fused various styles in his work from Persian styles to European Renaissance work. The Renaissance bragged of painters like Michelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci. This was a revolutionary piece that depicted the riots in Baroda.

The next piece of work is dubbed each night put Kashmir in your dreams (2003-10). It is a series of eight large banners that were painted by Nilima Sheikh. He was born in New Delhi in the year 1945. Collectively these paintings capture the complexities of life and nature of the Kashmir region. It is renowned for its beauty and it is often denoted to as a paradise on earth. However, it is also infamous for its rough history. The painter gets her inspiration from Central Asian wall painting, Indian and Persian miniature painting, Kashmiri folk tales, her childhood memories, and even from the works of masters in medieval, pre-modern, and contemporary works. This resulted into a mystifying, vivacious, kaleidoscopic set of art that not only reflect on the Hindu-Muslim conflict, but also cast a light on Kashmir’s compound history and culture.

The next work of art to be looked into is the Chessmen One (1961) which was done by Anwar Shemza (1928-85). Shemza moved to London in the year 1956 from Pakistan where he left an already established career as a writer and painter. While in Britain he abandoned his graphic and figurative method and established vigorous works of art that merged calligraphy and characteristics of Islamic architecture with Western concepts. His works talked of his Islamic background and also his roots in Pakistan. The painting shows various chess pieces in a hierarchical manner arranged on levels, each on top of the other. There is the influence of Arabic style of architecture is evident in the individual paintings and also the use of calligraphy and also western abstraction. This painting shows the relationships that exist amidst the various worlds and cultures that the painter traversed.

The next painting was also done by Anwar Shemza. The Blue Stone (1959) is characteristic to Shemza’s new style where he used abstraction, Islamic architecture and calligraphy to bring about a piece of art that was impressive and breathtaking. He uses cubism and abstractions that can be compared to those of Picasso. It is a composition that uses pink and blue as the dominant colors with outlines of black to give the object some form.

The Medium: Acrylic and Acrylic plus oil on canvas

This is whereby there is the usage of acrylic on canvas only to produce a piece of art or the combination of the two; acrylic and oil. There are several artists in this category.

The first painting to be analyzed here is the Saurashtra, 1983 that was done by Syed Haider Raza (b.1922). This painting is an abstract work. It has several elements of Indian art fused with the Western form of abstraction. It has an element of spiritualism in it. There is the usage of bright colors with somber tones to bring about a captivating painting that borders the supernatural. It is linked to the floods that occurred in this region of Saurashtra in the same year that this painting was done. Its medium was oil and acrylic on canvas. Syed Haider Raza also known as S.H. Raza was born on 22nd February 1922. He has worked and lived in France as from 1950. As can be seen above, his works are chiefly abstracts whose medium is oil or acrylic. He has a very rich usage of color, full of icons that originate from Indian cosmology as well as its philosophy. His works are a combination of the two plus abstraction.

The next painting is also from the same artist as above. It is called Ma Laut Ke Aunga Toh Kya Launga? The painting is an abstract that is full of Indian cosmology and philosophy. The shapes that the abstract is made from are present in the various deities in India. He uses black to represent the essence of the earth, the depth in spirituality as from Indian cosmology. In the painting, there is a central part that is a square that has a dark oval that is bordered by a myriad of other colors. These are used to refer to the spirituality that is found in the painting and also as a representation of the painter.

The next painting uses acrylic on canvas as the medium. It is known as the Untiled (Thrown Bull) (1961). It was painted by Tyeb Mehta (1925-2009). Tyeb Mehta was born on September 26th 1925. His birthplace was Kapadvanj, a town of Kheda district in Gujarat. He was a prominent Indian artist and a member of the famous Bombay Progressive Artists' Group. The group has painters like F.N. Souza, S.H. Raza and M.F. Husain who have been discussed above. He embraced Modernism style that had Post-Impressionist colors, employed Cubist forms and also used various Expressionistic styles. The painting shows the representation of a bull that is dying. It is lying on its back on its last throes of death. There is the usage of a dull green color with shades of blue to show the gravity of the situation. It shows the violence of man and also the daily struggles of life. There is a remarkable similarity with the works of the artists mentioned above and others from modernist movements from Europe like Picasso.

The following painting was also done by Tyeb Mehta. It is called the Mahishasura (1994). This painting is done in bright colors on the foreground and drab combinations on the background. There seems to be a struggle between a man and a bull. The man and the beast are locked in a struggle that seems to be very violent. This painting is full of symbols and hidden meanings in it. It may show the struggles of life. As from the painting above, we see the impressions of his childhood strewn all over the painting. There is the usage of Western Realism and also various Indian styles.

The Medium: Other Mediums

The First to be analyzed on this category is the Grid Corridor (2013) which was done by Seher Shah. Its medium is graphite on paper. From the image, one can see a hollow space, which looks like a relic of a modernist building. There is the usage of rectangular forms (like rudimentary Corbusier-inspired components) that float out as in preparation to be readjusted into something new. There is the usage of abstraction that is intended for in deconstruction is preoccupied by the occasionally over-detailed drawing. This can be said to be a cubist usage but in a manner that is sketched and not painted. Seher Shah was born in 1975 in Karachi, Pakistan. She received her BFA and a BA in Architecture from the Rhode Island School of Design. She lives and works in Brooklyn New York.

The next piece of art was done by the same artist as above. It is called the Object Repetition (line to distance). Here, 480 cast hydrocal objects with ink with dimensions variable were used. The work was made of similar geometric forms that were placed together on a floor. This lent the viewer an aerial view of the piece of work. This can be seen as a reference to the architectural forms which are prevalent in Shah’s work.

The next piece of art to be analyzed is House with Four Walls (1991) whose medium is chine colle with handmade Nepalese paper. This is a portfolio of etchings and text that was made by the artist. It contains seven double pages that have etchings which are printed on the recto side while the associated text is written on the verso side. This is a glimpse of the artist’s childhood in a land that is far away and where a different way of life was led. It has printed and also hand set text. The artist uses abstract ideas and modernism to bring out this piece of art about the home. Zarina is famous for her definitely minimal approach where there is the usage of line on handmade paper; this often includes use of calligraphic text in Urdu, which is her mother tongue. Inside her art, there is the deployment of thick, rough lines that portray political borders and propose collective memories of violence and the ostracism of groups regarded as other. Her art can be compared to that of Tyeb Mehta which mirrors his childhood.

The work of art, Letters from Home which is made of woodblock and metal cuts printed on handmade Kozo paper and mounted on Somerset paper is another example of the work that was made by Zarina. This is a set of woodcuts in which there are handwritten letters which her sister Rani had sent to her. They are overlaid by maps and floor-plans which are a representation of the artist’s journeys and places where she has lived in. There is the presence of Urdu text signals Hashmi’s that show the enduring relationship that is present with her native tongue.

The final piece of art in this category is the Kaavad: Traveling Shrine: Home (2008). Which are 34 panels that are created like in a walk through box so that one can be able to see various religious figures and deities. The Kaavad is a painted temple made of wood that has a lot of panels and secret compartments which fold out successively to tell a story. This work of art was created by Gulam Mohammed Sheikh. It shows his connection to the local affairs in India and also how he has fused modernist art with the old school art of India to bring forth this creation.

The Medium: Animations

This is the usage of animations and motion pictures to bring about a work of art. There are only two instances in this form of art.

The first one is the Parallax (video installation, animation) which was done by the artist, Shazia Sikander. By combining the methods of traditional Indo-Persian minuscule painting and the 21st-century usage of digital technology, the artist is able to fuse her own paintings done in watercolor, gouache, and ink and to make them into a striking animation. Their transforming forms, the drenching colors, and also the presence of disruptive details are made more alive by a haunting soundtrack. Shahzia Sikander got her BFA in 1991 from the National College of Arts in Lahore, Pakistan. She attained her MFA from the Rhode Island School of Design in the year 1995.

The next animation is also Shahzia’s work. It is dubbed The Last Post (animation). The Last Post was inspired by the artist’s on-going intrigue in the colonial history that is present in the sub-continent. In the work of art, Sikander here uses subtle mentions to the Company School which is a style of painting that visual language advanced during the eighteenth-century India.

In conclusion, we can see that the various artists in the text have a lot of influence from their lives in India. It can be seen that they fuse the usage of modernist arts to their experiences and also borrow from the various forms of art that are present in India. Even though many of them live abroad, the evidence of their roots is clear in their various pieces of art ranging from paintings to animations.