Primitivism & Modern Indian Art

Primitivism & Modern Indian Art

Primitivism & Modern Indian Art

Gallery Exhibition

Primitivism & Modern Indian Art

New York: The Fuller Building, 15 March 2020 – 31 March 2021

Mumbai: Kala Ghoda, 15 November 2019 – 5 February 2020

This exhibition looks at the diverse range, moods and styles that primitivism has taken in India, some artists practicing entirely in that style, while others experimenting with it in part, or sporadically. One can count simplicity and a move away from sophistication as key components, as also an inclination or at least a nod towards the folk. The exhibition does not attempt to be a comprehensive survey of India’s primitivists—there are others who would bear inclusion—but is an attempt to understand a body of work and how, given its Western countenance, it can be understood in the Indian context. More than anything else, it offers a clearer view than in the past of what primitivism might mean in the context of modern Indian art.

Giles Tillotson, who has curated the exhibition, had his task cut out for him, and right from the beginning resisted the idea of turning it into an exhaustive survey. The litmus test of a primitivist could understandably be an acknowledgement of lack of modernity by others, but it is equally true that any inclusion or exclusion is arguable at best and must not be viewed as definitive—Mrinalini Mukherjee and Bhupen Khakhar come to mind. Tillotson’s curatorial approach has been to undertake a theoretical understanding of primitivism as applied to Western art, and how the same rules might not hold for the subcontinent’s art practice—at least partly because the West’s approach was based on the discovery of civilisations vastly different from their own, of which India would have been one. For us, on the other hand, what the West saw as exotic was merely the familiar.

What interests us is how primitivism in Indian modern art translates into a language that almost everyone instinctively understands. This, in turn, shows how it is aligned to what we have previously ignored as indigenous art. That the two might share a deeper link is something this exhibition will help us explore further.

'The exhibition explores the key elements that defined the primitivist style in modern Indian art, including a shift away from intricate and traditionally ‘sophisticated’ stylistic elements, as well as the incorporation of visual elements drawn from folk art'

– The Universal New Network, 2020

exhibition highlights

Exhibition and Events