The Claridges, 2 December 2019 – 25 January 2020
The 1970s was a decade like no other for a young India gaining in confidence nationally as well as on the global firmament. In 1971, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi led the country to a decisive victory against Pakistan, leading to the creation of Bangladesh. The Green Revolution had borne fruit, and Operation Flood now launched a milk revolution in the country, and the culmination of the privy purse turned it into a socialist republic with a strong handle on its economic button. Internationally, much was made of India’s resilience, and the country’s soft power began to win it recognition for its films, fashion, food and culture. India had arrived.
Indian artists were now at greater ease than at any time previously, no longer drawn into the crosswinds of Indian vs. Western art, adapting from both to suit their temperaments and styles. A number of art movements had ceased to be, and artists now preferred to work independently—if not competitively. Though art infrastructure continued to be limited, artists seemed more settled in their space, often meeting over informal addas to critique each other’s works. International collectors of Indian art, and exhibitions of Indian modernists overseas, were on the rise. The influence of the Bengal School had passed into history but Calcutta artists reinvented their oeuvre; the Progressives were stalwarts at the top of their game; New Delhi was increasingly an important presence on the art scene; Baroda had emerged as an important national centre for art; while in the south, the Madras Art Movement saw the last thrust of modernism take root in the country.
The mid-decade Emergency provided a number of artists political material to work with, but art seemed overall to have a lighter, more effervescent presence than before. India was not yet self-dependent, and shortages were rife, but there was also a sense of joie de vivre best represented in films during this period, in music, and in the street fashion of the decade. India might have been economically ‘closed’ but its youth was open to the world, and the world was curious about it. It was a match made in heaven, and art in the decade reflected India’s embrace of the world.