Eclectic Indian dance, music at the Met and Rockefeller Indian Artists create buzz

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Abhang poetry performance.

NEW YORK – Indian music and dance were part of the second edition of the World Culture Festival at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, on November 4, which saw plenty of children partake of various day-long events at various spots inside the premises, through performances, storytelling, interactive gallery activities, and artist-led workshops. The festival celebrated how cultures and civilizations have been shaped by people on the move. The theme appropriately was ‘Journeys’.

Adults and children were riveted by ‘Danced Storytelling’, in which classical Indian dancers from Navatman Dance and Barkha Dance Company told stories through simultaneous movement and narration. It was a superb way to explain lucidly the various movements and nuances in Indian classical dance forms, which many find hard to discern.

Classical Indian dancers from Navatman Dance and Barkha Dance Company, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The stories that came to life through dance at the Met included the saga of how Hanuman set Lanka on fire after his tail was lit up, and how God Ganesha got his elephant head, after he was beheaded by Lord Shiva.

There were also melodious sessions of Abhang poetry performance. The centuries-old devotional poetry from Maharashtra resonated for the lucky few who thronged to hear it, rendered by classical vocalist Samarth Nagarkar, accompanied by tabla player Narendra Budhakar and harmonium player Rohan Prabhudesai.

For young museum-goers, the performance will remain embellished in memory as music in praise of Lord Krishna wafted through some sculptures and artifacts from Asia that was the background for the setting, including an exquisite mandapa – an architectural ensemble from a Jain meeting hall, from Patan, Gujarat, from the 16th century.

Other highlights of the World Culture Festival included: ‘Our Stories of Migration: World Map Project’, a collaborative tapestry incorporating visitors’ personal migration stories with artist Natalia Nakazawa; an exploration of textiles from across The Met collection; an examination of how objects and ideas traveled along the Silk Road through Asia; and through The Refugee Journey with the United Nations Association of the United States participants used virtual reality to envision the journey and life of a refugee living in a camp. Also, chef Brian Tatsukawa demonstrated some traditional Japanese recipes with ingredients from his wife’s Native American heritage.

There were plenty of other performances and music too, including the Young People’s Chorus of New York City performing excerpts from their opera retelling of Homer’s epic tale ‘Odyssey’, and Fuerza y Animo (Strength and Encouragement), where storyteller Christiamilda Correa shared a collection of anecdotes about her desire to collect, interpret, and safeguard her culture’s stories.

Krishen Khanna, Untitled (Bandwalls), 1988, Oil on canvas, 67.7 x 52.7 in.

Elsewhere in the city, DAG Modern, which has locations in New Delhi and Mumbai too, opened their new exhibition ‘India’s Rockefeller Artists: An Indo-U.S. Cultural Saga’, which showcases iconic works of the Indian painters and sculptors who travelled to the US on grants enabled by John D. Rockefeller III’s philanthropic vision, first through the JDR 3rd Fund (1963–1979) and then through the Asian Cultural Council.

The opening of the exhibition, which will be exhibited through early March, 2018, was preceded by the launch of a 500-page book, published by DAG Modern. A product of extensive research from the Rockefeller and artists’ archives, the documentation in the publication includes interviews with the living artists and surviving family members of others, along with rare photographs. The catalogue tells the stories of India’s Rockefeller artists and their art as a testimony to JDR III’s impact on the Indian art landscape.

Cecily Cook, Director of Programs, Asian Cultural Council, was present for the launch of the book. There was a panel discussion with artists Natvar Bhavsar, Vinod Dave and Vibha Galhotra, before the formal opening.

Ram Kumar, Untitled, Oil on canvas, 1961, 20.0 x 31.0 in. 50.8 x 78.7 cm. Signed in HIndi and dated in English (lower left) ‘Ram Kumar 61’.

The Rockefeller grant benefited some of India’s most important artists, among them V.S. Gaitonde, whose work formed the subject of a retrospective at the Guggenheim, New York, in 2013; Tyeb Mehta, one of the most widely collected artists in private and public collections; Akbar Padamsee, Ram Kumar, Bal Chhabda and Krishen Khanna, all associates of the then Bombay-based Progressive Artists’ Group. Natvar Bhavsar, Jyoti Bhatt, K.G. Subramanyan, A.M. Davierwala, Avinash Chandra, Arun Bose, Paritosh Sen, K.S. Kulkarni, Vinod Dave, Bhupen Khakhar and Rekha Rodwittiya were some of the others whose contribution to Indian art practice in the 20th century has been seminal.

Abdullah M. I. Syed, Moneyscape VI: Tenemos (Detail), 2017, Hand-cut and assembled various uncirculated banknotes in custom light-box vitrine, 23 x 23 x 10 in.

Later this month (from November 16, through December 30, 2017), Aicon gallery will exhibit ‘Divine Economy – Chapter One: Structures’, the second major US solo exhibition by Pakistan-born Sydney-based artist Abdullah M. I. Syed, curated by Mikala Tai. Syed was the recipient of Australia’s prestigious 2017 Carstairs Prize.

The exhibition – four years in the making since his first showing with Aicon – represents the first of three exhibitions relating to Syed’s ongoing research on the (re)presentation of religious, political, and economic systems and how these systems mutually construct and inform one another.

(Sujeet Rajan is Executive Editor, Parikh Worldwide Media. Email him: sujeet@newsindiatimes.com Follow him on Twitter @SujeetRajan1)