NEW YORK – India has the dubious distinction of enduring some of the worst famines in history, including the Chalisa famine in 1783, which took the lives of 11 million people, and two famines in Bengal, in 1770 and 1943, respectively, which cumulatively took the lives of 20 million people.
The heart-wrenching horrors of the 1943 famine in Bengal, which lasted through 1944, was captured by the Indian artist Chittoprosad, and is now on exhibition at the Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum, Quinnipiac University, Connecticut, through October 11, 2019.
Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum is a unique museum dedicated to the investigation of famines across the world, and its impact, through art. The museum depicts through its exhibitions the impact of the loss of life, the leeching of the land, and the erosions of language and culture, when famines devastate vast swathes of countryside; make burial grounds of villages and communities which were earlier teeming with life.
Through its display of outstanding historical and contemporary images, layers of history are peeled back, to uncover aspects of famine indecipherable by other means. Images summon the past, and can sometimes be a form of evidence that events written about took place.
The artwork in the museum, by some of the most eminent Irish and Irish-American artists of the past 170 years, such as Daniel Macdonald, James Mahony, Lilian Davidson, Margaret Allen, Howard Helmick, James Brenan, Paul Henry, Jack B. Yeats, William Crozier, Hughie O’Donoghue, Brian Maguire, Micheal Farrell, Glenna Goodacre, Rowan Gillespie, John Behan and Alanna O’Kelly, fulfill one of the obligations of memory — they honor the dead.
The exhibition of the works of Chittoprosad, presented by DAG – which has a gallery in New York too, now joins the growing body of work at the museum.
One of India’s most important artists, Chittaprosad documented the Great Bengal Famine and its fallout in sketches and drawings, alongside protests against colonialism, economic exploitation, urban poverty and depravity.
Sketches, especially of emaciated bodies of children lying in repose, of acute suffering, are a testimony to the agony and helplessness of those years in Bengal, which over the course of two years took 10 million human lives.
These drawings, in pen and ink, as well as his own political writing, were periodically published in People’s Age and People’s War newspapers, according to notes from the museum. Powerful and emotive, Chittoprosad’s art of caricature emerged as a statement in favor of the oppressed masses and as a denunciation of the ruling class.
Underlying the biting emotion was a compassionate humanism and his images were essentially an appeal on behalf of the laboring poor and the marginalized.
His drawings and reports of Bengal’s famine were first published in People’s War, and culminated in ‘Hungry Bengal’, an eyewitness report comprising of written text and profuse sketches in stark black-and-white, copies of which were seized and destroyed by the British.
A self-taught artist, poet, storyteller, and an active member of the Communist Party of India, Chittaprosad drew inspiration for his art from village sculptors, artisans as well as puppeteers.
TALLUR L.N. TO DEBUT IN THE UNITED STATES
Grounds For Sculpture, located in Hamilton, New Jersey, will present the work of multinational conceptual Indian artist, Tallur L.N., in his first survey exhibition in the United States.
On view May 5, 2019 through January 5, 2020 and filling two multi-level galleries, Interference Fringe | Tallur L.N. brings together a survey of over 25 sculptures created during the past 13 years in a range of media including found objects, appropriated industrial machines, carved stone and wood, cast bronze, and works embedded in concrete and coated in oil.
The exhibition includes the premiere of an important new work and the exhibition’s partial namesake, Fringe (2019), a towering 18’-tall site-specific installation coated in bone meal, bone char, and crushed bone, which was inspired by historic Indian temple fragments in the collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Also on view is the debut of a video work, Interference (2019), inaugurating Tallur’s use of film as an artistic medium. This mesmerizing slow-motion video captures smoke-like plumes of dust being beaten out of a historic rug from the collection of the Junagadh Museum in Gujarat, and obscuring its intricate pattern.
In one gallery, works are sited on industrial scaffolding, an intervention which upends typical museum displays, according to notes from the museum. While visitors are invited to walk through and ascend the structure, it intentionally obstructs views and provides partial access, thereby forcing viewers to accept multiple perspectives on the sculptures and their meaning.
In another installation, Apocalypse (2010), viewers must squeeze through cage bars and are invited to deposit coins into an industrial polishing machine. Following Tallur’s careful instructions, the coins become “civilized” and are polished to the point of denuding their value.
Tallur’s practice explores the ways in which humans navigate the absurdities of a world rife with competing anxieties, desires, and fears. At a moment in collective history when society is often at odds with itself, and the lines between reality or truth can sometimes feel arbitrary, Tallur’s work amplifies and distorts what one hold as true or sacred and illuminates paradoxes and contradictions.
Building on the rich sculptural traditions of India, he references ancient iconography, Hindu symbols, and mythology. Tallur purposefully obscures, transforms, and subverts the traditional reading of these historic references as he creates conceptual metaphors through the manipulation and integration/dis-integration of materials. His work acknowledges the complexity of the global world one live in and creates dynamic tension between the past and present while provoking questions about the future.
In Milled History (2014), Tallur employed termites to feed on a wooden copy of a temple figurine, then digitally scanned the remains and milled them into sandstone that mimics the wood grain of its original state. The artist relates everyday acts of consumption and digestion to the gradual effacement and loss of culture and highlights how objects can be displaced and imitated to suit preferred versions of history and politics.
The exhibition title alludes to the notion that one simultaneously carry forward and censor memories of the past, and that this subjective retelling becomes history. Tallur likens this process of collective memory and collective amnesia to two strong waves. In physics, “interference” is a phenomenon in which two waves come together. If their frequency and wavelength are in sync, they can amplify, diminish, or completely negate each other. The idea of conflicting signals speaks to the competing stories, celebration of select relics, and contradictory meanings.
(Sujeet Rajan is Executive Editor, Parikh Worldwide Media. Email him: firstname.lastname@example.org Follow him on Twitter @SujeetRajan1)