New Delhi: Sixty-five years after independence, contemporary Indian art soars high on the creativity of young painters who have not only made it free of European affectations but are also market conscious, experiment and engage the viewer in a dialogue about new realities.
The young artists are aged between 20 and 35. The content of contemporary art looks into almost every issue: from urban woes, village life, social ills, human trauma, religion, culture, violence and even pokes fun at the system, says art promoter Kiran Mohan.
Mohan`s tribute to India`s 65th Independence Day, ‘Freedom Strokes’ at her Art Value gallery here captures the essence of freedom in Indian art with at least 50 new works.
"Every artist in a free India wants to express himself and paint his sensibility to freedom on canvas," Mohan told reporters.
"The exhibition is an collection of expressions by three young artists on India`s Independence Day; what they feel about freedom and India - and how they want to capture the changing India,"she said.
Emerging artist Sanjeev Mahalik comments on female infanticide on his canvas in the backdrop of the tricolour.
"I wanted to know how it was possible in today`s world where most people are literate and women were conquering new frontiers," he said.
Artist Radhe Shyam Pradhan uses the Indian tricolour palette of green, white and saffron to paint three individuals of different castes and binds them with a flute.
"`Sur (tune)` is the only element that binds humanity fostering unity and growth, the cornerstones of an independent India," he said.
A series on Gandhiji, including one with three monkeys popping out his forehead to tell people not to see, hear or speak evil, reinterprets the household proverb with a comic twist.
The three monkeys that recur in visual depictions of Gandhian philosophy is a 400-year-old Japanese image for a 2,500-year-old Chinese moral code. It was incorporated into the idiom of Indian art because Gandhi owned a small statue of the three monkeys at Sabarmati where he lived between 1915 and 1930.
The unshackling of Indian art dates back to 1948, a year after independence, when a group of artists like M.F. Husain, F.N. Souza, Akbar Padamsee and Tyeb Mehta constituted the Bombay Progressives` Artists Group to create an original Indian language in art.
This was intended to replace the pre-Independence Indian art, which was an extended canvas of European expressionism and American expressionist abstraction. The freedom also brought in market consciousness.
Until the early years of the 21st century, the Indian art market, steered by mushrooming private galleries in the metros, was a cycle of boom and bust, says Siddharth Tagore, owner of a new art auction house Art Bull and the Art Konsult Gallery.
"The market for Indian contemporary art really took on a definite shape in 2004 when a couple of auction houses came up in the country," Tagore, whose auction house will cater to middle-rung buyers in northern India by auctioning works of emerging artists, told reporters.
"My target audience is in towns like Chandigarh and Ludhiana, places which are potential markets of the future," he said.
More freedom means more number of galleries, more creativity, buyers` dominance an educated audience, Tagore said summing up the essence of post-Independence Indian art.
Artist Amitesh Verma says emerging artists are the creative pool in the years to come. Known for his horses, the young artist said he has "returned to his spiritual roots after travelling abroad".
"I have realised there is something wrong with the way we identify with our culture. For my new exhibition, I have painted profiles of foreign women and contrasted them with verses from the Puranas and Vedas about women in the background," Verma told reporters.
"Strangely, the West has preserved its ancient religious traditions in its art while we have moved away from it in the last decade," said the artist.
Post-Independence art is an open proactive process, says art critic Kishore Singh, the head of the publications division of the Delhi Art Gallery.
Artists like Husain and Satish Gujral brought art to the people with their large-format public murals and street experiments to involve people in the process of painting, Singh said.
Husain refined public art by merging travel, paintings and photography with cinema, while platforms like Khoj and a couple of non-profit groups hosted India`s first ever public art installations, including festivals, he added.