Around the Table: Conversations about Milestones, Memories, Mappings, presented by Kiran Nadar Museum of Art and Asia Society India, and curated by Roobina Karode, is a recollection of times and practices of a generation of artists who shaped the landscape of art in post-Independence India. Playing crucial roles as individuals, as collectives and as fellows, they responded and sought remedy to the emerging demands of a young nation. As cities like Bombay and Delhi expanded with the spirit of cosmopolitanism, and places like Baroda turned into testing grounds for art-institutional experiments, the seven citizen-artists – Akbar Padamsee, Krishen Khanna, Gulammohammed Sheikh, Arpita Singh, Jyoti Bhatt, Himmat Shah and Vivan Sundaram — stood out as distinct voices with clear positions, unapologetically honest about their beliefs. For the times to come, they would remain as trailblazers of not just artistic languages but as pedagogues, initiators and interlocutors of modern and contemporary art in India, often blurring the contours of the nation through their commitment to cultural heterogeneity and transnational ideals.
A few trajectories that contour the exhibition seek to uncover intersections and chance- encounters between the practices of these seven artists as friends, colleagues or fellow travellers. They mobilized to form artists groups like Group 1890 (formed in 1962), set up publications such as the Vrishchik (1969-1973), gave rise to artistic experimentations in workshops such as the Vision Exchange (1969-1972) workshop or the historic exhibition Place for People (1981) to name a few, paraded together protesting against censorship and coercions. As initiators, institution builders, pedagogues, authors, spearheading art movements, mentors to generations of artists, milestone-makers with the force of iconic exhibitions and publications, their contribution remains irrefutable. Expressing themselves in diverse materials and linguistic idioms, their artistic experiments have been as layered and multifaceted as their lives as they have journeyed to the west in a bid to invent a new artistic vision for a new nation or travelled to the remotest corners of the country to observe the fast-changing rural contexts. Although the exhibition inspissates by the practices of seven artists, the show aims at creating signs and indicators towards the practices generated from the 1950s onwards by many others. The exhibition will unfold these interrelationships through iconic artworks, photographs and archival material primarily from the KNMA collection.
“The present exhibition is approached as a midnight feast where the seven co-travellers have gathered to rest their bundles of images and stories after their long travel. As dawn slowly bleeds into the fading darkness and wanderers are placed around the tavern’s dinner table, a rich repertoire of ephemera and memories unfold. The many accounts constituted by the detritus of these artistic connections and crossings build up a vision of history and time that I was fortunate to inherit from some of the awardees showcased in the exhibition, who were also my teachers and mentors,” says Roobina Karode, Chief Curator & Director, KNMA.