Inside the serene campus of the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA), a 50 year old art movement is on display. The NGMA is hosting an event called ‘Regional Modernity,’showcasing an art movement which began in the 1960s, known as Madras Art Movement.
The exhibition inside the museum displays paintings and sculptures by artists who played a very important role in the Madras Art Movement. The movement was initiated by Debi Prasad Chowdhary who was the first principal of the Madras School of Arts and Crafts and was further developed by KCS Paniker. Devi Prasad Chowdhary, in his 30 years of living in Madras, played a leading role in creating a fusion of eastern ideas into the western technique, thereby paving a way towards modernism in south India.
By the late 1960s, art and education in the south was actively turning towards the philosophy of modernism. Although DP Roy paved the way for this, it was a group of artists led by KCS paniker who made a strong change in the art culture of southern India. Other artists being displayed at the museum included Sreenivasulu K, Sultan Ali, Santhanaraj, and Senthinapathi. The exhibition also displayed the works of female artists, who have defied the social discrimination and patriarchal dominance to make their voices heard, such as Rani Povaiah and TK Padmini.
Regional modernity not only showcases the works of artists but also hosts events as well. A series of short films and documentaries are being showcased during two days .
Yet another highlight of the event is the screening of documentaries by art filmmaker Gita Hudson. She was at the event to showcase her documentaries. These documentaries show a glimpse of the lives of renowned and hidden artists.
Speaking to Bangalore Beat on the sidelines of the event on 21 April 2017, Gita said she believes in art as an experience, and feels a connection to the 1960s and the Madras based artists. Her views on modern art, personal experience and why she films the lives of artists are interesting:
Why did you choose these specific artists to film?
Living in Madras, there is so much of art. Even now, when people ask me, who my favourite artists are, I keep going back to Raza and Santhanaraj. I strongly like their works. I am just drawn to certain works. But that is not enough; sometimes the work is great, but the person may not be friendly, or open. But most artists speak a lot, like me (laughs), I’m a painter too. They always say something unique. Their statements are a combination of life and art. It is a learning curve for me as well. I just tried filming one artist and it became so contagious. I am amidst three projects as we speak.
Your films reflect a sense of indulgence into the artist’s life. Is there a structure that you add to these films?
These kinds of films explore everything about the artist; the cultural space they grew up in, the phases in their life, personal issues they faced, their family and so on. It is not about the canvas; it’s not what we see on the canvas, it’s what has led up to canvas and what let that canvas come to life. These documentaries help one appreciate an artist better. For example: people come up to me and say, “oh I didn’t know Achuthan Kudallur did figurative paintings at all!” because everyone assumes he started with abstract from the beginning.
So, what do you like being more? A painter or a filmmaker?
I make money out of painting and pump everything into filmmaking!
Thoughts on The Madras Art Movement?
Madras Art Movement was a very strong movement. Some of the best artists are from that era. People still keep referring to them, and keep finding inspiration from them. Their pieces are still fresh in our memory. Yes, the new batch of artists, born in 1980s are coming up and doing rather well, but the artists that contributed to the Madras Art Movement, are a class apart.
What is your take on modern art, in India? Any comments on the current state?
Currently, modern art is going through different phases, but unfortunately money has taken over. Money has taken over skill. Skilled and talented artists sometimes are not noticed, but an artist with good English and a way of presenting himself/herself gets noticed and win accolades. You see, not all experimental work is good. Not every installation is good, most are crap, actually. Due to this, the common man is confused. Good artists are forgotten, even ridiculed by the common person; because he (common man) can really not make out the difference.
The simplicity and the pureness are gone; to me at least. I like to see colour; beautiful art. I don’t want to see something piled up with a huge explanation. I don’t have the patience. I like to see the labour of hand, not a graphic-y or gimmicky kind of art. Technology has caught up so quickly, that an untrained eye may mistake a print for a painting.
In a way, you are trying to bring attention to the real, organic art and their creators, yes?
Absolutely. In my Washington screening, a foreigner man came up to me and told me how he really liked Suryamurthy, and was appalled surprised that he came to know of his existence only after his death. That is the whole idea of my films. To shed some light on the artist who don’t care about money, fame or success. They drive on passion.
By Alexander Thomas and Arindam Sinha