India has a rich, creative arts heritage that encompasses dance, music, theatre and the visual arts. Artisans conserve ancient temple friezes and reconstruct marble inlay at the Taj Mahal and other structures, while classical dance forms such as the Bharatyanatyam and their intricate hand-eye movements are passed along through generations.
Nevertheless, a contemporary arts scene is challenging the typical notions of Indian art. Some modern Indian artists employ digital media and video installations, while others look to ancient narratives and techniques for inspiration. Major auction houses and international galleries are selling the works of both emerging and established artists. Regional differences mark the style of traditional and modern works, and each has distinctive trends and attributes.
Vidhya Gnana Gouresan from The Gallery of Gnani Arts notes the problem of the generalisation of Indian art. “People need to be educated about the different regions,” she says, “as each of them produces quite distinctive work.”
However, most of the modern artists are influenced by the great myths, such as the Ramayana, a story that can be viewed on temple walls throughout India. These myths are metaphors for the universal aspects of human frailty and the search for the soul, and this powerful thematic material permeates the contemporary art of southern India.
Most southern Indian artists have studied at the famous Madras School of the Arts where they have learned to excel in freehand drawing. This suggests the influence of the linear, two-dimensional forms that grace the temple walls. One of the regional masters of freehand drawing is G. Raman. Networks of lines converge in his depictions of mothers, children and mythological scenes, drawn in ink on paper. His acrylic-on-canvas paintings build on the black-and-white with an infusion of one or two brightly coloured washes.
Another artist, N. Manoharan, simplifies and abstracts his works in charcoal, utilising strong outlines that fade and disappear into the background. Images of goats appear often in his work. He paints their form delicately and sensually, conveying a fragile harmony between man and nature. In these and other works, the images of animals in landscape represent the culturally familiar and symbolic.
Contemporary South Indian sculptors, too, employ a linear approach in their stone works from the region. C. Dakshinamoorthy, for instance, works with solid blocks of marble or granite, yet reverts to the tradition of creating forms through lines. The female figures that emerge from the stone are etched onto the outside of the block – he does not carve deeply into the interior to create a three-dimensional form.
To find out more about South Indian contemporary sculptures, paintings and drawings, visit the Gallery of Gnani Arts. It has two locations: #02-30/31, Fortune Centre (call +65 6339 1230), and #01-05, The Regent Singapore (call +65 6725 3112). Visit www.gnaniarts.com
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