His awards include: Majlis Fellowship for the Arts (2005); Inlaks Scholarship for Sculpture (1995); Fellowship Award (1990-92), Kanoria Centre for Art, Ahmedabad; Merit scholarship for Sculpture (1984-88), Sir JJ School of Arts, Mumbai.
His important solo exhibitions include: Riding Rocinante from Bombay to Shanghai via Sardar Sarovar and Three Gorges (2011), Vadehra Art Gallery, New Delhi; Reconciliation and Truth (2008), Chemould Prescott Road, Mumbai; Willing Suspension (2005), Gallery Chemould, Mumbai.
His important international participations include: The SKODA Prize Show (2013), National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA), Ministry of Culture, Government of India in collaboration with The Skoda Prize at National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA), New Delhi; The Calendar Project: Iconography in the 20th Century (2012), part of Project CINEMA CITY: Research Art & Documentary Practices presented by National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA) and Ministry of Culture, Government of India at National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA), Mumbai; Generation in Transition: New Art from India (2011), Zacheta National Gallery of Art, Warszawa, Poland; Transformations (2010), part of the Exhibition Indian Highway, at Herning Museum of Contemporary Art (HEART), Herning; Reykjavik Art Museum, Reykjavik, Iceland; Destination Asia (2007), Almaty, Kazhakstan; Indian Video Art: Between Myth and History (2006), Cinema of Prayoga, Indian Experimental Film and Video, TATE Modern, London; Subcontingent: The Indian Subcontinent in Contemporary Art (2006), Fondazione Sandretto Re Rabaudengo, Torino, Italy; Hungry God: Indian Contemporaries (2006), Arario Beijing, China; Edge Of Desire: Recent Art in India (2006), traveling exhibition at National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA), New Delhi, Mumbai and UC Berkley Art Museum & Pacific Film Archive and Centre for South Asia Studies, California, Asia Society and Queens Museum, New York, and Tomayo Museum, Mexico, and Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth, Australia; El Filo del Deseo - Arte Reciente en India (2006), Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Monterrey MARCO, Mexico; Video Presentations (2003), Pabellon de Cuba,Vedado, Havana Biennale , Cuba.
Open Circle, an artists' initiative based in Mumbai, was formed in 1998. It sought a creative engagement with contemporary social/political issues through integration of theory and praxis. One of Open Circle's main concerns was the cultural homogenization and marginalization of otherness, both in India and in the global perspective. Open Circle engaged in these issues by organizing debates between people of different affiliations and perspectives, and through artistic events often placed in the public environment and direct actions which react to actual political/social developments.
The global politics of control and ascendancy operate under the rhetoric of multiculturalism, while in local politics the operating mechanism IS that of cruder nationalism and fundamentalism.
The publicity campaign 'United Colours of Benetton' is a perfect illustration of the phenomenon of this global politics, namely the assertion of identities and differences, multiculturalism, etc. But wait a minute, peal the poster back and you see a list of sweatshops in Third World countries, with inhumane conditions, no regulatory mechanisms, and the continuing story of human exploitation and silencing of local brands -- the real axiom of globalization. With all the multinationals vying for their share of global capital, with or without socially responsible business practice, every aspect of life stands commercialized. Corporate wars for the domination of the market are fought out on billboards and on celluloid, bombarding citizens with a barrage of Images. Bollywood (the Bombay, or Mumbai, film industry) and the mass media are perfectly in tune with the sensitivity of the masses. They communicate effectively to drive home the nail of consumerism as the key for fulfilling aspirations for a better life. Advertisements used to basically cater only to the upwardly mobile middle class and sold products through the portrayal of a very elite, Western lifestyle. Now, however, after Liberalization the contenders have multiplied and now people from any and every strata have become potential consumers. The rise in nationalist chauvinism and even fanaticism creates resistance to globalization, and demands a different advertising syntax with distinct regional dialectics to address the broadened spectrum of consumers. This bend is negotiated efficiently. One example is a set of commercials for Coca-Cola, which now also features a rural character as the protagonist. These films and commercials - rampant, overpowering and the most ostensible component of the urban landscape - of course contribute to but are not the visual culture per se. Urban demographics reveal a sizeable middle and lower-middle class and a large percentage of second- or even third-generation of migrants from a rural background. Both these sections of the population are deeply traditional and hold on to their cultural baggage, which is graphic in nature. This is expressed through small-time publications, pamphlets, posters, calendars, curios, rituals and festivities (one cannot, however, deny the seepage of consumerism even into these areas). The language of commercials is not the language of the masses, yet it is a language that addresses the masses. Apart from the use of emotional advertising messages associated with over-simplified or sometimes misconstrued social issues, they appropriate the images and the memories of the masses to create a language that is immediately accessible, not only in their visibility and sheer quantity but also the comprehensibility of the image.
By contrast, in general cultural production in the fine arts has always maintained a distance -- it neither speaks the language of the masses nor does it address them. Art remains esoteric and non-communicative, and its pedagogy almost always (at least in India) focuses on elitist art production. Engagement with social issues, when undertaken, is seldom suited to the understanding or means and is inaccessible for the common man. The modus operandi is pedantic and exclusionist. Popular images or 'kitsch' when referred to by the artist in a circulation alien to their context, suffer an exoticization. The Images are borrowed or rather hijacked and appreciated for their exchange value in galleries and the international circuits - they are altered, augmented but never returned to the domain they belong to. The politicizing of aesthetics has a restricted circulation -- a restriction the artists impose on themselves.
The global politics has spawned a number of international exhibitions and residencies, which artists view as a sort of nemesis. The demands of these circuits prioritize only a certain kind of work from certain parts of the globe and what is still in demand is an impact through visual experience.
Bridging the gap
At its inception, Open Circle aimed to create a platform in Mumbai for interaction between artists at a local as well as global level, a space to share ideas of theory and practice, Though there were platforms in Mumbai, they were, for the most part, either run by principally theoretical institutions that provide opportunities only for discursive exchanges or by corporate interests with a consumerist disposition, or business magnates and their socialite compulsions.
Our first activity in September 2000 was an extremely thrashed-out model of an international workshop, seminar and exhibitions. We hoped it had a distinct difference-identity politics, with an exacting selection of participants and an equal emphasis on theoretical debate informing the art practice. From the stages of planning through the completion of the project we began to feel that this was not enough. Further, the relevance of art practice, in contemporary society, and as discussed - its connectivity and relation to real life and issues - made us look at other ways of engaging with art. Rather than simply exchanges within the art circles - between artists and artists and theorists - we thought it was necessary to work towards interaction with the society and to bridge the hiatus between art and society.
The second year saw us taking a stand that was more assertively interventionist. We worked in tandem with other organizations, carrying out public actions, protests against mega-projects dispossessing tribal/indigenous people of their lands, democratic rights and share in the so-called development.
In the same year we also organized study circles that were open to the public. These were aimed at understanding economic policy and the impact it had on our markets, taking the closures of the textile mills, retrenchment, etc, as an immediate cause. For this we invited activists and professionals from various fields to present their analysis, as well as people from the cultural field to perform or screen their films on relevant issues.
The growth of right-wing extremism that has spawned political violence and polarizationalong religious lines amongst communities and even engineered the genocide in Gujarat In 2002 forced us to shelve the subsequent two phases.
The odious display of religious aggression, the chest-thumping claims of fascist purity and fundamentalist acts of ethnic cleansing have reduced the secular voice integral to the very definition of Indian culture to a muted whisper. In order to restore voice and visibility to the secular, we launched a public campaign. We designed t-shirts and a series of stickers that were pasted on cars and in local suburban trains, organized play readings and film screenings - in one instance on a road on a makeshift screen during a religious festival. In August we conducted a week of various events in the public sphere called 'Reclaim Our Freedom'. The choice of venues and the genre of the works attempted to address people from all walks and strata. The events and art exhibitions spread from galleries, to cafes, bill boards, pavements interventions at terminal stations of the western and central/harbour lines of the local suburban railways Churchgate and Victoria Terminus. Churchgate Station had performances for all the seven days almost every hour by visual and performing artists which elicited animated responses from the commuters and a lot of times a heated debate about the issue.
Open Circle's engagements in the years from 2002 -2004 were directed towards communication with those audiences that are not gallery-goers. The programmes were more and more in the public domain and aimed at addressing relevant issues in a manner identifiable and legible to the common man through the strategies of the mass media - the idea being to aestheticize politics rather than politicize aesthetics.
In the subsequent years Open Circle organized activities that were collaborations with other artists, school students or even lay persons, workshops and educational programs intended to stimulate learning through actual experience. It also conducted a charity auction of artwork to raise funds for the Asian tsunami victims.
Home is a queer brown body: Interview with Sunil Gupta by Gayatri Sinha
Interview with Chitra Ganesh by Critical Collective
"My journey as an artist is often through stories of people and places" by Critical Collective
Reality/Chen, Simply Being/Tse-jan, Cosmic Spirit /Ch’i: Chinese Connection by Virginia Whiles
“Distant Suffering”: Our Covid Visual Field by Gayatri Sinha
Orographers in a Photographic Terrain by Deepika Sorabjee
Chitrashalas: Ancient Indian Art Galleries by C Sivaramamurti
Objects and Their Journeys: In Pursuit of the Provenance of Things by Jyotindra Jain
Room Without a Window: On Prajakta Potnis’ solo by Zasha Colah
Violence of her Desires by Suchitra Vijayan