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June 21 - August 2, 2008 at Western Project, d.e.n. contemporary, (both Culver City)

by Rebecca Niederlander

Sheba Chhachhi, "Ganga’s Daughters
(The Rogues Gallery): Shanti Giri",
1993-2001/2007, 12 color
digital prints, each 40" x 29".

Chitra Ganesh, "Hidden Trails"
(detail), 2007, triptych, C-print,
24 x 75", edition of 5.

Shobha Broota, "Untitled", 1989,
oil on canvas, 94.5" x 69.3".

Santana Gohain, "Untitled", 2007,
oil, graphite, paper on board, 48" x 72".

In 1966 Robert Venturi's first book, “Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture” was published by the Museum of Modern Art.  In the same year India was getting to know its new Prime Minister and first female head of government, Indira Ghandi. In his book Venturi called for "an architecture that promotes richness and ambiguity over unity and clarity, contradiction and redundancy over harmony and simplicity." Perhaps Indira Ghandi's quote, "you must learn to be still in the midst of activity and to be vibrantly alive in repose" in some ways addresses the same concerns that nothing is simple and no one solution ever answers all questions.

Contradictions and Complexities: Contemporary Art from India” will run simultaneously at two Culver City galleries. Often an exhibition title that claims to bring contemporary art from another continent, especially when the exporting country is not a Western country, infers some sort of exoticism. However, in today's art climate, with art fairs and biennales around the world showcasing work from the farthest reaches, can it even mean anything anymore to have work adjudicated primarily by locale? This question has been posed and answered many times over by post-colonial theorists (and the theorists after them). It does not bear elaborating except to say that in this case, yes.

Writers like Fareed Zakaria (whose latest book “The Post-American World” addresses the market rise of China and India) postulate that India is poised to become one of the three foremost world leaders. Should this prove true, the perspectives of its artists will have a profound impact on 21st Century art and art-theory.

If the art coming out of India is well-represented by the works included in Contradictions and Complexities, one expects it to be joyfully embraced. At d.e.n. contemporary are Sheeba Chhachhi, Anita Dube, Mithu Sen and Chitra Ganesh. Shobha Broota and Santana Gohain are at Western Project. Broota and Chhachhi provide the strongest work. Both artists address the search for the Divine in our ordinary lives. Broota, a VIP in the art scene of India, has been exhibiting since the 1960s. Gloriously elegant abstract paintings and flat sculptures are saturated with pattern and color.  Broota is also an accomplished musician, and anyone familiar with the Indian Raga and how it develops will be able to "read" that musical style in the works. That is to say there is a deep spirituality to these that is inspiring. Chhachhi's works couldn't be more different in medium, but similar in aspiration.  She also aspires to represent a higher spiritual calling.

At d.e.n. there are two groupings of photographs showing women who have left secular lives to live ascetic lives in sects of wandering mystics. “Ganga's Daughters (The Rogues Gallery)” consists of twelve large (44" x 29") portraits in deeply saturated colors. As in all portraiture, the viewer is immediately aware of the gaze of the subject, be it either looking directly at or away from you. These women are startling and humbling, and certainly silently say more than a thousand words. Chhachhi's second series is “Initiations,” sixteen smaller (7 " x 11") black and white images of groupings of the same women engaging in their daily activities.

There is always something misconstrued or lost in translation between cultures and it will be true that some elements in “Contradictions and Complexities” will not be contextualized the same by a typical Angelino and someone from New Dehli.  But one would expect both Venturi and Ghandi not to be disappointed since “Contradictions and Complexities: Contemporary Art from India” does have both richness and ambiguity, and it is both still and vibrantly alive.