BETWEEN THE LINES: IDENTITY, PLACE, AND POWER Selections from the Waswo X. Waswo Collection of Indian Printmaking

September 15, 2012


Art Historian and Curator Lina Vincent Sunish makes a unique analysis of the sociological and historical context that has moulded the growth of Indian art. Arguing that images often straddle the lines of arbitrary categories, she approaches The Waswo X. Waswo Collection of Indian Printmaking as a particular pathway through a complex aesthetic and historical geography. With keen insight she elaborates on how the concepts of Identity, Place and Power have shaped artistic creation, while at the same time encouraging us to think between these categorical parameters. The Waswo X. Waswo Collection of Indian Printmaking represents over seventy-nine Indian artists from diverse geographical regions. Consisting of woodcuts, etchings, lithographs and screenprints, the works in the collection span a time from 1916 to the present.  Unlike many surveys of contemporary printmaking, Between the Lines approaches its subject matter with an emphasis on imagery and meaning rather than technique. It stands as a completely fresh approach to a much neglected subject.

Excerpts from the essay

The Waswo X. Waswo Collection of Indian Printmaking spans a physical calendar of over ninety years; a period considered the general time-frame printmaking has existed in India as a fine art and a medium for artistic expression. A century is an extensive amount of time against which to study the history of any subject. In the case of the Indian subcontinent, the transformations have been enormous.

In the immediate years around independence the struggle to express cultural specificity, to keep it, nurture it, and show it to the world became part of the internal and external structures of visual imagery. The idea of establishing a strong identity was central to the artist’s pursuits, and took shape in various ways and under a range of influences. In the 50s and 60s, when the idea of building a distinctly ‘Indian’ modernism in art became the prominent feature, there was a new wave of exploration that fought the older notions and references of national identity. The last two decades of the century heralded an enormous recognition of Indian artists in the global arena. However, the moment art is produced for a foreign audience, or is taken out of its local settings and positioned in a global one, the negotiation with the projection of an identity (national, cultural, individual) once again comes to the fore. India is geographically, culturally and ethnically diverse. This diversity itself prevents a homogenous projection of identity, and yet, it (the heterogeneity) becomes the recognising factor in art that is produced here.

Discussions of place and power are directly and intrinsically linked to the concept of identity. Ideas of belonging, ownership, occupation, migration, dislocation, notions of self and the other, contestation for space; integral hierarchies of the dominant and subservient, mainstream and alternative, privileged and deprived; force, violence, and oppression; pride, shame, guilt, longing; race, gender equations, freedom and confinement – the list can be multiplied manifold and each notion overlaps another in a porous way, so it is difficult to disconnect one from the other in a social situation. The thematic distribution of works according to the interconnected concepts of Identity, Place and Power originates from the desire to take advantage of the time span the collection represents, and the interim histories that directly and indirectly played a part in the creation of the works. These concepts have been used as filters to view certain relationships and trajectories of thought; not strictly in relation to specific events, but as aspects of expression adopted and personalised by artists.

IDENTITY The experience, construction and visualisation of Identity – of the self and of others.

There is something compelling about the establishment of an identity through visual means. With artists it seems almost a ritual; in some an obsession. Art becomes a channel through which fragments of identity - elements reflective of internal and external conditioning of the being – are revealed, explored and juxtaposed. Sometimes the concerned identity is not the artists own, but of another – and here the difference and similarity to the self become standards for evaluation. Ideals of beauty and perfection, templates for the representation of the masculine and feminine, race, sexuality, religion, culture and several other social categorisations enter into and thrive in the problematics of identity.

PLACE The physical and psychological exploration of Place as associated with the ever-expanding notions of belonging – to home, village, city, nation, world, universe, cosmos.

A place is an anchor, not only a piece of ground to bear one’s footprints but a fulcrum that manoeuvres all human relations connected to it; within and outside of its boundaries – both defined and blurred. Artists mirror their environments, as much as they do their internal worlds. Place can be a marker of individual and collective identity, location and culture; even a metaphor for the body itself. The fine lines between observed reality, imagined reality and fantasy mingle as contextual changes bring about diverse interpretations of place.

POWER Power as an integral part of the creative process; and its worldly connotations as reflected in art objects.

Power, when spoken of in terms of art practice, produces a layered assembly of thoughts too large to gather under one discussion. It seems necessary to limit the core dialogue to the immediate     contexts of the prints gathered under the theme, and leave the rest to the viewer's perception.  Art makers have been spoken of in relation with the godly attribute of being able to ‘create’, re-presenting reality and also transcending it to depict worlds beyond. Whether or not the high honour associated with artistic creation is relevant in a contemporary context, artists are certainly granted power in their capacity to communicate visually – power over art materials and mediums, over an audience that engages with the work, over economies, and even over entire societies. Where there is politics, there are relationships of power; and politics exist in every aspect of life. Artworks also become instruments for the exploration of an artist’s personal power – in which identities can be altered, fantasies can be depicted, and new realities can be constructed through the act of making.

Haren Das, The House Top

S Karuna, First Letter

Laxma Goud, Untitled

Tapan Ghosh. Chermer de Sepant

Maripelly Praveen Goud, Electro Sapiens 2

Vijay Bagodi Adolescence