Curated by four leading galleries, On | Site returns us to the ‘corporeal’ experience of art
The last time I walked into Bikaner House was just before the lockdown was announced. I saw an exhibition featuring the works of Pooja Iranna and Natraj Sharma. Who knew it would take a whole year for me to come back?
As I walk into the yellow-lit courtyard, a large red banner reading ‘On | Site’ greets me, and I feel a mounting sense of excitement — anticipation not only to see the artworks but also, hopefully, some of the art community.
It is no secret that in a post-pandemic scenario, holding physical exhibitions has been a challenge. This show — which hosts four leading galleries: Vadehra Art Gallery (Delhi), Nature Morte (Delhi), Chemould Prescott Road (Mumbai) and Experimenter (Kolkata) — marks a return to collaborative in-person exhibitions. Albeit with masks, hand sanitisers, and social distancing replacing air kisses with fist bumps.
The art of contemporary concerns
Inside, I am greeted by the wonderful Drawing Salon and a selection by Experimenter. (Almost all the works displayed at On | Site were created in 2020.) Titled Do You Know How to Start A Fire, the group exhibition of intergenerational women artists features works by Ayesha Sultana (Bangladesh), Biraaj Dodiya (India), Radhika Khimji (Oman) and Reba Hore (India). Next are works of Jitish and Reena Saini Kallat, Atul Dodiya, Arpita Singh, Shilpa Gupta and Sudhir Patwardhan from Vadehra.
Atul’s body of work, titled Evening Walk and Other Paintings, explores an encyclopedic approach to the historical world through the anxieties of ignorance and manufactured, de-intensified sensory experiences. “We hope that people will feel encouraged to visit and enjoy viewing art in person, in a safe environment,” says director Roshini Vadehra.
I want to linger, but it is 7 pm and the guard announces that the gallery would shut its doors soon. Late night openings, with people spilling out of the gallery and on to the lawns, holding aloft glasses of wine, are a thing of the past. So I rush to the next gallery, bumping briefly into Shireen Gandhy of Chemould Gallery and her daughter, as they leave the premises — promising to be back soon when I have more time to spare.
I am soon immersed in the works by Anju Dodiya and BV Doshi, and a Desmond Lazaro gold-and-pigment-laden Dymaxion Map III, which create a non-hierarchical comprehension of the world (devoid of embedded cultural identifiers of up-down, North-South). Shilpa Gupta’s 100 Hand Drawn Maps of my Country documents the differences in people’s ideas of territorial belonging versus the reality, as experienced in Ecuador, India, South Korea, and Israel/Palestine.
Meanwhile, Nature Morte showcased the works of three generations of women artists — Mona Rai, Bharti Kher, and Tanya Goel — who proposed abstraction as a correlative to current advancements in science. The gallery also exhibited works by Asim Waqif, LN Tallur, and Martand Khosla.
The exhibition presented a slice of contemporary concerns that go from the extremely personal to larger political statements, all the while keeping an eye on our current times of isolation. Hopefully, it is the beginning of new chapter in art making and viewing that brings a cautious physicality back to art.
On | Site is on at Bikaner House, New Delhi from March 3-9.