Edge of Desire: Recent Art in India, opens on June 14 at the Berkeley Art Museum. This remarkable exhibition incorporates works by more than 40 contemporary artists hailing from all over India. The show has traveled from Australia to the United States and represents stylistic traditions of folk and tribal regions, as well as, trends in the vibrant contemporary art scene and popular culture. The work also reflects changes that India has undergone in recent decades, both in rural areas and major urban centers. With well-known artists such as Nalini Malani, Nilima Sheikh, G.M. Sheikh, N.N. Rimzon, and also lesser-known artists like the sister-brother team of Swarna and Manu Chitrakar, Raj Kumar Koram, and Ganga Devi Bhatt, the show brings together art that is a reflection of the numerous ethnicities, languages, religions, political ideologies, and social strata defining India in the 21st century.
The works revolve around five themes: Location/Longing, Unruly Visions, Transient Self, Contested Terrain, and Recycled Futures. Works in Location/Longing address the desire for place and the relationship with locations real and imagined. Unruly Visions is concerned with the artists’ relationships with the many guises of popular culture in contemporary India: the visual culture of television, advertising, cinema and Bollywood, and the unruly, mixed-up visions characterized by everyday life on the street. The section on Transient Self examines migration and transience as major features of the contemporary Indian experience. Works included under this theme range from personal histories and realist commentaries to fabrications of self-transformation. Recycled Futures encompasses works that conflate regenerating materials and renewal of tradition, and that are playful, often satirizing popular consumer culture.
Chaitanya Sambrani, lecturer at the Australian National University and curator of the exhibition, adds in the show’s catalog: “At one level, all art making is about desire. The artist’s desire—even need—to be acknowledged and sustained by audiences is matched by desire to learn, see, consume, or simply to be entertained. It is a two-way contract; it entails effort on both sides; in the best instance, the effort enriches both parties … Edge of Desire proffers visual delight. It also poses questions about the world we inhabit, in India and elsewhere.”
Edge of Desire reflects the process of artists’ interaction with the world and its events, whether it is in the form of G.M. Sheikh’s portable shrines depicting the destruction of the Babri mosque in 1992; or Rimzon’s moving installation Speaking Stones; or professional storytellers Swarna and Manu Chitrakar’s depiction of the film Titanic in a traditional, scroll-like narrative form.
A few artists in Edge of Desire have been residents at the Montalvo Art Center’s Sally and Don Lucas Artists Program in Saratoga, and, along with the exhibition at the Berkeley Art Museum, a selection of works from the show can also be viewed at the Montalvo Arts Center gallery. In addition, the Pacific Film Archive will present Desire Under the Banyan, a film series exploring the edges of convention and cultural practice in modern-day Indian cinema and its global diaspora, and the museum will host several other public programs related to the exhibition. A fully illustrated color catalogue with essays by leading scholars Ashish Rajadhyaksha (senior fellow, Centre for the Study of Culture and Society, Bangalore), and Kajri Jain (post-doctoral fellow, Deakin University, Melbourne) will be available for purchase during the show.
June 14- Sept. 17. Wednesday and Friday-Sunday 11 a.m.-5 p.m., Thursdays 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, 2626 Bancroft Way, Berkeley. $8 general, $5 seniors and students, free for members, staff, faculty, UC Berkeley students, and children under 12, admission free on first Thursday. (510) 642-0808.