New Delhi, Nov 19 (IANSlife) The term ‘primitivism’ is used frequently in discussions and writings on art. The genesis of the term can be traced to Western art, where it gained popularity from the works of the early Renaissance artists. Indian primitivism may have grown away from its Western counterpart, but at least in part, it grew out of or alongside it. DAG at Kala Ghoda presents ‘The Primivitism exhibition’ curated by Giles Tillotson which opened on November 14.
The choice of artists included in the exhibition is uniquely interesting. Three of them unschooled in art and therefore innocent of its rules-Rabindranath Tagore, Sunayani Devi and Madhvi Parekh. Some came from sophisticated art school backgrounds and elite lifestyles-Amrita Sher-Gil and George Keyt-but preferred to mould their sensibilities to a ‘native’ form of practice. The greatest ode to folk was paid, Jamini Roy, who had started out successfully as an academically-trained modernist. Aligned to the tribal way of life was India’s great modernist sculptor Ramkinkar Baij, as well as the painter J. Sultan Ali, and their work reflected their sensibilities.
IANSlife caught up with Giles Tillotson to learn more about the curation; Giles not only has many publications to his name, but is an art historian and an educator but also a master in the field.
1. Being an educator and art historian how important is an education in the arts for an understanding of the field you’re in?
Tillotson: Art has the power to appeal to anyone without any expert knowledge. But education in art history can greatly enhance your appreciation and understanding of works. So yes, education matters at the higher level. But you don’t have to be a scholar to like a painting.
2. Do you think the digital space can promote art and architecture awareness in a way that books never could?
Tillotson: Printed books always had (still have) the drawback that you cannot reproduce a painting inaccurate colour and size. Digital media do offer new opportunities, therefore. At the same time, I hope that books continue to play a role because there is a pleasure in handling a well-printed artbook too.
3. India’s archaeological sites are in ruins and unkempt, do you think it’s important to introduce education at a primary level to promote an understanding of the importance of historical sites to upcoming generations?
Tillotson: Yes, I think that archaeology and art are badly neglected in Indian education from the primary level upwards. It is a shame not only for the reasons that your question points to, but also because art offers an easy and exciting way into a study of history and other humanities. Incidentally, the situation is not much better in higher education: there are few university courses (even in schools of architecture) that adequately cover the built heritage. That will have to change if we are serious as a nation about preserving historic sites.
4. What is you understanding of Primitivism and Modern Indian Art?
Tillotson: The term ‘primitivism’ describes a current in modern Western art, one that was taken up and re-shaped by Indian artists. There are two strands to it: one is about identifying with the supposedly primitive or less developed parts of society; the other is about simplifying the means of representation to make an image less an attempted realistic replica of a thing in the world, more of a symbolic form, a thing in itself. I am interested in the differing values and meanings attached to primitivism in the Indian context. My catalog essay explores this theme and I hope that the works selected to illustrate it too.
I am an independent art historian and curator, engaged by DAG as a consultant on this exhibition and book. It is one of three major projects on which I am helping DAG, the other two being located in Drishyakala, their gallery in the Red Fort in Delhi.
I think that DAG’s expansion into the public domain is in part an answer to your questions about education and awareness. The opportunity to bring art to a large and diverse audience is, for me, part of the attraction of working with them.