by Vatsala SethiDec 30, 2022
Pablo Picasso once famously said, "Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he/she grows up.” It is perhaps best to hold that sentiment close to one’s heart and mind while viewing the exhibition Very Small Feelings, at the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, in New Delhi. The exhibition that opened on July 2, 2023, is the fourth exhibition in the multi-part, long-term programme Young Artists of Our Times, a series in collaboration with Samdani Art Foundation, Dhaka.
Very Small Feelings (VFS) is a well-curated exhibition that provides viewers with a range of 42 projects from new commissions, historical works, performances, books, personal and institutional archives, artists' creative prompts turned into installations, and many kinds of landscapes; the exhibition seeks to encounter the eternal inner child in us and bind us strongly to it.
The art exhibition features works across a range of media, including a new commission work by Mumbai-based architect duo Rupali Gupte and Prasad Shetty; sculptural installation by Delhi-based artist Murari Jha; Guadeloupe artist Kelly Sinnapah Mary; a large scale installation by Indonesian artist Aditya Novali in collaboration with his sister Ade Dianita; a new site specific mural art by Finnish artist Jani Ruscica; a participatory performance by Bangladeshi artist Yasmin Jahan Nupur, which is also supported by Bagri Foundation; and Berlin-based artist Simon Fujiwara’s new set of works on his character of Who the Baer, among other works. Other prominent international artists and projects include Vietnamese artist Thao Nguyễn Phan’s installation Tropical Siesta, and Dutch artist Afra Eisma’s work is among the largest tapestries and textile-based work ever exhibited by KNMA.
Arresting and engaging is the 15-minute, video performance by Lapdiang Syiem. An actor trained in physical theatre, Syiem is based in Meghalaya, India, where her interest lies in revisiting Khasi folktales and adapting these to her performances. In this piece, titled Laitïam, (2022-2023), she presents her take on the forest, nature, and the river, speaking of human insensitivity towards the environment; the piece is co-commissioned by Samdani Art Foundation, Kiran Nadar Museum, Art Dubai, and Goethe Institut New Delhi and Indonesia.
One also gets engrossed in Afrah Shafiq’s interactive fiction and archival game, titled Nobody Knows for Certain (2021-2022) that takes one through multimedia, video, illustrated book-form, comics, written text, archival images, original artworks that Shafiq presents. One can click on and move the illustrated protagonist through different scenarios that relate to folklore prevalent in the Indo-Asian context. Shafiq supplements characters taken from books with those of her invention, such as the cat with no tail and the empty matryoshka; she presents and critically re-examines the morphology of the fairy tale and introduces new philosophical and political dimensions to the game, inviting viewers both to play and to do their own research.
Afra Eisma encourages viewers to Poke Press Squeeze Clasp, her work with the same name, (2021-23) where she uses yarn, ceramics, textiles and other soft materials to create sculptures and artwork. The idea is to demystify art and make it more approachable and playful—even though viewers do not actually engage in touching the sculptures, the feeling that is conveyed is one of the same nature.
Conceived as a ‘spread’ where stories, rituals, characters, memories, and actions provide a space for the younger generational conversations and entanglements, VSF sees youth as a conceptual category, not defined by age, but as a place of possibility—staged through known and forgotten tales, popular characters, cartoons and narratives deeply embedded in one's consciousness. So it’s not just about memories that remind you of your childhood but also what appeals to the younger generation who are making new memories even with historical objects and facts of the past.
Roobina Karode, Director and Chief Curator, KNMA, says, “The exhibition is nurtured by a dynamic working and collaborative effort between curators, Akansha Rastogi and Diana Campbell, with the coming together of two institutions in South Asia, the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art and Samdani Art Foundation. For viewers, the exhibition tends to become a space for action, emotion, exploration, and reflection, with works of diverse scale, material and content."
Akansha Rastogi, Senior Curator, Programming and Exhibitions, KNMA adds, “In many ways, this exhibition is so much about the power of the oral and storytelling, its joys and everydayness, the performativity of telling and retelling stories we know and how they change, in each iteration, when the whole being is involved, with emotions, feelings, and intellect. The exhibition wants to access that place where there is a glow of discovery and realisation,” says Rastogi, adding, “children’s artworks placed along with well-known Indian, Bangladeshi, and international artists' works form an important part of the exhibition. And with that, it turns the focus on artist-educators who work with young learners.”
The exhibition also highlights new research on forgotten artists like Leela Mukherjee and Devi Prasad, bringing to focus their life as artist-educators, and on artists Chittaprosad and Benodebehari Mukherjee.
Shillong-based artist Lapdiang Syiem’s video work connects India and Bangladesh through the folklore of the Shillong’s Khasi hill tribes, and a presentation by the Anga Art Collective focuses on the village elders in western Assam close to the Bangladesh border, who were forced to abandon their homes as their village drowned in Brahmaputra due to erosion.
Many of these works highlight the closeness of Bangladesh and East and Northeast India, through language, shared borders, stories and climate challenges.
Renowned author Amitav Ghosh’s Jungle Nama, an adaptation of a legend from the Sundarbans which speaks to nature, human boundaries and balance, came to life through its audio-visual presentation and collaboration with Salman Toor and Ali Sethi. Other highlights include a newly commissioned project by artist Nidhi Khurana, who will be artist-in-residence inside the exhibition and respond to modernist master Devi Prasad’s writing and curriculum-making as an artist-educator.
VSF is speckled with artworks made by children, some with annotations indicating how to read and approach these drawings and the category of child art, by artist-educator Devi Prasad. Another children’s related project showcase is of Artreach-KNMA Teaching Fellowship which has been ongoing since 2016 with different shelter homes in Delhi NCR.
Subsequent to the opening of this show, KNMA has had to deal with some controversies surrounding the dismissal of a young advisory professor, Sandip K. Luis from the KNMA curatorial team. The professor had made a critical comment against the museum’s chairperson Kiran Nadar’s support of a pro-government exhibition on Facebook, which led to his dismissal and further controversies including a backlash from the intellectuals, artists, academics, and concerned individuals.