Review by Giridhar Khasnis
March 15, 2017


58th National Exhibition of Art
February 14-March 20,2017
NGMA Bengaluru

The 58th National Exhibition of Art (NEA) opened recently at the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA), Bengaluru.  Organised by Central Lalit Kala Akademi (LKA) the show has put on display a wide range of works in different mediums like painting, sculpture and graphics by over 100 artists from different parts of the country.

“We received more than 6,000 entries this year from artists all over the country for this competitive event,” said Krishna Setty, Administrator, LKA.  “They were diverse, classy and well-structured submissions, showing thereby that the makers of Indian art today are committed to giving their best towards this exercise. The choice of a select few for the final exhibition was no easy cakewalk for the jury members.”

A two-tier jury system was put in place by LKA to sift through the large cache of applications. In the first stage, 111 artworks were selected for display at the National Exhibition. A second jury was then involved in selecting 15 (out of those 111 exhibitors) for the national award. Each award entailed a cash prize of Rs 1,00,000, along with a plaque and certificate.  All the artists whose works were chosen for the National Exhibition also participated in an ‘Artists’ Enclave’ at Karnataka Chitrakala Parishath in Bengaluru from February 25 to March 5.

Viewing the works at the NEA, one felt that the show would have probably been better off with about 20 percent of the works not being there. Such reservations notwithstanding, the NEA does provide a fine opportunity to view and enjoy a cross section of contemporary art of the country. Many of the artworks featured at NEA seem to present a straight forward narrative; while others invite the viewers with multiple interpretations.

Here is a list of works by six young artists (all under 40) which are truly eye-catching.   

Suresh K.:Civil War II (Acrylic on canvas)
This is a powerful and visually gripping image shows a solitary figure in the midst of harsh surroundings (possibly a conflict zone). The stark and politically charged character of the painting is enhanced by the dark tones and tight composition. Suresh, who teaches in Government High School near Mysore, feels that his series of civil war paintings is an attempt to highlight not only the ills of the society (like caste, creed, gender and such other aspects) but also the internal struggles of the modern man experienced on a day to day basis. One can sense a feeling of deep disquiet, restlessness, abandonment and isolation of the protagonist in the work. Despite the picture’s psychological mood and a somewhat hysteric impression, one can also perceive a subtle lyricism in the painting.

Bharti Verma: Enigmatic (OHP Sheet and Oil on Canvas);
In this work,the young artist from Delhi, has chosen to present an immaculate portrait of an interior of a building sans people. The viewer is at once drawn into the picture thanks to its painstakingly detailed photo-realism; cleverly structured cinematic perspectives; and a deliberately chosen subtle colour palette employed by the artist. In the intriguingly balanced picture, she neatly divides spaces on the canvas and makes the viewer enter the spick and span interiors comprising of rooms, doorways, windows, corridors and furniture. Devoid of human presence, and enhanced by subtle interplay of light and shade, the painting becomes a depository of looming silence, intense emptiness and palpable tension.

Sewon Rai: Conspiring Clouds (Mixed media)
This is a haunting picture of a devastated world painted by the young Sikkim-born Kolkata-based artist. Expressionist in mood and rendering, the image at once conjures up aspects of human misery, oppression, suffering, agony and helplessness. “Some of my subjects are based on dystopian vision of the world, the wars and annihilated scenes,” says Sewon. “I try to address various vital issues like a socio-political anomaly, identity, historical facts of wars and unjust stories in my artwork. I also try to portray various emotions like sadness, suffering, anguish, etc. though my works.” The success of the painting is mainly due to mature handling of a deeply felt tragic subject. 

Akhil Mohan: Rice-18 (Charcoal on paper)
The award-winning piece shows brilliant draughtsmanship of the 27-year old artist from Kerala. His choice of subject, an untidy bundle of rice straws, is mesmerising. Hailing from a family of agriculturists, Mohan seems naturally drawn to farming and farm practices/produce. This simple yet evocative monochromatic drawing on a wide piece of paper (145 cms.) shows both sharp eye for observation and flawless execution. 

D. Saravana Deivasegamani Creators (Installation with Palmyra Seeds)
Puducherry-based sculptor Saravana is known to work mostly with metal and found material. For creating the prize-winning work, the 32-year old artist has uncannily employed Palmyra seeds – an unusual and startling choice. Strung together as a cluster and hung from the ceiling, the graceful and playful installation made entirely of found material reclaimed from natural surroundings evokes a rustic feel and impulse. 

Satish Hanumanthappa Multhalli: Untitled (Ink on Acid Free Paper)
Like Akhil, Satish too hails from the rural hinterland (Haveri, Karnataka) and is attracted to simple but essential implements related to farming. In this striking image, he portrays the close up of an ordinary woven tray used by rural folk to winnow rice and separate the grains from the husks (a task usually performed by women or girls). Satish refrains from adding any particularly dramatic dimensions but seems content to sight the tray at rest on the floor. The intricate weaving of the tray comes alive in this work thanks to his sensitive drawing skills.

Other noticeable works at the exhibition include a fascinating woodcut titled Farby J.D. Rao Tamminenia set of ceramic Vegetables by Phalguni Samanta; Exist of Life (Etching, Dry Point and Wood Intaglio) by Kavita Mehrotra; Koshish(Ball pen on Canvas) by Himanshu Joshi; and Hell/Heaven 2 (Relief Print) by Vijay Bhagat.