What's Local? at Art Eterne, New Delhi, India

13 festivals in 12 months

“13 festivals in 12 months” is a Bengali saying which is not hard to fathom in a place like India with so many cultures and subcultures.   In 2012,  I was invited to do a solo exhibit at Gallery Art Eterne.  At the time I’d just started working on Death of an Icon with initial pencil sketches when the invitation came and I rushed to complete some works on paper, combined with silk screened portions that would be easy to transport.  When asked to pick a date, any date, a year in advance by Sudhanshu Paliwal the owner of the gallery, I picked November 10th, which in my mind was a date in the distant future, not knowing the full implication of that date at the time.  November 10th happened to be the day before Diwali in 2012.  I’ve always been aware of Diwali and the festivities it entails, took part in some of it as well in my childhood.  What I didn’t know was the extent of Diwali in New Delhi! That was quite another story!  Festivities coupled with commerce created a state of emergency in the entire city.  Needless to say that attending an art show opening was the farthest thing from the minds of the public under the circumstances.

It was due to the generosity of a handful of people that the opening still turned out to be a relative success. Exhibition opening in a city where I knew only a handful of people in non-artistic fields was a scary proposition.  Incidentally, I met the very vivacious Ina Puri a short while ago, who took the trouble of coming all the way from Gurgaon to Lado Sarai just to show her support!  Rajan Fulari who was an expectant Dad at the time came with some of his colleagues from the Lalit Kala Artist’s ResidencyBirendra Pani dropped by.  While the opening offered a learning experience in general, it certainly made me realize the meaning of reverse culture shock when I tried pouring wine for one of the attendees I was dissuaded with some urgency by the well-meaning Sudharshan Paliwal.  What I was just about to perform could have been a fairly scandalous act by a woman in the given milieu!

The history “Death of an Icon” series accumulated over time added a certain something to the works themselves. Couple of pieces from the series showed for the first time at Religare Art Gallery, Saket, the year before.  Lyla Rao the curator at the time was amicable and very helpful.  People like that are hard to connect with on social media…I digress….  It has shown in many places here in the States, selected by various curators, James Patrick Reid, Evonne Davis, Armisey Smith, among them.  The works circulated from New Delhi to the Prince Street Gallery, Chelsea, SVA Gramercy Gallery, Monmouth Museum, Goggleworks PA, Phoenix Village Art Gallery, Jewish Museum of New Jersey, Walsh Gallery at Seaton Hall and now at the Art Space in Warren, NJ.

The day after the opening was the festival of Dhan Taras which literally translates to “desire for wealth”.  The tradition is to buy precious jewelry on that day.  Markets were lively, the sweet shops with mirrors freshly cleaned, neon lights shining on the colorful sweets and laddos.  I walked into one of the shops, and showed some curiosity about the legendary Delhi laddos, the store keeper promptly took one out with his bare hands and broke it in two, shaping each individual portion into smaller balls he handed each portion to my cousin and me.  While I was touched by the warmth of his gesture, I could not quieten the nagging of hygiene police at the back of my mind until, prompted yet again by my cousin who popped it into his mouth and urged me to do the same…I gave into the momentary weakness and followed suit, enjoyed the sweet despite my hypochondriac self.