This Article is From May 06, 2014

Art Matters: The Body in Indian Art

New Delhi: One of the biggest Indian art exhibitions in recent history is on at the National Museum in Delhi. Curated by Naman P Ahuja, it showcases 300 artifacts belonging to 44 collections from all over the country. And celebrates the plurality that is India. With religion and social trends leaning towards the reactionary, the show finally is about plurality, about variety and difference, about the absence of any one way of looking at things.

One of the first pieces on display a female warrior decapitating herself. Made in Karnataka in the 13th century, it contradicts layers of presuppositions - a soldier, but female, not killing the enemy, but herself, unlike a sati, the violence here is honoured for its own sake. The exhibition presents to us the idea of an India that defies stereotypes.

The artifacts from 44 collections round the country range from ancient Indian stone sculptures to present day contemporary art, from Chola bronzes to Rajput miniatures and photographs from Bollywood to sculptures from Khajuraho.

Curator Naman P Ahuja says that the demand came from Europalia in Brussels when the festival of India was going to be staged. But the question was which India should be showcased. The upper caste India, lower class India, Western India, Eastern India, modern India, ancient India, which India? The exhibition was first shown at the Palais des Beaux Arts in Brussels, and came to the National Museum in Delhi not without some effort.

'The Body in Indian Art' divides itself into eight ways of looking at the body. Body in Death showcases the gory and the godlike simultaneously, the menacing Shiva and the soldier holding his own guts. As one goes from room to room, each category links with the next. The body of a warrior like hero who aspires to die and kill, the mother who represents the endless cycle of birth and death and finally the Body in Rapture - celebrating the physical, the erotic, the sexual and the sublime.

One thinks of birth, death and sexuality as universals, but the exhibition showcases their many interpretations through the ages. An effort to remember the extent of the plurality that human life carries within it.