Erasing Borders: Art of Indo-Americans

Indian diaspora
Photo: courtesy: Center for Contemporary Art

By Ralph J. Bellantoni

The Indo-American population in the U.S. has surged in the past 25 years, with New Jersey one of the prime beneficiaries of this enriching influx. Even while integrating into American society, Indian immigrants treasure and preserve from generation to generation much of their vividly kaleidoscopic culture, so resonant with countless centuries of tradition.

The Center for Contemporary Art in Bedminster has teamed with the Indo-American Arts Council in hosting the 13th annual “Erasing Borders” exhibition of contemporary artists of the Indian diaspora. Celebrated printmaker Vijay Kumar curated the display of works by 24 established and emerging artists.

The presentation features paintings and prints, sculptures and installations, photographs and works on video, which meld Indian concepts, aesthetics, and materials with Western influences. Predominant themes include culture clashes, the challenges of adapting to life in the U.S., and issues of sexuality, terrorism, disease, the environment, racial and sectarian tensions, and other social concerns.

Multi-disciplinary artist Indrani Nayar-Gall applies her formidable repertoire of expressive expertise towards social activism.

“My present practice explores patriarchy and misogyny by inquiring into the tradition of religious servitude within certain sects of Brahmanical Hinduism,” Nayar-Gall said. “This body of work questions the hidden motives underlying the display of beauty within the rituals, and the conspiracy of dominant classes in using beauty to lure the marginalized and destitute into acquiescence.”

The measured calm of Nayar-Gall’s diagrammatic compositions camouflages their deeply subversive motivations. Her sensitive modulations of designs and symbols in works like “How to Write a Myth” slyly deconstruct the elegant formulations of established institutions, peeling away their beguiling splendour and ceremony to reveal the entrenched hierarchical systems of subjugation they codify and promote.

“The act of cutting, and unorthodox approaches to print media, become important ways of depicting and relating motifs,” Nayar-Gall explained. “They subvert the conspiracies of traditions.”

Nayar-Gall’s focus recently shifted away from protest against hidebound social systems and onto the personal narratives of those they afflict.

“My newer, emerging body of work, switches toward merging words and text with visual elements,” Nayar-Gall said. “As stories of victimization continue alongside stories of empowerment, the urgency to include the victim’s voices has become more apparent to me.”

Other artists, such as Reeta Gidwani Karmarkar, prefer addressing more purely formal concerns in their work. The sheer joy of creative expression motivated her from the outset.

“From the time I held my first crayon, there was never any doubt in my mind that I would paint,” Karmarkar said.

She initially concentrated on figurative painting, but four years spent studying in Rome at the Accademia di Belle Arti on a scholarship opened new worlds for Karmarkar.

“I found the perspectives used by 14th century painters fascinating, it was an epiphany for me,” she recalled. “Since then my work has explored different angles, planes of perspective, and false perspectives.”

The abstract geometric figures in Karmarkar’s paintings press and squeeze against one another and against the edges of the canvas, generating visual frictions that energize her compositions. Dynamic tension, a creative yin-yang opposition, distinguishes many of her paintings and public murals.

“It intrigues me to take architectural designs and abstract them,” Karmarkar said, “narrowing and expanding space with color and a mixture of rigid, hard edges, plus rough, painterly strokes.”

The center will stage a live family performance of “Tenali Raman: Folktales of India” by the Dragonfly Multicultural Arts Center from 2 to 3 p.m. on Sunday, April 3. The production combines music, dance and comedy in recounting the adventures, wit and trickery of the beloved 16th century poet and jester who served in the court of Indian emperor Krishnadevaraya. Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for children, purchasable online.

WHEN: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, through April 15

WHERE: The Center for Contemporary Art, 2020 Burnt Mills Road in Bedminster


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