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Bahurupee in the Panorama: Writing and Artwork of K.G. Subramanyan

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As one of the pioneers of modernism, K.G. Subramanyan’s contribution to the landscape of Indian art remains unparalleled. Not only did he reinforce the nation’s post-independence identity through his art, but he was also instrumental in shaping the evolution of one of India’s premier art institutions, The Maharaja Sayajirao University in Baroda. Recently launched on the occasion of International Museum’s Day on 18 May 2022, MAP’s digital exhibition, Bahurupee in the Panorama, pays homage to the artist’s expansive oeuvre through the decades, which constantly varied in style, medium and expression.

Portrait Gallery, K. G. Subramanyan, Undated, Oil on canvas, H. 121 cm, W. 122 cm, MAC.02926
Portrait Gallery, K. G. Subramanyan, Undated, Oil on canvas, H. 121 cm, W. 122 cm, MAC.02926

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In a unique collaboration with the Asia Art Archive in India (AAAI), Bahurupee in the Panorama builds on documentation from K.G. Subramanyan’s digitised personal archive, housed at AAAI, along with works from the collection of the Museum of Art & Photography (MAP). Speaking of the collaboration, Samira Bose, co-curator of the exhibition and Programmes Coordinator at AAAI says, “This exhibition has been a meaningful collaboration where a digital archive has come together with a museum that has physical collections. Over nine months, we approached K.G. Subramanyan’s life’s work and ideas through our different perspectives and experiences, sharing personal stories and responses as part of a creative process that functioned primarily online. We worked together but apart, between Bengaluru and New Delhi, through pandemic waves, spending time on long Zoom calls and with tools like miro board.” MAP strongly believes that collaborations such as these, which encourage the sharing of resources and material for the benefit of the public, are integral to the growth of the museum community in India.

Untitled, K. G. Subramanyan, 1995, Woodcut, H. 32.5 cm x W. 35.8 cm, MAC.02746
Untitled, K. G. Subramanyan, 1995, Woodcut, H. 32.5 cm x W. 35.8 cm, MAC.02746
K. G. Subramanyan working on King of Dark Chamber, 1963, photograph. Image courtesy of K. G. Subramanyan Archive, Asia Art Archive Collections.
K. G. Subramanyan working on King of Dark Chamber, 1963, photograph. Image courtesy of K. G. Subramanyan Archive, Asia Art Archive Collections.

With K.G. Subramanyan’s writings as a starting point and guiding matrix, this exhibition forms poetic frameworks around his tools: intuition, curiosity and material knowledge. The exhibition explores two key ideas: the panorama from an introductory talk titled ‘Art and Craft Panorama in India’, held at the Museum of Modern Art, Oxford in 1998, and the figure of the bahurupee, from a catalogue text in 1994. Co-curator of the exhibition, Arshad Hakim explains, “With the exhibition, we want to highlight how creative processes, such as making and writing are interlinked and enable each other, and we see them distinctly throughout K.G. Subramanyan’s practice. The exhibition takes two key texts by K.G. Subramanyan and through the texts we trace how he built on the ideas of the panorama and the figure of the ‘Bahurupee’. Through these texts and the artworks, one realises that for Subramanyan, his interior world and the world out there are simultaneous and often blurred.”

The exhibition investigates the bahurupee – the impersonator, the imitator – throughout the curatorial narrative in a non-linear manner. Defining the bahurupee as a polymorph, Subramanyan wrote “all art objects are bahurupee, where one object tries to play the role of another without fully surrendering its identity”. Following his playful imaginary excursions and discovering “a magic in making” in the panorama, the exhibition takes the viewer through independent, yet converging meanderings through artworks, writings and keywords.

Woman with Cows, K. G. Subramanyan, c. 1970, Terracotta, H. 52 cm x W. 50 cm, MAC.01146
Woman with Cows, K. G. Subramanyan, c. 1970, Terracotta, H. 52 cm x W. 50 cm, MAC.01146

The exhibition also features an all-new look and navigation combining the artworks and writings, designed to mirror the mind, or the thought flow of the artist. Vaishnavi Kambadur, co-curator of the exhibition and Associate Curator at MAP, says of the curatorial focus, “Through Bahurupee in the Panorama, we wanted to showcase Subramanyan’s works with his writings and stories around him. One of the most important aspects is for viewers to experience the magical qualities of his artworks by navigating through a panoramic mind-map. We also urge the viewers to spend time with images of terracotta reliefs, paintings, and excerpts from the museum and the archive.”

Untitled, K.G. Subramanyan, Screen Print on Paper (Serigraph), MAC.00785
Untitled, K.G. Subramanyan, Screen Print on Paper (Serigraph), MAC.00785

Keeping with our aim of making the arts accessible for all, the exhibition includes audio recording as a key accessibility feature, providing a holistic experience to all viewers.

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