On Tuesday evening, the South Asian Studies Program (SASP) and the Department of Art History at Rutgers University—New Brunswick brought Indian visual artist L.N. Tallur to the Zimmerli Art Museum’s Dodge Gallery to talk about his recent work being exhibited at the Grounds for Sculpture (GFS) in Hamilton, New Jersey.
This survey exhibition, titled “Interference Fringe,” comprises of 26 of Tallur’s contemporary artworks encompassing a variety of media.
Born and raised in rural Karnataka, Tallur’s work draws from his heritage and cultural symbols pertinent to India’s complex history. His understanding of physical spaces and three-dimensional art is rooted in his academic background in museology.
Influences of iconography, stemming from and appropriating ancient Indian mythology and sculpture, are seen through his groundbreaking and often iconoclastic body of work. Many interpret his portrayal of his colorful culture as juxtaposing the sacred with the secular and the rural with the urban.
The “Interference Fringe” retrospective at GFS, which will run through Jan. 5, 2020, makes Tallur one of the first Indian artists to have a major solo survey exhibition in the U.S.
At the event itself, Tallur explained the rationale behind his work by breaking down his interactive sculptures, site-specific installations and moving image works into nine themes. These themes ranged from “Loss and gain in translation” to “Making Machine” and focused on the artist’s evocative process, rather than the final product.
He prefaced his lecture by stating his intention of wanting the evening to be more of a conversation, rather than a monologue. Tallur kept the audience engaged, and often amused, with his intellectual charm and humble wit.
Tamara Sears, an associate professor in the Department of Art History who specializes in South Asian art and teaches the "Art of India" course at Rutgers, introduced the artist and moderated the post-lecture questions during the event. I caught up with her beforehand to discuss what makes Indian artists like Tallur so fascinating to today’s audiences.
“One of the most visible elements that make the work of L.N. Tallur and other contemporary Indian artists compelling is the increasing transnationalism of artists and the work that they do. Artists today, regardless of their place of origin, tend to be located in more than one city, and they travel frequently and fluidly across the world. Their work often engages issues of globalization and mobility in ways that are informed by a broader worldview and that engage the tension between global and deeply rooted local histories," she said.
Sears added: "L.N Tallur splits his time between India and South Korea and exhibits internationally, in Germany, Korea, India and the U.S., and right now there is a retrospective of his work at GFS here in New Jersey.”
Tallur opened the lecture with a mesmerizing video, entitled “Interference," that shows staff at the Darbar Hall Museum in Gujarat beating the historical dust out of a carpet crafted by artisans from the Central Jail at Junagadh in the late 18th century. The auditory element of this video is a deep, echoing splash of water that is timed with the beating of the richly designed carpet.
“His work is rooted in India’s past but is made for contemporary, global audiences. His work shows a conscious engagement with India’s historical and art historical traditions and also with European modernism. His work transforms traditions in a very interesting fashion that brings together high art and traditional handmade craft,” Sears said.
One of Tallur’s most fascinating works in this retrospective is a modern-day reproduction of a Chola dynasty Shiva Nataraja bronze from South India, titled "Unicode" (2011). The Hindu god Shiva is said to be the "destroyer" of the universe and Tallur appeals to this idea by replacing the iconographic image of a multi-armed Dancing Shiva with a giant mass of concrete and coins within a large bronze wheel.
In a similar piece which is part of GFS’s permanent collection, titled “Obituary Note” (2013), the wheel consumes a sphere of burnt wood logs that allude to Hindu funerary rituals.
Like Tallur, many celebrated contemporary Indian artists like Atul Dodiya, Subodh Gupta and Bharti Kher tap into the visual vocabulary of different Indian artistic traditions and subvert the representation of this vocabulary in their artwork. This subversion often takes place as a form of social, economic or political commentary.