The Road Less Travelled
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India and China may be closely monitoring each other's fiscal progress but in the visual arts, there is little that they know of the other. With the exception of Ai Weiwei, most Indians would be unable to name a Chinese artist. On the other side, it isn't any better. Indian art is seldom seen in China (Jitish Kallat showed in 2007) and there is little knowledge about most of India's top artists.
Against this backdrop of ignorance, the Indian Highway is an exhibition that introduces China to contemporary Indian art. Inaugurated last month at the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art (UCCA) in Beijing's art district 798, it is one of the most comprehensive art shows ever mounted in China.
Indian Highway first opened in December 2008 at the Serpentine Gallery, London, curated by its co-directors Julia Peyton-Jones and Hans Ulrich Obrist along with Gunnar B Kvaran, director, Astrup Fearnley Museum. For the Beijing show (the first stop outside Europe), Philip Tinari, director, UCCA has added works from the Ullens collection of Indian art. Sunitha Kumar Emmart, director, Gallery SKE, who was present at the opening and had six of her artists represented in the show, says, "This show is the opening of a tiny little window."
The world's leading art collectors, Guy and Myriam Ullens de Schooten of Belgium started the UCCA. The centre holds the world's most enviable collection of Chinese art, and is a space to introduce China to international art.
The exhibition features nearly 30 individuals and collectives in a wide range of media, from sculpture, video, and installation, to painting and performance. The curators have chosen works that draw references from human migration, infrastructure, and technology (that includes the "information highway") which have been markers of India's economic boom. The metaphor of the highway was chosen to reflect the importance of roads in migration and as a link between rural and urban communities. Talking about the flow of the exhibits, Jitish Kallat says, "Indian Highway shifts shape and reconfigures itself according to the venue, incorporating newer bodies of work as it shifts geographical locations. The show is like a locomotive where people enter and exit, like in a real journey."
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