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Borrowing from the Past 

Wednesday, Nov 16 2011
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"The Matter Within" surveys contemporary artists with roots in India who are taking radical approaches to their subjects. In photos, performance artist Nikhil Chopra inhabits characters that are vaudevillian products of British influence and self-inflated aristocracy. Designers Jiten Thukral and Sumir Tagra give us mock-consumerist objects (a 30-foot pink dinosaur made of bottles; a cabinet full of strawberry bottles covered with faces of young Indian men) that are sly commentaries on globalization. Sudarshan Shetty puts a traditional Indian earthenware pot on a moving conveyer belt that symbolizes mechanized "progress." Photographer Sunil Gupta depicts an erotic relationship between an Indian man and a Frenchman in Paris, where they visit bathhouses and engage in risky sex. And video/photo/performance artist Pushpamala N, who is based in Bangalore, takes well-known scenes from film, art, pop culture, and religion, and re-imagines them with herself in the center, as in her perfectly subtle riff on Mary Ellen Mark's famous Indian circus series. Pushpamala N works with British-born photographer Clare Arni to fine-tune her India 2.0 images — a collaboration that's a powerful bookend to the colonialist backdrop of the "Maharaja” exhibit at the Asian Art Museum. India has long been a country at a crossroads, amalgamating old and new — including the cultures of foreign people. The British left their mark. Muslim rulers left theirs, particularly with the Taj Mahal, India's top tourist attraction. The artists of "The Matter Within" are the latest in a long line of India's descendants who can be called expressive amalgamators. They borrow from the past but are not beholden to it. Their artwork practically winks at the viewer. And in that wink is the edge of an "ah-ha." Whether you go over the edge isn't important — just that the edge is there in the first place.
Thursdays-Sundays; First Tuesday of every month; Thursdays-Sundays; Thursdays-Sundays; Thursdays-Sundays. Starts: Oct. 14. Continues through Jan. 29, 2011

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Jonathan Curiel

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