Exhibition Facing Life- Facing India

Bharti Kher: SIX WOMEN | © Courtesy of the artist and Perrotin, Foto: Marek Kruszewski

How do Indian artists see the reality of their lives, their freedoms and their borders? What aspects of their lives occupy them so much that they make them the subject of their art? What expressions do they find for their impressions and what messages do they want to convey?
Answers to these questions are currently on display at the Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg. With the exhibition Facing India, visitors in Germany for the first time have the opportunity to experience the works of six Indian contemporary artists. This is a premiere. Vibha Galhotra, Bharti Kher, Prajakta Potnis, Reena Saini Kallat, Mithu Sen and Tejal Shah deal with the reality of India artistically.

Land of Diversity and Borders

The exhibition was officially opened on 28 April 2018. It is the result of a series of courageous decisions. In their opening speeches, Dr. Ralf Beil, Director of the Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg, and the curator of Facing India, Dr. Uta Ruhkamp, presented an Indian society deeply influenced by patriarchy. There are limits and boundaries that are present in many ways and are particularly typical in India. This includes different castes and national borders, as well as the position of women. Although they are equal before the law, in reality - even in times of social change - women continue to be severely disadvantaged. Oppression and violence are commonplace in many areas.

This is India - six female perspectives

Against this backdrop, these women's decision to become artists must be seen from a wider perspective. The relentless artistic examination and focus on environmentally explosive, sociological and socially critical topics is remarkable. Ralf Beil and Uta Ruhkamp pay tribute to this with Facing India and present an image of contemporary India in many facets from a female perspective at the Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg.

Varied Shapes

The six artists, aged between 38 and 49, let us immerse ourselves in the diverse realities of India. As multifaceted as the country is, so are the forms of approach with which they capture, accentuate and artistically represent life in India. A total of 94 pieces make this experience possible.

Pollution - human insanity in the age of reason

Vibha Galhotra approaches topics such as climate change and pollution and focuses on the content. Among other things, she shows photographs of people wearing respiratory masks, which points out the smog-stricken slums of India. She installs an iron bowl filled with motor oil with a brass bowl floating in it. Slowly it fills with the fossil fuel until it sinks irrevocably. Vibha Galhotra had her first solo exhibition, SPACE WITHIN THE SPACE, at the Goethe-Institut in New Delhi in 2002.

Present Femininity

Bharti Kher's work focus on women in India, the backbone of society - depicted as a luminous column of bracelets "Bloodline"-, who are also quite oppressed. "Six women," made of plaster, wood and metal, sit naked and silent on chairs. Knowing that these are one-to-one representations of older sex workers, gives the scenario gets an additional level of meaning, which is moving.

Beyond Physical Borders

Prajakta Potnis makes the kitchen a place of action in digital print works, where she puts elements of it into new contexts. "The cracks and flaking on the walls are one way of documenting the passing of time, as the wrinkles of aging skin do. I regard walls as witnesses to history," Prajakta Potnis says about the wall she designed in an interview with Uta Ruhkamp.

Closely Linked: Separation and Connection

Reena Saini Kallat’s “Woven Chronicle" takes on the issue of borders and constructs an installation made of circuit boards, loudspeakers playing single-channel sound, power cables and fittings to make a world map, with migration paths and  politically explosive flows. Everything is interlinked and yet confined, simultaneously in network communication, which - at least technically - connects the world easily and quickly.


"I play with the emotional disorientation of other people and lead them teasingly and provocatively to a place where the existing social rules dissolve," Mithu Sen says, explaining her work. For example, she presents a gaping mouth with artificial teeth and dental work that seems to devour everything greedily but still offers a certain aesthetic - a bizarre picture, called "Border unseen."

Recognizing a flexible understanding of gender

Tejal Shah addresses gender issues through a political and feminist lens and combines them with ecological themes and science fiction elements in an indefinable way in the HD video piece, "Between the waves - Landfill Dance.” She also makes the consequences of violence against women visible and tangible in a multimedia installation.

Good art and what it can do

Uta Ruhkamp has many answers to the question of what she aims to achieve with this exhibition. Of course, good art should be shown. The desire to deal with the country of India and the people was also expressed. The detailed reader accompanying the exhibition offers the possibility to going deeper into the subject matter.
Facing India is also a prompt to think about what identity means. The question of identity is always connected with questions about demarcation to be able to experience yourself as independent and separate from something else.
Finally, the exhibition also moves visitors on a humanitarian level. What do pollution, the different treatment of the sexes and other grievances mean for each individual? And what consequences should be drawn from this?

Between yesterday and tomorrow, between borders and community

What the artists’ expressions show about India's social structure, caught between tradition and modernity, cannot be seen in isolation, because we also deal with the same fundamental issues on a global level. Walling off borders, environmental pollution and inequality are the subject of conversation worldwide. Thus, this focused look at India acts at the same time as a look at the whole world.

Opening borders of the mind

"It would be nice if borders opened up in our heads," wishes curator Uta Ruhkamp. This wish comes true on the first evening: 400 interested people have come to the opening. The audience is mixed. Three friends from Cologne, Berlin and Hanover, all 30, are interested in the exhibition because "it’s not so Eurocentric" and shows a female perspective. An artist from Berlin talks shop with her Indian colleagues, elderly gentlemen take their time to explore new perspectives, middle-aged couples exchange ideas about what they have experienced. A group of young girls also meets. They take in the artworks and dance to music at the party after the exhibition. The artists fall into conversations with guests over and over. They ask, tell and listen, marvel, laugh together and look at art with respect and benevolence. And, in doing so, boundaries are overcome.
The exhibition Facing India can be seen in Kunstmuseums Wolfsburg from April 29th until October 7th, 2018.