Home Architect Vivan Sundaram (1943–2023) – Artforum International

Vivan Sundaram (1943–2023) – Artforum International

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Pioneering artist and activist Vivan Sundaram, who transformed the landscape of contemporary Indian art, died on March 29 in New Delhi following a cerebral hemorrhage. He was seventy-nine years old. Through a practice that encompasses installation, photography, illustration, sculpture, video and painting, Sundaram has explored social and political themes as well as those related to popular culture and issues surrounding perception, memory and history. A strong proponent of communication and collaboration between practices, Sundaram believed that art could bring about social change.

Vivan Sundaram was born in Shimla, India in 1943. His father was Kalyan Sundaram, a civil servant and India’s first independent legal secretary and second chief electoral commissioner; his mother was Indira Sher-Gil, the sister of the pioneering painter Amrita Sher-Gil. After graduating with a BA in painting from Maharaja Sayajirao University in Vadodara, Gujarat, in 1965, he enrolled at the Slade School of Fine Art in London, where, as a Commonwealth Scholar, he studied under the Anglo painter -American RB Kitaj, earning his postgraduate degree. degree in 1968. At the same time, he acquired a keen interest in cinema and social justice at this time, being particularly influenced by the events of May 68, which saw students from all over France mobilizing in protest against consumerism, American imperialism and class disparities.

After hitchhiking and traveling by train through Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan – ‘I had to fly over Pakistan,’ he told ICP’s Nandita Raman in 2016 – Sundaram returned to India in 1972, where he began creating works drawing inspiration from genres as disparate as Pop, Surrealism and Abstraction. Through these, he examined the plight of people who were repressed or persecuted in various ways, ranging from European Jews who fled the Holocaust in the 1940s to Indian Sikhs who endured violent protests against their religion in 1984 after the assassination of Indira Gandhi. In 1976, he founded the Kasauli Art Center and the Journal of Arts and Ideas, intended to foster experimental collaborations between writers and artists. Sundaram saw this cross-pollination as essential to creativity and understanding. “Connecting with people from different disciplines has always influenced my work,” he told the Indian Express in 2018. He continued to hold workshops and seminars there until 1991.

As the 1990s dawned, Sundaram expanded her practice to incorporate more unusual materials into her installations. Change is perhaps most famously embodied in its Memorial of 1993. The work responds to the communal violence then taking place in Bombay (now Mumbai), in particular the destruction by a right-wing Hindu mob of the 16th century Babri Mosque. Memorial is a room-sized installation at the center of which is a triangle of light protecting a corpse rendered in plaster, the shape reminiscent of an anonymous skirmish victim photographed by an Indian journalist. Around this are display cases containing torn photos with nails and catwalks made of stacked metal trunks.The right wing was rising and the state was letting things go,” Sundaram told the Mock exam‘s Kayamani Sharma in 2019. “I kept thinking, how can I handle this? I tapped into the influence of minimalism that I had encountered as a student in England, and began to think of photography in terms of space, in its most formal aspect. The fact that the photograph is a found object, and that I did not witness the violence firsthand as my friends in Mumbai did, added another layer: my entry into the tragedy was from afar.

Other groundbreaking works by Sundaram include those in Calcutta history project1998, the first site-specific installation in India, erected to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the end of partition; Sher Gil Archives1995, and Cover of “Amrita”, 2001–2006, in which Sundaram manipulated family photographs to explore his own story; And 12 bed service, 2005, a dozen rusty bed frames lined up in two rows and covered with shoe soles rather than mattresses, inviting the viewer to reflect on the marginalization experienced by people on the margins of Indian society. Sundaram has often deployed found objects for such purposes. “The notions of recycling, know-how, craftsmanship and Duchampian ready-mades have always interested me”, he says. art forumIt is Zehra Jumabhoy in 2011, commenting on her controversial 2008 multimedia installation Garbage can. “In [that work], I dealt with the belly of the urban, which is continually destroyed and marginalized in the “New India”. Yet despite this onslaught of so-called city development, the city recreates itself. Delhi is the metropolis of the 21st century – Calcutta and Bombay were the cities of the 19th and 20th centuries. But what happens to those who live outside the development agency of capitalism and power?

Sundaram wrote extensively between 1981 and 1999, contributing to the Journal of Arts and Ideas, of which he was a co-founder; he was also a co-founder of the Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust. He recently enjoyed two fifty-year retrospectives, “Step Inside and You Are No Longer a Stranger”, at the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, New Delhi, and “Disjunctures”, at the Haus der Kunst in Munich, both in 2018 He was one of thirty artists commissioned to create new works to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of the Sharjah Biennale. His photographic work Six stations of a continued life2022, is presented at the Sharjah Biennale from June 15th this year.


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