written by Naomi Henderson

DEC 5 – JAN 10, 2009, BODY CHATTER:
An Exhibition of Contemporary Indian Art

Opening reception: Fri. Dec 5 , 5-8pm

at Walsh Gallery

118 N. Peoria Street, 2nd Floor
Chicago, IL 60607
Tuesday–Saturday  10:30–5:30


This weekend I went to the Walsh Gallery at 118 Peoria, which specializes in contemporary Asian art. The exhibition is called “Body Chatter” and represents 12 well-known Indian artists, ShebaChhachhi,Shilpa Gupta, Atul Dodiya, Indira Freitas Johnson, Jitish Kallat, Reena S. Kallat, Bhupen Khakhar, Bharti Kher, Nalini Malani, Ravinder Reddy, Gulammohammed Sheikh, and Vivian Sundram. As the name of the show indicates, each artist depicts various ideas about the body; many of them drawing inspiration from ancient Indian art. Ravinder Reddy, for example has two works on display with traditional aesthetic values that glorify the everyday woman. The work entitled “Woman” is a life-size sculpture in gold leaf with a very stylized face. Both her nondescript features and her voluptuous body are typical of ancient Indian temple sculptures; however her body is not young and beautiful, but old and fat. She has a little paunch, and rolls of fat around her waist. This depiction of the female form allows the reality of the imperfect body to be raised to the level of the sacred.
Another artist that attracted my attention was Bharti Kher, who created large photographs of human-animal hybrids. In one picture there is a person of indeterminate sex serving cupcakes on a platter. He/she has the head of a boar, and one leg that is a horse’s leg. At the beast’s feet sits a vacuum cleaner with the head of a German shepherd. Several of the figures in the other drawings are wearing motorcycle helmets that completely obscure their faces. These helmets made me wonder what kind of grotesque visages they were hiding under there. The depiction of human- animal hybrids is not new to art, as seen in the centaurs and griffins of ancient Greece for example. In those instances however, such beings were respected and almost revered for their otherworldly powers. By contrast, the bodies Kher creates seem mangled and disgusting. They are freaks of nature, as seen through his depiction of a baby with bat wings, and a little boy with the head of an ape.
The last artist that caught my attention was a photographer named Vivan Sundaram. She has several black and white photographs of what seemed at first glance to be mundane family portraits, or vacation snapshots. Upon closer inspection, I observed that she had inserted or superimposed figures from other sources onto the photos. Most of these figures were mythical or ghostly looking women standing in the background. This work could be a representation of the invisibility of women on society, or perhaps of their influence “behind the scenes.” Whatever your interpretation, they were very interesting photographs and enjoyable to look at.

As I don’t know very much about Asian art, I found this exhibition unusual and enlightening. All of the artistst have very individual viewpoints, however I could see in many of the works, a distinct inspiration from ancient Indian art. As an American, I think they are lucky to have such a wealth of artistic inspiration to draw from.

To see more images from this show, follow this link.

posted by Caroline Picard