I love experiences that challenge me, make me think and occasionally shake me up a bit — not too much, mind you, just a little. Be it a book, travel, a music performance, food… the memories that have stayed with me are the ones that offered something extra by way of perception. The exhibition on “Mutable: Ceramic and Clay Art in India since 1947“ at the Piramal Museum of Art in Mumbai was one such experience. Curated by Sindhura D.M. and Annapurna Garimella, Mutable showcases 70 years of ceramic and clay art objectssourced from artists, artisans, institutions and private collectors from across India.
I wasn’t aware of this exhibition till photos of its preview night on October 13, 2017, exploded on all my social media timelines. Friends who knew of my interest in all things art tagged me and I went dizzy just keeping up. In the days that followed, tantalising articles and write-ups in newspapers followed, tempting me to drop everything and visit the exhibition, but as it happened it took me 10 days before I could actually do so.
It was my first visit to the Piramal Museum of Art and when I walked in on that October afternoon, I didn’t know where to look first — the large open exhibition space or the exhibits. Exhibition spaces fascinate me in how they are designed to interact with the exhibits within and also how their very design enhances or limits viewer experience. In this case the large open gallery, a viewing gallery on the first floor, a domed roof and the exhibits promised a great experience.
The man lies rigid on a bed. Or is it a bench? There is no mattress on the bed/bench, but there’s a pillow under his head and another, flatter and smaller one, under his feet. The sheet covering him is too small and his feet stick out. The lights above the bed/bench cast sickly grey shadows on the walls, that appear to hover over the man. Are the shadows angels of death, I wonder?
The information given along with the above artwork says that Brown (b.1923) is an African-American who grew up poor in the religious, rural and segregated South of the United States and worked in menial jobs. Brown started painting when he realised that he had no visuals from his childhood to share with his children. An untrained artist, Brown painted from his childhood memories on rough wooden boards or planks. After Brown’s wife died and his children left home, he withdrew from society at large and preferred to communicate with the outside world only through his paintings.
As I read this information, I realise that I have just been introduced an unknown and new genre of art (for me, that is) — “Outsider Art” — and one that sounds exciting ! But what exactly is this Outsider Art? A walk through the exhibition acquaints me with this genre and how it has developed over the years.