‘An Ancient Modernness’

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In January 2022, tapestries based on Madhvi and Manu Parekh’s Parekh’s paintings provided a dramatic background for models at Christian Dior’s haute couture show in Paris DAG…reports Asian Lite News

DAG announced its participation in the 10th edition of Frieze Masters 2022 with Madhavi Parekh: An Ancient Modernness, a solo artist presentation featuring ten works from the 1970s, a decade that marked a pivotal period in the artist’s life as she relocated, with her family, to New Delhi-exchanging the cultural and cultured life of Calcutta (now Kolkata) with one that was more opinionated and opulent.

The blue-chip gallery will stage Madhvi Parekh in the Spotlight section dedicated to 28 women artists born between 1900 and 1951. Inspired by both village art and a modernist vocabulary but belonging to neither, Parekh’s works explore relationships between people as well as their environment, emerging from her interest in art when she was pregnant with her first child. Thoughtfully curated by Kishore Singh, Senior Vice-President, DAG, the exhibition opens on 12 October 2022 for five days until 16 October 2022 and marks the debut for the artist’s work in Great Britain.

Reserved by temperament, 1970s turned Parekh’s inwardness towards the care of her young daughters. For them, she created a world of alternate fantasy, a visualisation of all that was fantastic and magical, an escape from reality in which she was free to explore the sea she had left behind in Bombay (now Mumbai) or the memories of a happy and joyful childhood growing up in a village in Gujarat in western India. Her escapism provided her, the key to an idyllic world, one in which beings real and imagined, winged or terrestrial, friendly or reviled, co-habited together in a space that was equally everyone’s. Amorphous shapes assumed identities and personalities, the non-living shared space with the living, no one’s existence threatened the others, and their co-dependency was thrilling as well as enthralling.

Her paintings took the form of stories she told her little girls, filling their heads with lessons from an ancient past that were creative and laced with the songs and innocence of childhood. Her use of colours exemplified this cheerful optimism but the technique recounted too the manner in which village homes, brushed with mud and raked by sharp implements to create patterns, would be used as canvases for painting familiar motifs. Her canvases replicated the pattern to give the paintings a texture that became part of her unique identity as an artist. In reinforcing a world of dependency, Parekh used a folk language that she created as a modern artist-presciently, as it turns out-that the environment is not the domain of a few humans but belongs equally to all.

In January 2022, tapestries based on Madhvi and Manu Parekh’s Parekh’s paintings provided a dramatic background for models at Christian Dior’s haute couture show in Paris. “This endorsement of a vitally important Indian woman artist by an international company such as Dior strengthens our belief in Madhvi Parekh’s uniqueness and her global appeal,” said Ashish Anand, CEO and Managing Director, DAG.

“Her work occupies a territory entirely of her own making,” according to Kishore Singh, the curator of the Spotlight booth on Madhvi Parekh, “She has constantly resisted pressures to conform and established her presence in a voluble art market where she stands apart for her distinctiveness and uncompromising focus.”

Often extolled as a ‘woman’ painter, Parekh’s art has never been premised on gender. Instead, she occupies an artistic realm with strong ethical values based on a sense of humanitarianism, environmental inclusion, and memory. Entirely self-taught, Madhvi’s interest in art was spurred to an extent by her artist husband, Manu Parekh, and began with a perusal of Paul Klee’s Pedagogical Sketchbook. Dots and lines fascinated her, and soon she was playing with them, creating an art form that has challenged critics and art writers because there is no easy category to which she can be easily confined. At most, it can be said that her work parallels folk art, even though it is not like any known folk form in India or elsewhere, and has the rawness and energy of modernism. Sometimes referred to as a folk modernist, hers is a style that is distinctive as well as unique.

Owing to the long-standing relationship with the artist, DAG has shown Madhvi’s work at major exhibitions around the world and also featured in books in India and overseas. A major retrospective exhibition, ‘The Curious Seeker’ organised by DAG, opened in New Delhi in 2017 and travelled to Mumbai, Ahmedabad and New York to critical acclaim. The artist has been featured in a documentary film along with her artist husband.

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