Shimla 1934 (museum global)

a microhistory about Amrita Sher-Gil for the exhibition museum global. Microhistories of an Ex-centric Modernism

9. Nomber 2018 – 10. March 2019
K20 | Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen |

Curator of the microhistory: Nóra Lukács
Curators of museum global: Kathrin Bessen, Susanne Gaensheimer, Doris Krystof, Nóra Lukács, Isabelle Malz, Maria Müller-Schareck, Melanie Vietmeier

Starting with a critical preoccupation with the collection of the Kunstsammlung Northrhine-Westfalia, the exhibition museum global in the K20, in the galleries presenting otherwise exclusively the permanent collection, concentrates on selected examples of transcultural modernity beyond the “western” canon. The exhibition takes visitors around the globe in seven chapters framed by a prologue and an epilogue and following a chronological sequence: Tokyo, 1910; Moscow, 1913; São Paulo, 1922; Mexico City, 1923; Shimla, 1934; Beirut, 1948; and Zaria, 1960. Microhistories of an Ex-centric Modernism narrates moments of transcultural upheaval when artists formulated concepts of modernism—be it by publishing a manifesto, opening an exhibition, founding a society, or in connection with journeys and encounters.

Presented in K20 in the galleries of the permanent collection of the Kunstsammlung Northrhine-Westfalia will be hitherto little-known artistic positions, at times in dialogue with selected works owned by the Kunstsammlung. They showcase other perspectives and constellations which give rise to questions of considerable urgency today: How do national and cultural identities emerge? How are emigration and exile reflected in the works of individual artists? How do journeys, encounters, and exchanges influence art and cultural politics?

The life and work of Indian-Hungarian modernist painter Amrita Sher-Gil (1913–41) testify to a cosmopolitan artistic identity during the interwar period. Before she started studying at the École des Beaux Arts in Paris in 1930, and committed herself to a realistic painting style, she alternated between Hungary and northern India. Her familiarity with the painting conventions of the École de Paris, combined with her deliberate exploration of India’s complex visual traditions, resulted in an unmistakable pictorial language, making Amrita Sher-Gil a pioneer of Indian modernism.

“I can only paint in India. Elsewhere I am not natural, I have no self-confidence. Europe belongs to Picasso, Matisse, Braque, and many others. India belongs only to me.” (1938)

After returning to Shimla in 1934, Amrita Sher-Gil explored precolonial Indian art, in particular the wall paintings of Buddhist monks in South India and the courtly miniatures of the Moghul empire. In the late 1930s, Amrita Sher-Gil’s oil-on-canvas paintings created a synthesis of “West” and “East” with an increasing flatness, simplicity of form, intensity of color, and palette of warm red tones. She devoted her attention to women, the destitute, and the rural masses who lacked both representation and visibility. A recurring motif is the depiction of private moments or women in domestic seclusion. Her self-portraits reveal an emancipated sense of herself as an artist.

Installationsviews “Shimla 1934”, K20
Photos: Nóra Lukács, Wilfried Meyer, Achim Kukulies, Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen

The exhibition is the result of several years’ research and the first step in our project to survey and understand a transcultural modernism. The research project has been initialized and is funded by the Federal Cultural Foundation.