Viewing Indian Independence through art

As India approaches its Independence Day on August 15, a unique online exhibition at the Ben Uri Museum in London coincides with this historic occasion. The show, ‘Midnight’s Family: 70 Years of Indian Artists in Britain’ which is co-curated by Rachel Dickson and Shanti Panchal along with academic advisor Dr Zehra Jumabhoy (Courtauld Institute of Art), emphasises the importance of the past 70 years of Indian immigrant artists working in the UK.

The show features not only all-time greats such as FN Souza, Anish Kapoor and SK Bakre, but also the new generation like the Singh Twins, Raqib Shaw and Shanti Panchal himself. The exhibition includes a cross-generational range of practitioners, who work across diverse media and with differing approaches to the question of identity; of being an ‘Indian’ artist in Britain.

1987 Laxmi-Narayan and Son
Laxmi Narayan and son
Raqib Shaw Self portrait in the study at Peckham (A reverie after Antonello de Messina's Saint Jerome) II 2013-2015
Raqib Shaw self portrait
Narielwalla Band of Pride
Hormazd Narielwalla band of pride

Explains Dr Jumabhoy, “I think a show like this is really important in a British context today. There is a great deal of talk these days about the prejudices of colonialism and reparations having to be made for slavery and exploitation, but British history continues to ignore the vast part that colonialism in South Asia played in the construction of its own cultural identity – and economy.”

She says an unexpected gem in the show is Hormazd Narielwalla, who works with textiles and belongs to Ben Uri’s own collection. “As we approach 73 years of Indian independence from British rule, it’s about time that Britain learns to acknowledge and understand the continuing legacy of its Indian Empire – on itself as much as on India itself. Knowledge, after all, is the first step to reparation. One can scream all one likes about Decolonizing art history, but the first thing to do is to acknowledge that Colonialism happened in the first place. It’s not an accident that there is a large subcontinental presence in Britain today or that curry is considered Britain’s national dish. Why should we be left out of its cultural and art historical narratives?” she ends.

(View it at: www.benuri.org)

By Diane Bilimoria, London

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