This exchange exhibition of prints was organized by SCAD Foundations Professor, Marcia Neblett, now teaching on a Fulbright Scholarship at the Government College of Fine Arts and Crafts, Chennai (Madras) India. This month, forty works by SCAD printmaking students are showing in India. At the moment, only half the forty works by Indian student artists are showing in Savannah. The rest are presumably going to be added later.
Normally, I would not review an exhibition of student work, because really it is a response to an assignment and should not be looked at in the same way as an artist’s later, personal vision should be. But this exhibition raises some interesting questions.
In these times, artists rarely make their income by selling their artwork. The majority with advanced degrees are engaged in teaching in the ever-expanding education industry. As a result, most artists now consider themselves artists/educators, since they divide their time between both activities.
The works from India showing in Savannah are wood block prints by Neblett and her students, and collography (collage that is inked and printed) by Radhakrishanan Natesapillai’s students, along with an intaglio print of his own. There is a difference, not only in the technique but also in the subject matter. Neblett has been teaching her own woodblock technique and I noticed immediately that the majority of her students’ prints are representations of what we see as the iconography of “India”: Hindu gods and goddesses, examples of the Rajasthani culture, and Indian genre scenes.
I found out that Neblett had directed her students to use an “Indian” theme. She has chosen not to impose her own personal subject matter interests, but rather honor Indian cultural elements and expose those images in Savannah. But her students responded to the thematic request with the most likely subjects, no doubt feeling that that was what was being asked of them.
However, what is “Indian”, when we consider that India is now one of the two fastest growing economies in the world and a leader in the area of information technology? It is also a massive country, with many languages and religions, all “Indian.” To turn it around, if I were required to do a “Scottish” artwork, I would be restricted to something showing bagpipes, Celtic knot designs, and a portrait of Robert Burns.
The other teacher, Natesapillai is himself represented by an intaglio etching, called “The Deep”, which I see as a Modernist abstraction based on nature, using fish and plant forms. For some reason, only two of his students’ works are included so far: Pradeep Kumar Mohan’s “A Leaf in the Line” and Prabu Sivalangham’s “Parrot.” Both of these are two-color collographs that have a similar abstraction from nature.
European Modernism was an exhilarating break from the Renaissance traditions of Fine Art and was vastly influenced by images from Africa, Latin America and Asia. Interestingly, now it seems that Modernism still flourishes where it began, outside Europe, while European post-Modernism often falls back on relying on pre-Modernist techniques and pastiche.
There is one work I find particularly moving in this exhibition. It is a woodcut from one of Neblett’s student’s, Indumathy Devaraj, of an Indian traditional horse dance. We see here a profile view of a life sized puppet horse, hollowed out to hold the dancer within, who we can see on tiny stilts. This image is set against a textured background caused by the short vertical lines cut into the wood.
It almost looks as if a gentle rain were falling on him. This is a more marginal view of an Indian subject, and it is executed with the kind of tenderness I always associate with India.
Ah, another stereotype....