New Emissary

Global Art Report

26 artists with a connection to India make their mark in London’s new Saatchi Gallery.

(This is the third in a series of dispatches exploring Asian art in the UK, by Diplomat editorial assistant, Amy Foulds.)

The Empire Strikes Back: Indian Art Today

This was my first visit to the impressive new Saatchi Gallery, reopened in October 2008 at the magnificent Duke of York’s Headquarters in the heart of London’s upmarket Chelsea. But once I’d had time to be impressed by the crisp, clean space itself, it was on to the exhibition of some of the most recent works of 26 artists with a connection to the world’s largest democracy, India.

There’s a particular style of sculptural piece I tend to associate with the Saatchi name—less subtle and on the controversial side—and this collection was no exception. For example, there’s the taxidermy of Huma Mulji, who represents the Middle East. Mulji’s Arabian Delight piece features a contorted camel, obviously displaced with the inclusion of a suitcase.

I also came across some more unexpected paintings and photographic works, including Jitish Kallat’s Untitled (Eclipse) 3, which retained some of the vibrancy of the traditional Indian art I mentioned previously.

Meanwhile, I was also glad to see some more work by a more prominent artist, Subodh Gupta, after my exposure to his kitchenware sculpture Line of Control at the Tate Triennial in 2009. Although other critics, including The Guardian’s Adrian Searle may be tired of his use of everyday objects to emphasise ideas of sustainability and poverty, I found the mood of cohesion in the smaller room with Gupta’s work more pleasing than many of the other spaces. In fact, his flying saucer shaped work U.F.O. was my favourite piece in the whole exhibition. I found the texture and delicate poise formed by the repetition of brass water pots enthralling from all angles.

Perhaps the issue of cohesion has more to do with the problems associated with curating a disjointed collection with a broad overarching theme than the nature of the works themselves. For indeed, the work of another standout artist, Gupta’s wife Bharti Kher, also in the exhibit, felt incongruous, even though I found her sculpture of an imagined blue sperm whale heart decorated with thousands of bindis, An Absence of Assignable Cause, to be one of the most intriguing pieces in the show.

In general, I enjoyed the experience and chance to explore the themes relevant to modern India through its artwork, especially given the higher cultural profile India has achieved in the UK thanks to the film Slumdog Millionaire and countless TV travelogues lately.

On the downside, I was hoping for some video art, as it can often be one of the most exciting and diverse mediums and I’d heard that renowned video artists Tushar Joag and Pushpamala N were part of this exhibition. But I was left disappointed in that arena.

The Empire Strikes Back: Indian Art Today is at the Saatchi Gallery ( in London until May 8. Admission is free.

Image: Huma Mulji Arabian Delight, 2008 Rexine suitcase, taxidermy camel, metal rods, wood, cotton wool, fabric 105 x 144 x 155 cm (open with lid) Courtesy of the Saatchi Gallery, London ©Huma Mulji, 2010