In the words of Jaret Vadera ART ’09, there are two ways of looking at the world: “There are those who say, ‘We’re all the same,’ and those who say, ‘We’re all different.’ There are problems with both.”
Through “Shifting Shapes — Unstable Signs,” an exhibit co-created by School of Art Dean Robert Storr, Vadera is looking for a third way — a way “to find the similarities and differences in things simultaneously,” he said.
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And by “things” Vadera primarily means contemporary Indian art. “Shifting Shapes,” which opens Tuesday at the new School of Art Gallery in the Sculpture Building on Edgewood Avenue, brings together the work of artists from India and the Indian Diaspora.
But that is about all the pieces have in common.
“India is the largest contemporary democratic country so there really isn’t one quintessential type of art. You wouldn’t say that America has one ‘type’ of art either,” Storr explained.
Echoed Vadera: “This isn’t ‘The Indian Show.’ We’re not trying to essentialize what India is. There’s a lot of baggage that comes with that.”
The show, he said, is intentionally lacking in continuity: photographs, paintings, comic strips, neon signage, sculpture and video make up the assortment of works on display at the new Sculpture Building and Gallery on Edgewood Avenue. The building, which has been used as a “swing space” for the Department of Architecture during the renovation of the A&A Building, finally opened its doors to the Sculpture Department over winter break, said Jessica Stockholder, director of graduate studies for sculpture at the School of Art.
“We’re still trying to get our bearings,” she said of the move-in process.
“Shifting Shapes” is the gallery’s inaugural show, and in March and April the space will house the thesis projects of students in the department.
But for now, the glass-fronted building is home to more than just sculptures. There is a giant yellow flag made out of tape with the words “there is no border here” written along it by Shilpa Gupta, a Mumbai-based artist in her early 30s.
Black and white photographs by artist Vivan Sundaram are hung next to bright Technicolor photographs of everyday scenes by Ram Rahman ART ’79. Rahman is the only artist in the exhibit to have graduated from Yale.
A pink neon sign that says “Poser,” by Kenya-born Brendan Fernandes, hangs at the front of the space.
“His piece is so hot,” Vadera said.
If there is one continuous theme to “Shifting Shapes,” it is the idea of breaking down categories, Vadera said. The works on display break down notions of gender, sexuality, identity within culture and identity within nationalism. The show has works by a number of gay and lesbian artists including Bhupen Khakar, the only non-living artist featured and one of the first openly gay artists in India.
The aim of breaking down preconceived notions is furthered by the conspicuously missing plaques next to each piece of art. Vadera explained that this allows the works to provide “information, but no answers,” and gives the viewer the opportunity to be involved in the creative process.
“We want people to come in, look at the work and react without the baggage we’ve inherited but not necessarily created ourselves,” he said.
Vadera and Storr were originally interested in Indian art in particular for different reasons. For Storr, who is involved in the international art community, exposing Yale to the variety of international contemporary art was the priority, and India seemed like a logical place to start.
“I’ve spent a lot of time looking at Indian art so I wanted to bring some of it here and show that there really is no typical type,” he said.
For Vadera, who was born in Canada and is of Indian and Filipino descent, his life itself has been a dialogue about contexts. The exhibition is an extension of that notion: “We wanted to convey how artists are shape-shifters. They re-contextualize, twist and turn iconography.”
“The world is changing,” he added. “We’re just trying to change with it.”
Two panel discussions — one on Feb. 10 and the other on Feb. 17 — will accompany the exhibition.