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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Vision To Visuals

Work of an Indian artist revealed

Stephen Huyler’s photography of India.

I grew up in India at a time when its identity was still symbolized by craftsmanship and cottage industries, and not by Internet technology or outsourcing centers. Spending my formative years in India’s rich cultural milieu etched permanent impressions of beauty on my mind, which have continued to guide my decisions through all my work with artists at Duggal.

In the more than four decades of my company’s existence, I’ve had the good fortune of working closely with artists who have celebrated India’s versatile beauty in countless forms. From the archives of Magnum photographers, including the great Henri Cartier-Bresson, Raghu Rai and Steve McCurry, to the paintings of Francesco Clemente and the fashion inspirations of Donna Karan, I’ve been able to rediscover India through their versatile lenses. These folk traditions, colors, textures, drawings and forms that make visual artists fall in love with India survive mostly due to the efforts of an invisible group of rural artisans who, in following their ancestral routines in occupation and rituals, inadvertently preserve the essential cultural foundation that makes India as unique and complex as it is. I believe that it’s in discovering and studying these invisible heroes of the country’s culture that an artist can find true inspiration in India.

Stephen Huyler, an art historian, cultural anthropologist, photographer and author, has been conducting a lifelong survey of India’s art and crafts and their meanings within rural societies, and has spent almost four decades studying and documenting behind-the-scenes India. Huyler has been traveling in India since 1971, and his deep connection to India is evident in several books he has published on the subject. Huyler’s exquisite lens has captured varying aspects of India’s culture from an anthropologist’s perspective, digging deep below the surface of observed customs and beliefs, and unearthing surprising offshoots within this evolving culture.

The most beautiful discovery of Huyler’s work is his photography of the rural artisan Sonabai whose remarkable story is one of a self-taught artist who as a young bride was forced by her husband to live in total isolation for 15 years. Separated from the outside world, Sonabai populated the interior mud walls of her home with colorful, whimsical sculptures created exclusively from her own vivid imagination. Unfamiliar with any art outside the limited decorations of her village, she invented a style all her own and unique in Indian art. Today in the remote rural villages of her central Indian state, many other artists practice Sonabai’s style.

It has been one of my greatest privileges to work with Huyler in realizing the first Western exhibition on Sonabai’s work at the Mingei International Museum in San Diego last month. Huyler first traveled to the remote central Indian village of Puhputra in the state of Chhatisgarh in 2001 to document the life of Sonabai Rajawar for a chapter in his book Daughters of India. He was so impressed by Sonabai’s home, her art and her life story that he resolved to collect the material for an exhibition, book and film solely about her.

Huyler’s dedication and commitment to bringing Sonabai’s work to the West is an exemplary testament of his love for India. He approached us almost five years ago with the concept for this exhibition. He wanted to create a multidimensional exhibition on Sonabai’s work with a synthesis of photography, sculpture, music and film, but the logistics of creating such an ambitious cross-continental project took several years in the planning. Since we had worked with Huyler on his exhibition “Meeting God: Elements of Hindu Devotion” at the American Museum of Natural History in 2002, he asked us for help in creating this exhibition. He started working closely with our team led by Jose Vargas, who as a trained architect helped give shape to Huyler’s concept of re-creating Sonabai’s world, including her village and house, in the heart of San Diego.


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