Over the ages, art and culture have always maintained a symbiotic relationship, one influencing the other and, in some cases, serving as a harbinger of change. Both are irrevocably insignificant without the presence of the other. But, what might be noted here is the definitive effect and influence of culture on art. Culture not only inspired some of the greatest artists of our generation and those who came before us, but it also lent itself as a social context to define some of the greatest works of art.
You can see these influences across the generations; whether in the incredible representations of Edouard Manet of the life of “bourgeoisie” which at the time was considered vulgar and absurd, but which was in fact a mirroring interpretation of the underside of Parisian society or of “Fearless Girl”. By Tali Gumbiner and Lizzie Wilson who, even in her fair share of criticism, has become a symbol of women’s empowerment. For art, culture plays the double role of muse and dictionary.
So if art and culture are mutually inclusive, what does this mean for a country like India?
Well, when it comes to India, you could say that the country is steeped in artistic inspiration. Since the roots of our culture can be traced back to the times of the Indus Valley Civilization, Indian culture has undergone a kind of metamorphosis, creating an amalgam of diversity ranging from Aryan, Mughal, Dravidian and European lineages. So whether it is our languages, our rituals, our religion or our social labels, Indian culture is steeped in history, heritage and civil evolution, presenting the perfect backdrop. for any artist to absorb and interpret.
Understanding this diversity and the role art plays as a means of presenting it, not only to the world but to the societies that make up the complex social framework of such a vast nation, is essential to understanding the cascading influence of Indian culture on art. This relevance and this delicate narration whether through canvas, song, dance or quatrain; forms the very essence of some of the incredible works produced by famous Indian artists. Take for example MF Hussain who was largely influenced by Indian goddesses, or Subodh Gupta, a contemporary artist influenced by the humble everyday objects used in a typical Indian home.
The sometimes subtle and more often bold undertones of Indian culture have and will continue to influence Indian artists.
At the very beginning, when we start to unravel the nuances that influence Indian culture and, therefore, art, we see religion and a sense of homeland at the top of this list. That is why if we browse the pages of India’s historical and artistic sensibility, you will see them adorned with depictions of myths, legends and patriotism. From the epic painting ‘Shakuntala’ by Raja Ravi Varma in 1870 which brought one of the most iconic Mahabharata figures to life to ‘Bharat Maa’ by Abanindranath Tagore who used symbolism to bring together a country torn apart by colonialism , Indian artists have used art to represent culture as well as to lend a voice to the movements and idiosyncrasies that have defined their generations.
Moreover, in a country with more than 19,500 languages and dialects, it is not surprising that language has been a central subject for many artists. For example, regional scripts like Devnagiri, thanks to their intricate detail, have been recreated in several works of art. Abanindranath Tagore reinvented Bengali writing in a calligraphic form. Although distinct in style, both works captured the essence of Indian languages in all their glory and showed the world that inspiration can be found even in the letters of the alphabet.
Indian culture makes a lasting impression
While Western and European influences may have influenced Indian artists for some time in the early 2000s, the current Indian aesthetic is a blend of cultural authenticity and modern interpretations. Take, for example, Delhi-based figurative painter Vinod Balak whose surrealist work combines western art conventions with a very distinct Indian cultural flavor. Whether in his dystopian canvas titled ‘Tomorrowland’ or his juxtaposition of Indian spirituality and pop culture in ‘Vishnu with Bonsai’ the influences are pronounced and in fact serve as inspiration in the latter.
In fact, if we dig a little deeper, we will realize that Indian culture has continued to inspire Indian artists not only to create beautiful works of art, but also to spark conversations and challenge the status quo dialogue. And no artist immortalizes this meaning more than Bharti Kher, whose signature “Bindi” motif captivated audiences with its subtle yet pronounced message of the revived sense of femininity; whether through sculptures or adorned on the signature Lady Dior bag.
When you start to notice India’s unique cultural sensitivities, you will begin to see its imprint on art forms that go beyond those that are spread on canvas. You begin to identify their effect on architecture, literature, theater and even fashion. Vibrant and lively performances by Katputli theater that tells tales of legends and heroes, a mix of Victorian and Mughal architectural influences that span from landmarks and iconic buildings across the country to workshops (local and international) drawing inspiration from the clothing and accessories of Bygone eras, the influence of Indian culture on art in India is endless.
The opinions expressed above are those of the author.
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