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The Missing One

Curated by Nada Raza

Gaganendranth Tagore, Resurrection, c. 1922, courtesy the Samdani Art Foundation Collection. Photo courtesy of the Dhaka Art Summit and Samdani Art Foundation. Photo credit: Jenni Carter

“…the deeper we seek, the more is our wonder excited, the more is the dazzlement for our gaze”Dr. Abdus Salam, Nobel Prize banquet speech, Stockholm 1979

Nirrudesher Kahani or The Story of The Missing One – written in 1896 by Jagadish Chandra Bose (1858-1937) is thought to be one of the first tales of science or speculative fiction in Bangla. It was a tale of miracle; a cyclone quelled with physics, by pouring oil on water. Bose was a pioneering inventor of instruments for wireless technology and the study of nature, and a crater on the moon was named after the research scientist. The encounter with modernity and scientific progress at the turn of the twentieth century generated lively intellectual debate in South Asia. Its influence sparked radical ideas and encouraged fresh approaches to religion and culture, particularly in Bengal, even as the idea of freedom and self-governance took hold. Bose was close to the Tagore family who were central to the intellectual world of what is called the Bengal Renaissance, generative for art, music and literature; Gaganendranath Tagore painted a portrait of him that now hangs at the Bose Institute in Calcutta.

It would have been against this backdrop that the artist painted Resurrection around the early 1920s. It is an ethereal painting, with a circular vortex of clouds and rays of light circulating around a raised central formation, as if we are staring up at the heavens. And here is the enigma; at the centre of this futuristic work is a religious icon. A celestial cross is clearly visible within an arch, and a saintly glowing figure, refracting the light. Tagore’s vision confronts us from almost a century ago and presents modern progress and religious faith in cerulean blue harmony.

We time-travel a hundred or so years to the turn of the millennium in South Asia, from the late 1990’s to the present, to see how the experiences of artists who benefited from the advancements of the modern age might respond to the themes of science and spirituality central to our genre. The exhibition is arranged in three broad movements, united by the visual metaphor of looking up at the sky. The first is enchantment, the second, alienation and the last, dystopia and the possibility of redemption. It follows, in some loose sense, the plot of a generic science fiction novel or film – a happy,innocent world, the hostile appearance of a foreign or extra-terrestrial being and finally, at the climax, apocalyptic threat with the potential for salvation via faith and human will.

Participating artists include Ronni Ahmmed, David Alesworth, Shishir Bhattacharjee, Fahd Burki, Neha Choksi, Iftikhar Dadi and Elizabeth Dadi, Rohini Devasher, Marzia Farhana, Aamir Habib, Zihan Karim, Ali Kazim, Sanjeewa Kumara, Firoz Mahmud, Mehreen Murtaza, Saskia Pintelon, Sahej Rahal, Tejal Shah, Zoya Siddiqui and Janet Meaney, Himali Singh Soin, Mariam Suhail, and Hajra Waheed.

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