top of page

Very Small Feelings

Co-curated by Diana Campbell (Artistic Director, Samdani Art Foundation) and Akansha Rastogi (Senior Curator, Kiran Nadar Museum of Art) with Ruxmini Choudhury (Curator, Samdani Art Foundation)

This exhibition is a collaboration between Samdani Art Foundation and the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, and has traveled to KNMA in July 2023 


Going completely blind in 1956 did not keep the Indian modern artist Benodebehari Mukherjee from teaching art in Santiniketan. Students recall his lessons in sensing space when he would lead the class to observe trees and particular spots on campus, elaborately describing how light must be falling and casting shadows and other minor events, as if he had observed and sensed this rhythmic relationship in nature a zillion times. 


Very Small Feelings (VSF) invites us to tap into our memories as Benodebehari did, continuing to feel, experience, and believe in the world beyond what we see with our eyes, beyond linear, sequential time. To feel the far away as near, the near as far, the minute as monumental, the monumental as minute, all with a sense of magic and awe. Playful and anecdotal stories change as they travel from mouth to ear and to mouth again, animating the uneventful repetition of daily rituals into something profound, amplifying the thud of a falling jackfruit that stuns two siblings, wafting smells of disappeared places, raising a swell of questions around gender that prod a young mind, amongst many other things. 


The exhibition seeks to encounter the eternal ‘inner child,’ and bind us to it strongly.

Interested in the spoken word, and the generative space of orality built through the telling and retelling of stories, VSF gently holds and hosts the figure of the child and childhood play as a stage. Play in formative years where the self begins, and transforms. VSF approaches childhood as a place that we can enter and exit at will, examining it through our lived experiences and biases. While there is much that is hard to remember and to reconcile, we must return to our inner child to heal traumas we may carry as adults. 


Loving, permeable, ambiguous, and dazed; full of stories and fables, rituals and folklore, characters, popular cartoons, children's books and illustrations, memories, and actions that produce many kinds of surfaces, we call this hard-to-define space for intergenerational conversations and entanglements a ‘Spread’. One end of the Spread highlights pedagogical experiments and creative collaborations between artists and young learners, historically looking at children’s culture and practices of select South Asian modernists as illustrators and initiators of platforms for learning and arts mediation. The other end deeply engages with idea of ‘a child’ as instinct, curiosity, play, imagination, innocence, language, future, past, and much more – a whole person with emotions, germs, feelings, pursuits, questions, silliness, joyous wonderment, inheritance, memories, and innumerable things passed down genetically and culturally.


Artists in the Spread appear as storytellers, researchers, provocateurs, educators, prisms, and makers developing different methods in their unique environments. We—the curators, mediators, and visitors—build further on that Spread and turn VSF into a playground and a generative space for learning and exchange. It is here that Who the Baer, Sambras, Bonna, Tokai, Meena, Bon Bibi, a stag, crows, two not-named siblings, a young boy, a mother with her toddler, and countless other characters who are real in the imaginations of many, tease out tales, histories, emotions, big and small, through their relationships with other bodies, with family, community, and the world around them. And also in relation to our own bodies as participants inside the exhibition. 


So, let’s enter gently, in pairs or with a chosen group. To play, to be the play, to do what we like. There are many rituals to choose from, stories to listen to, many ears to which to tell yours, too. It is all the rhythm of a day. Night shall bring its own hum.


Location: First Floor Lobby and South Plaza




Ahmet Öğüt 

Jump Up!, 2022

Audience activated trampolines installed with Benodebehari Mukherjee’s works from the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art Collection hung above eye-level 


Exhibited with the support of SAHA


Audiences encounter works by the Indian modernist master Benodebehari Mukherjee that were created in the final years of his life, after he had gone blind. Rather than being hung at eye-level, the artist Ahmet Öğüt placed these works above eye-level - just outside of reach to fully take in - even with functional eyesight. Museums and galleries assume an average height of a viewer to determine how they hang things, making many works out of viewing range for children, people in wheelchairs, etc. The way that Öğüt chose to hang these works of art contributes to a sense of a distorted horizon in the room, which refers not only to the balance shifted during the earth’s displacement, but also tо the disturbances that result from political shifts and their interconnections. Viewers become performers while their history-related memories that they collectively experience through their own physical experience is activated in a jump.  


Öğüt is a sociocultural initiator, artist, and lecturer. Working across a variety of media, including photography, video, and installation, the artist often uses humor and small gestures to offer his commentary on serious and/or pressing social and political issues. Öğüt is regularly collaborating with people from outside of the art world to create shifts in collective perception of society. 


b. 1981, Diyarbakır; lives and works in Istanbul, Amsterdam and Berlin



David Horvitz 

Change the Name of Days, 2021/2023

Poster Edition of Artist Book published by Jean ​​Boîte Éditions & Yvon Lambert


Seventeen prompts to imagine the world differently pop up across the museum – on the glass facades, windows, restrooms, near the escalator and many unexpected places in the mall. These prompts are a selection from thirty-two lessons and short teaching units developed by David Horvitz, an artist and a father, with the help of his then 5-year-old daughter, originally published in an artist book entitled Change the Name of the Days. Each prompt provides DAS visitors with an opportunity to develop performative actions, and to build new personal collections of poetic instruments and thoughts. From instructions such as "welcome the night into your house" to “exchange breaths with a plant,” this artistic intervention invites reflection on the immateriality of the world surrounding us, unlearning what we know and have been taught and, instead, learning something else, something new. We invite all museum visitors to choose any prompt and perform.

 

Performance, the idea of the game, and exchange with the public are central to Horvitz’s practice. The concept of time in relation to the body and to paired relationships, is found in most of his work, spanning art books, photography, performance art, and mail art as well as new media, often exploring the relationship between man-made systems and natural phenomena. 


b. 1982, Los Angeles; lives and works in Los Angeles



Ade Dianita and Aditya Novali

Significant Other, 2022-2023

Interactive installation with drawings on canvas, overhead projectors, and transparencies

Commissioned by Kiran Nadar Museum of Art and Samdani Art Foundation with the support of Roh projects


Ade Dianita and Aditya Novali’s Significant Other is the newest iteration of an ongoing project inspired by the exchange between two artists, a sister and a brother. Ade is the younger sister of Aditya and lives with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) as well as Down’s Syndrome, which impacts how she communicates and interacts socially with her family and wider society. Ade is a full-grown woman with the mental age of a 5-year-old and, through the development of their lifelong relationship, Aditya observed that Ade finds comfort in obsessively making drawings on a daily basis at home, drawings which bear a strikingly similar visual language and orderliness to his own abstract compositions exhibited at museums and galleries around the world. This work expresses a certain communication and bond between the two in a way that goes beyond words and intellect, a deep connection between siblings.


This site-specific installation brings the brother and sister pair together where Ade’s drawings, translated into overhead transparencies, are projected over Aditya’s 365 permutations of identical-sized canvases containing complex abstractions that are almost counterintuitively based on the way both Ade and Aditya were taught to draw in school, following the most basic structures of colonial-influenced Mooi Indie paintings— the sun, two mountains, and paddy fields. The images represented on each panel recall a time in Aditya’s childhood that thereafter informs the current mental state of Ade, who in the (mis)perception of society, will forever be a child. Occupying the walls of an enclosed space, these canvases are interpolated with scans of Ade’s drawings printed on transparent paper, which are projected upon the canvases through a number of overhead projectors, establishing a contextual interrelationship between the works of both Ade and Aditya Novali. 

 

Novali makes sculptures and installations using complex methods of production as well as commercial materials. Influenced by his background in architecture, his work addresses themes such as structure, space, and urban planning. Using audience participation, Novali’s works act as investigations of social issues related to space with the help of methodological techniques and orderly systems. 


b. 1978, Surakarta; lives and works in Surakarta




Afra Eisma 

Poke Press Squeeze Clasp, 2021-23

Yarn, ceramics and textiles


Organized with the support of Mondriaan Funds and Kunstinstituut Melly with curatorial contributions of Sofía Hernández Chong Cuy and Rosa de Graaf 

Courtesy of the artist and No Man’s Art Gallery


Drawing on literature by influential female authors from across cultures such as Begum Rokeya, Audre Lorde and Ursula K. Le Guin, Eisma interweaves characters from her imagination with ideas provoked by the work of the writers that she reads. Eisma creates a welcoming and lively gathering space where we can intertwine our limbs with those of the otherworldly and alien beings, taking delight in physical proximity, assembly, and embrace, core elements to our human experience. Gathered around a floor tapestry, these figures invite us to become entangled in their embrace and engage in conversation with their worlds and the worlds of other visitors, and to imagine new worlds altogether. 


Responding to an increasing experience of uneasiness, isolation, and uncertainty towards anything deemed extraneous to our familial environment, Eisma seeks to appease these maladies by fostering mutual understanding and shared experience through art. Using craft techniques in novel ways, Eisma explores and manifests personal stories through immersive and intimate installations of textiles, sculptures, and ceramics. Inspiring her works are characters or imaginary friends that interweave sensuality with lightheartedness. 


b.1993 the Hague; lives and works in the Hague




Afrah Shafiq  

Nobody Knows for Certain, 2021-2022

Interactive Fiction and Archival Game


This project was created with the support of the Garage Field Research program of Garage Museum of Contemporary Art, Moscow for the Garage Digital platform


Nobody Knows for Certain is an online narrative video game and an invitation to submerge oneself in a sea of stories. The project’s point of departure was an artistic inquiry into cultural exchange between the USSR and South Asia during the Cold War, and particularly into the phenomenon of Soviet children’s books translated into major Indian languages. Decades of intense Soviet diplomacy between South Asia and the USSR in the postwar period have led to the formation of a common space where culture was shared by South Asian and Soviet peoples— translated literature, bilateral film distribution, tours by ballet companies and circus troupes saturated the collective imagination and offered mutual insights for people living in a vast geographical expanse stretching “from the Volga to the Ganges” (to borrow from the title of Rahul Sankrityayan’s collection of historical fiction short stories.)

 

In particular, Slavic fairytales and Soviet stories formed a significant part of the childhood memories of those who grew up in the Indian subcontinent from the 1960s to the mid-1980s. Today, in a number of South Asian countries, there is a thriving subculture of collectors of these now out-of-print books, holding onto a childhood nostalgia and a deep affection for a nation that was never theirs and which no longer exists.

 

Going beyond the imagery associated with Communist propaganda, Shafiq draws from a variety of sources such as Eastern Slavic mythology and folk traditions, book illustrations, children’s letters to editors, sound archives, lacquer miniatures, textiles, and decorative arts. She melds these characters, fragments, and disjointed elements to make an interactive game. The unique blended narrative is enriched with the presence of original characters invented by the artist such as a cat without a tail and a matryoshka doll who is empty inside. Tapping into the emancipatory potential of a storytelling unloosed, Shafiq critically revisits the morphology of the folk tale and brings essential philosophical and political updates into the narrative, inviting audiences to dive into, play, make choices, and explore.


Shafiq adapts the process of research as an artistic playground. She intertwines archival findings, history, memory, folklore, and fantasy to create a speculative world born of remixed cultures. Her work moves across various mediums, drawing from the handmade language of traditional folk forms and connecting them to the digital language of the Internet and video games. When she is not glued to her computer, she makes glass mosaics.


b. 1989, Bangalore; lives and works in Goa


Research, Script, Animation and Art: Afrah Shafiq

Lead Programmer: Kushal Neil

Lead Animator: Piyush Verma

Additional Animation: Eeshani Mitra

Original Score and Music Production: Rushad Mistry and Zohran Miranda

Sound Design & Game Audio Implementation: Horacio Valdiveso

Project curators: Iaroslav Volovod and Valentin Diaconov

Garage Field Research Team: Oxana Polyakova, Daria Bobrenko and Ivan Yarygin




Amitav Ghosh, Salman Toor, and Ali Sethi 


Jungle Nama, 2021

A book and audiobook imagined as an installation with scenography by GOLEM, 2023

Courtesy of artists and Harper Collins India

 

They say when you retell a legend or listen to one, new voices come to it to haunt the narrative. 

 

The Sundarbans—where story, myth and reality meet—earned its name from the Sundari tree, and is the planet’s largest delta and mangrove forest. It spreads across the western coast of Bangladesh and the southern shore of West Bengal in India. The Bengali story-in-verse of the guardian of this forest is the legend of Bon Bibi and her fight with Dakshin Rai, a spirit who appears as a tiger to the natives. It is popular in the villages of the Sundarbans and often enacted in Pala or Jatragaan (local epic storytelling performances), and it erases religious boundaries between Hindus and Muslims as both venerate the forest and its goddess. The Sundari trees are known for their high-value wood and are at the brink of extinction. 

 

Jungle Nama, an adaptation of one episode of the legend by author Amitav Ghosh, was published in book form with illustrations by artist Salman Toor, and narrated by musician Ali Sethi. The verse is an allegorical exploration of human greed, ecological escapades, the relationship of a people with their forest and the resources around them, together resulting in the real crisis of climate change. Ghosh’s English-language, interpretation is told entirely in the poyar-like meter of twenty-four syllable couplets replicating the cadence of the original Bengali version. Within the story, the rhyme and meter of speaking out the words has a spell-like effect of invoking the goddess. This sound and visual installation reimagine the book as an immersive space for DAS visitors to access the world of mangroves, wetlands, alligators, the mighty spirit of Dakshin Rai, the avaricious rich merchant Dhona, the poor lad Dukhey. Salman Toor’s black and white drawings are haunting images that travel with you, along with pairs of eyes of creatures and beings, gleaming through the darkness of the mangroves.

 

Amitav Ghosh is an award-winning author of historical fiction and non-fiction books that address colonialism and climate change, particularly how they affect the people of South Asia. Salman Toor is a painter known for his small-scale figurative works that combine academic technique and a quick, sketch-like style. Recurring color palettes and references to art history heighten the emotional impact of Toor’s paintings and add a fantastical element to his narratives drawn from lived experience, as well as the imagined lives of young, queer Brown men residing between New York City and South Asia. Ali Sethi is a singer, songwriter, composer, and author noted for his ability to blend Hindustani classical ragas with contemporary Western arrangements, combining live musical performances with historical narratives, cultural context, and critical commentary. Together, these collaborators have brought words, sounds, and images together to evoke a story experienced in public space, with scenography by GOLEM, an international architecture, art, and design studio based in Paris.

 

Amitav Ghosh b. 1956, Kolkata; lives and works in New York

Salman Toor b. 1983, Lahore; lives and works in New York

Ali Sethi b. 1984, Lahore; lives and works in New York


GOLEM design team:  Ariel Claudet and Sara Layoun





Anpu Varkey


Summer’s Children, 2017-19

Selected drawings from the set of 92 works made for the graphic novel

Felt tip pen and brush pen on paper

Collection: Kiran Nadar Museum of Art

 

Set inside a rubber plantation in Kerala, Summer’s Children resides in the memory of a lost place and childhood seen through the eyes of two siblings as they traverse the day. Both run across the field, through ant trails, and rubber trees. They run to the river and to the rain, curious and observant, and looking alike. They pick leaves, wander into thickets, chase animals, swim and catch fish in the village pond, crane their necks to look up to the sky, trees, and adults. Dot by dot, episodic memory, plays, sounds and landscape of childhood come to touch and visit us. Childhood here is a new place of observation and inquiry, of nostalgia, smells, and stories. Made for a self-published artist book, reading these monochromatic drawings is to attune yourself to a slow, joyful, sensorial looking and passing of a day where many delicate, minor events happen around us. 


Up on the tree, a nutmeg pod pops. A jackfruit falls on the ground. Fire ants make a leaf-house on guava trees. Varkey took two years to complete this silent graphic novel, which is partly autobiographical and based on time spent in her grandmother’s ancestral village in rural Kerala. With each drawing, she creates a space she didn’t know she inhabited or still carries within her. 

 

Known for distinct graffiti and public murals in different cities of India, Anpu Varkey’s practice pulses with attitude: unapologetic, experimental, and not afraid to share her vulnerabilities. Over the years, she has contributed immensely to the vibrant growing street art scene in India. Graphic novels and bookmaking are another aspect of her practice.  

 

b. 1980, Bangalore; lives and works in Bangalore




Anga Art Collective


Khaal Gaaon, 2022-2023

Audio visual installation with bamboo, clay, earth, and jute elements

Commissioned by Samdani Art Foundation and Kiran Nadar Museum of Art with additional support from the Inlaks Shivdasani Foundation


Contributors:


Jugal Kumar, Anup Let, Devadeep Gupta, Gyanwant Yadav and Umesh Singh



Cluster of different materials, interactive vehicles, seeds, books and intimate play spaces welcome you to Anga Art Collective’s new iteration of their installation Khaal Gaon, further evolved from its first occurrence in the Dhaka edition of the exhibition. They are inspired by sutal which in Assamese means a play-area that has multiple entry points. Creating a dense interlinkages of visual and sensory stories they have conceptually developed Khaal Gaon as a laboratory space where individual practices, observations and thoughts of members of the collective are in conversation with each other. With this evolving vocabulary of their collective kNOw school, they invite visitors to engage in the indigenous ways of knowing and further stretching the contours of Khaal Gaon.


This project is derived from two Assamese words: Khaal, meaning low land or a small water body in and around a village settlement, and Gaaon, meaning village. Since the 1970s, regular floods and river erosion in the Rahmariya region of upper Assam (located in what is now India) have gradually erased water bodies, fertile fields, wetlands, vegetation, and a cluster of 35 villages, leading to villagers’ displacement and resettlement in distant villages. Submerged under the endless flow of the river Brahmaputra, Khal Gaaon disappeared from the physical geography and settled into the oral history of its people and their descendants. Remembered as an arena of community feasts, fishing festivals full of life and rural energies, as well as a music and performative space, the Khaal Gaon is now only present in stories of the elderly generation who once inhabited the land as young adults. It emerges in the exhibition as a place conjured from the collective memories of its displaced inhabitants.


Members of Anga Art Collective take this invisible village and the childhood memories of its inhabitants as a lens to rethink the figure of the child as part of a depleting landscape in an ecologically and politically turbulent context. From their field trips near the site of this invisible village and conversations with the elderly generation, they invoke an immersive place loaded with the barter system practice, the playfulness associated with materials, architectures, and performances. Climate migration and seasonal displacements are common in this flood-prone region, and have altered the occupations, site, stories, and memories of the community. This installation navigates the collective psyche of a displaced community, and explores relationships connecting age and ecology, artistic language and memory, playfulness, and elderliness.


Initiated in 2010 by a group of friends, Anga Art Collective came together with the vision to engage with the contemporary and the layered history of Assam in Northeast India through art. With 13 current members, Anga fosters a creative and collaborative space for practice, which is developed by sharing knowledge with other artists, village communities, ecologists, academics, and activists. Know School and the Granary are two such initiatives that are site-specific as well as pedagogical exercises in community-based learning and re-learning. For Anga, a collective is a growing process rather than a closed ensemble.




Ashfika Rahman


The Paper Box Gallery, 2023

Handmade paper from waste 

Co-commissioned by Samdani Art Foundation and Kiran Nadar Museum of Art


The Paper Box Gallery is a futurist model idea of waste turning into an eco-friendly pop-up community gallery, where the structure of the makeshift gallery is made of small paper bricks created from underwater garbage. Every year, one-third of Bangladesh experiences floods during the monsoon season. The growing amount of garbage in the water choking drainage systems is a main cause. In collaboration with invited artist Mahmuda Siddika, architect Ar. Sayon Sur and the children from the artist’s grandmother’s neighborhood—the biggest wetland in Bangladesh known as Chalan Beel—the artist and her collaborators initiate a process of taking back garbage from the water. Waste transformed into usable handmade paper becomes both material for art and an exhibition space. The pop-up gallery is inspired by traditional installations that travel around different villages and exhibit household stories, part of vernacular Bangladeshi culture, but instead exhibited here in the middle of Dhaka Art Summit. The entire process explores questions of community collaboration, representation, community access in an exhibition, consent, and inclusive and sustainable ecosystems.  


Ashfika Rahman is a Bangladeshi visual artist, teacher, and art initiator, who explores systemic social issues in her home country through her work. Her practice straddles art and documentary. In each of her works, she tries to challenge mainstream perspectives on complex systemic social issues, especially the unequal treatment of minority communities in the periphery of Bangladesh, raising awareness globally about these alarming threats to humanity.

 

B 1988, Dhaka; lives and works in Bangladesh.


Blaise Joseph, Atreyee Day and New Education Group - Foundation for Innovative Research in Education (NEG-FIRE)


Multilingual Education Material - Books & Charts in indigenous languages, 2014 – 2015Handmade paper from waste

Books in indigenous languages of Konda Dhoras, Kui and Adivasi Odia, Baigani, Poraja and Gadaba


Inside the Belly of the Strange, oral traditions meet pedagogy playfully via the book-form and large wordless picture charts about seasons, rural ecology and rituals. With the intention of rethinking what ‘resource’ in education means, particularly for children belonging to indigenous communities whose access to books are always in not-their-own-spoken-language, a group of artist-educators, and grassroots organizations like Neg-Fire came together to develop and publish stories and poems for children in their mother tongues. They worked with tribal elders, government schools, primary teachers, drop-out youth, as well as students and program animators to make books that attempt to honor the spoken differences in each dialect and retain the earthiness of language of daily use rather than a codified grammar-bound singular language.  Blaise Joseph and Atreyee Day present a cross-section from the set of nineteen books and seven charts they developed in collaboration with communities of Araku (Andhra Pradesh) and Koraput (Odisha). These multi-use materials cover a range of everyday encounters and stories that are centuries old as well as match the current realities of the inhabitants that speak the language – ranging from a good hunt story, the beauty of changing seasons, village festivals and community celebrations, daily chores and routines at home/school/field/forest, to personal joys, losses of the child, and animal-human encounters.


Very Small Feelings exhibition and its expanded platform - Transnational Folklore Research Forum - intends a slow reflection of the collaborative spirit and journey of this multilingual book project, and a process of writing and illustrating which is not antithetical to the power of the oral but a fluid tool to connect and start conversations. 


Process:


In 2014, Blaise Joseph and Atreyee Day were invited as art facilitators and consultants to the Bhopal Chapter of NEG-FIRE, with whom they had lead community workshops on art and education since 2009 with Bhil, Gond and Biaga tribes in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh in Central India. Atreyee and Blaise approached indigenous communities via the workshop model to work with over a hundred participants from six tribal groups from the Araku and Koraput area. The first step was listening and gathering narratives and songs, local folklore, and versions important to each community. The next step progressed to editing, visualizing and storyboarding, transcribing, loosely translating, making rough drafts, cut-outs and collaging – again with the involvement of children and community members – in Telugu, Odia, Gadaba, Paraja, Adibasi/ Desiya Odia, Kondadora and Kui. This process helped the participants in this experiment reclaim their personal voice in retelling their brief human tales with humor and lightness. The freedom to express becomes primary motivation, winning over one’s oppressive situation or life conditions.


Blaise Joseph is an artist, art educator, and a farmer. He has been facilitating art workshops, community-based projects, developing art based curricula for educational institutions and various social organizations for the past 12 years. He has been leading the Kochi Biennale Foundation’s Art By Children Programme since 2018. Atreyee Day is an artist educator and illustrator who draws for and publishes with independent alternate publishers in India . She was part of a small school where art was the main medium of teaching and taught in semi-rural towns in the foothills of the Himalayas, and led collaborative workshops with Blaise on art pedagogy from 2012 to 2018.




Benodebehari Mukherjee 


Collages, 1957 – late 1960s

Graphite, colored paper, newspaper and jute thread, pasted on paper   

Collection: Kiran Nadar Museum of Art 

  

‘A man who has the power of sight need not be told what light is. And where there is light there is color.' - Benodebehari Mukherjee

                                                                                             

The sensory agility of these colorful collages draws one into the vision fields of Benodebehari Mukherjee. Made after he lost his vision at the age of 53, each collage was his attempt at re-constructing the world as he remembered it, re-building a visual language after a descent into complete blindness that he described as a “new feeling, new experience, and a new state of being.” Drawing from memory, sensing colors and textures, he pieced together scenes from the rural topography of Santiniketan, experiences of Jatra performances (a folk theater form of Bengal) and, responding to his environment and everyday stimuli, he created tactile surfaces with different materials like jute thread, newspaper, and smooth colored paper. With a child-like curiosity and playfulness, his inspiring daily practice of making and thinking visually, framed and re-framed the figure and its surroundings. Like the animated body of the Boy with Shell Nose, we see the fullness of the artist and what he was touching, feeling and imagining, an invitation for us to join in the act of sensing the artist’s world as well as our own worlds.

 

An important modernist figure of pre-Independent India, Mukherjee was one of the earliest artists in modern India to use murals as a mode of artistic expression. He studied at Kala Bhavana, Santiniketan in 1919, with Nandalal Bose and Rabindranath Tagore as his teachers, later becoming an art teacher there himself in 1925 and spending his most creative phase in Santiniketan until 1949. Like many of his peers, he was influenced by art from East Asia, and visited China and Japan between 1936-37 to learn different brush and ink techniques. In 1948, he traveled to Nepal as the Curator of the Nepal Government Museum, Kathmandu, and also spent several years in Mussorie and Dehradun training artist-teachers. As a pedagogue, he has influenced generations of students in Santiniketan and wrote critical and insightful reflections on pedagogy and arts education.  


b. 1904, Behala; d. 1980, New Delhi




Chittaprosad


Angels Without Fairy Tales, 1952

Linocut on paper

Collection: DAG Modern and Kiran Nadar Museum of Art 


Chittaprosad’s humanism makes us actors and witnesses to his questioning of unequal social relationships and ideas of progress in post-independent India. His figure of the child-worker undercuts the glorious image of childhood innocence. Angels Without Fairy Tales is an important linocut series that he first made in 1952, and later published by Danish UNICEF committee and dedicated it to the International Conference in Defence of Children. These tales of lost childhood highlight the atrocity of the daily labor of children from poor families or those orphaned and forced to share age-inappropriate responsibilities with adults. They speak of survival, deprivation, child abuse and premature adulthood: a boy-performer on the streets with a monkey, a kid with his box of shoe polish asleep on the pavement, a child rowing a boat to earn a living, another engaged in hard domestic chores of adults. 

 

Throughout his life, Chittaprosad remained an advocate of children’s rights. During his historically seminal reportage of the Bengal Famine of 1943, he documented the plight of children suffering from acute starvation, abandonment, abuse, and separation from family members, becoming beggars in order to survive. He visited orphanages that opened during the famine and reported on the conditions of children and the lack of medical supplies and relief for them. In his brush and ink famine drawings, he provocatively uses the gaze of famine-affected children with bloated stomachs, exhausted faces, malnourished bodies marked with wounds and disease to agitate the viewer into feeling empathy and taking action.



Tell Me a Story Please!, 1960s

Illustrations Made for Children’s Books, 1960s 

Kingdom of Rasagolla, Bengali Folktales Retold and Illustrated by Chittaprosad

The Little Mermaid, Nov 27, 1968

The Angel, Nov 28, 1968

Holger and Dane, 1960s

Linocut on paper

Collection: DAG Modern


Very Small Feelings exhibition literally and conceptually follows Chittaprosad’s prompt to “Tell me a story!”—inviting its artists and visitors to find spaces to tell, retell and listen to stories that are crucial to them. Chittaprosad created joyous and playful illustrations and prints for children’s books picturing a utopian and animated world of birds and animals, a stark contrast to his grim depictions of the ‘real world’ through images of child labor also present in the exhibition. Known for his socialist conviction, political fervor, and agitation, after his disassociation from the Communist Party in 1949, Chittaprosad spent most of his time in Bombay, expressing himself mostly in the medium of prints as well as making and experimenting with puppets and puppet theater. In Khelaghar (Playhouse), he wrote, directed, and designed costumes for plays and comedy shows for children of the informal settlements around his Andheri residence, which witnesses describe as being full of hope and laughter. Whether working with Bengali folk tales or the stories of famous western authors like Hans Christian Andersen, Chittaprosad’s illustrations were designed and approached with a folk-like simplicity, carrying the rhythm of nursery rhymes, while weaving in aspects of village life to evoke immediate familiarity and intimacy. 

 

Chittaprosad was a radical artist from undivided Bengal, who spent his early years in Chattagram, Bangladesh, formerly known as Chittagong. He was greatly inspired by the Chittagong Uprising of the 1930s. His visual accounts of death, illness, poverty, and strife in pre-independent India remain relevant even today. His iconic sketches of famine-stricken children, families, and dispensaries from the Bengal Famine series (1944-45) became eye-witness accounts disseminated through communist newspapers. He was a member of the undivided Communist Party of India until 1949 and contributed immensely to its cultural wing which involved many iconic writers, poets and artists.  

 

b. 1915; Naihati; d. 1978, Bombay




Driant Zeneli 


No wise fish would escape without flying 

2019, HD Video, color, sound, 07’10” 


How deep can a dragonfly swim under the ocean? 

2021, 4K film, color, sound,12’23’’ 


The firefly keeps falling and the snake keeps growing 

2022, color, sound, 11′46”

Courtesy of the artist and Giorgio Persano Gallery


In this trilogy of films, Zeneli harnesses a narrative structure, following the model of the contemporary fairytale, to amplify human feelings such as fear, failure, isolation, and envy. These internal feelings impact how humans form the external world through politics and architecture. The chapters are developed and filmed in iconic architectural spaces of Brutalist origin in three capitals of the Balkan Peninsula: The National Library in Prishtina, Republic of Kosovo, The Pyramid in Tirana, Albania, and the Post Office in Skopje, North Macedonia.


In the first film, a fish is trapped in a net, part of the architecture of the façade of the National Library of Kosovo, trying to escape from a shark.

A group of children who worked with the non-profit institution Bonevet—which considers technology as a method to learn science, understand life, and increase imagination—played a game with Zeneli to imagine a solution to release the fish from the net to escape the shark. Together, they composed a narrative that portrays the Brutalist architecture of the National Library as something transformable into malleable matter, and the nature of the fish as being like a bird that can float in the sky. The film offers us a story where the art of being wise is entrusted to children and the architecture of the National Library in Kosovo becomes a network of possibilities which are there for all of us to imagine.


The second film tells the story of a dragonfly that, despite being able to move its wings, is condemned to never fly, thus failing to get away from the ocean. The dragonfly, a symbol of spiritual depth, power, change of perspective, and adaptation recalls the real experience of Rilond Risto, who spent 21 years of isolation in Albanian prisons, creating mechanical insects capable of flight from various circumstantial tools during his last period of imprisonment. The dragonfly moves inside the Pyramid of Tirana, a memorial monument to the Albanian dictator Enver Hoxha built in late 1980s, and is held by it without the possibility to fly and escape from the Pyramid, a metaphor for the existential quest to escape the confines of externally imposed rules. 


The third film is set in the Post Office of Skopje, Macedonia, whose concrete structure, modeled in the shape of a lotus flower and completed in 1974, became the symbol of the reconstruction of the city after the devastating earthquake of 1963.The film is inspired by the fairytale of the firefly and the snake in which the snake, struck by the brightness of the firefly, tries at all costs to eat it, and reacts to that feeling of powerlessness in front of its bright glow— an allegory for the senseless, often ego-driven violence we experience in the world today.


Zeneli’s work challenges physical and intellectual limits by staging and performing ironic and dreamlike situations, which are often absurd. His performative approach makes us question how we experience time and identify with dreams, playing with reason while utilizing the wider public’s participation in the creation of his work. At the core of Zeneli’s performative actions, as well his films, is the redefinition of ideas of failure, utopia, and dream that open up possible alternative readings of the world. 


b. 1983, Shkoder; lives and works in Turin




Ganesh Pyne 


10 Illustrations from Shataborsher Roopkatha/Hundred Years of Fairy Tales, 1983

Pen and ink on paper

Collection: Kiran Nadar Museum of Art 

 

Saat Bhai Champa

Rajkumari Poncho Pushpa

Mone Mone

Maniraj

Ramdhanur Golpo

Chandrachur Rajputra

Pori-r-Golpo

Buro Angul

Kheede

Untitled

 

Well-known as the master of tempera technique, Ganesh Pyne’s painterly world full of dreamscapes, mysterious figures, and motifs emerges from the fairytales of Thakurmar Jhuli and similar sources.* Pyne’s childhood was spent in a crumbling mansion in Calcutta (present-day Kolkata), listening to his grandmother’s make-believe world of fairytales, folklore, and mythical stories from epics and witnessing jatra performances that sparked his imagination. He passionately drew animated illustrations and picture books for young children, a strong aspect of his practice which is only now gaining art-historical attention. He worked in an animation studio as an illustrator for almost two decades. His inclination for drawing and re-drawing figures from popular stories and mythology, rendering them into philosophical and vulnerable caveats, comes across in this unique suite of illustrations. These drawings were made for an anthology celebrating fairytales by iconic Bengali writers, from Sukumar Roy, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, and many others. Each illustration captures a poetic moment from the tales: the lonely woman at the window in Kheede, the queen nursing the ill in Rajkumari Poncho Pushpa, the prince smelling the flowers Mone Mone, or the king encountering seven of his children who turned into champa flowers in Saat Bhai Champa.

 

By creating visual parables, Pyne creates spaces for the reader to enter the stories and build their own joy, grief, and intimacy with these timeless tales. His larger body of work reflects upon the magical, mysterious world which is poetic and equally full of fear, death, darkness, and the unknown. As fellow artist Paritosh Sen beautifully observes, Pyne’s world is “where feeling becomes more important than seeing.”

 

*Thakumar Jhuli (1907) was one of the earliest published collections of indigenous Bengali folk and fairytales, edited and compiled by Dakhinaranjan Mitra Majumdar. It was one of the earliest attempts to document and publish the indigenous folklore of Bengal to reclaim the space encroached upon by the rise of popular English fairytale books. Dakhinaranjan traveled across many villages recording verbal narrations of the folktales with his phonograph, and later edited and published them in several books. 


b.1937, Calcutta; d. 2013, Kolkata




Gidree Bawlee Foundation for the Arts


Bonna, 2022

Video, loop. Duration: 5 minutes

Commissioned by Samdani Art Foundation, Kiran Nadar Museum of Art and World Weather Network

 

Bangladesh is a place where girls named Bonna live, play, and grow with living and non-living beings of every gender orientation. Bonna literally translates to flood, but not all floods are bad. Many storms are named after people but, here, a person is named after a weather pattern. Bonna is a free spirit, and she brings chaos to the world. Sometimes chaos enables new possibilities to emerge as it breaks apart rigid structures. Violent destructive flooding in Bangladesh and other South Asian countries, due to climate change and man-made structures, is now a pressing concern and we can learn from stories that have been floating around for thousands of years in this land of rivers.   

 

The Bonna character encountered in this video was imagined by a group of children in Bangladesh whose community elders are climate migrants, many of whom have never left Bangladesh, but who acutely feel the impact of the world's carbon emissions while contributing very little to them. The children’s lives are intertwined with the community elders and their journeys of environmental migration to Thakurgaon, Bangladesh. They wrote the script for this video work interpreting the theme of the 2023 Dhaka Art Summit, re-contextualizing what it means to live with extreme weather. As a conceptual carryover from the Dhaka Art Summit 2023, Bonna joins many other characters that activate and anchor Very Small Feelings exhibition. 




Ghazaleh Avarzamani


Stuck-in-time Time Wall, 2022-2023

Soap installation 


Commissioned by Kiran Nadar Museum of Art and Samdani Art Foundation. Project supported by Canada Council for the Arts. 


Stuck-in-time Time Wall uses soap as a tool for both agency and discomfort. Exploring the political and domestic associations of soap as a material turned art object, this project examines the politics of education, the process of colonizing the mind and cleaning the body. It is triggered by the Point Four Program, a colonial post-war educational program to help developing nations “help themselves.” In 1949, as part of Cold War policies to combat the influence of the USSR, the Truman administration came up with the idea for a technical assistance program as a means to win the "hearts and minds" of countries “in the developing world,” sharing American know-how in various fields, especially agriculture, industry, and health. This program introduced a variety of materials, machines, and ideas through documentaries etc. Avarzamani’s intervention responds to the propaganda of the program and offers ever-changing blocks of soap as a quiet meditation on the human condition. The soaps were sourced from Cosco, one of the oldest soap-making companies in Bangladesh, and the production of this project was realized in collaboration with the organization TransEnd which supports the diverse transgender, non-binary and queer community in Bangladesh, and with further support from the team in India.

Avarzamani’s practice is committed to challenging hegemonic and epistemological structures by investigating the rules and methodologies used to shape power in society. Grounded in ideas of deconstruction, replication, and transformation, her research examines how education shapes psychosocial constructions of knowledge and cultural practices. Primarily working in sculpture and installation, she often explores games and play as tools to understand power dynamics and systems that are inherent but often hidden within our shared relationships.

b.1980, Tehran; lives and works between Toronto and Margate


14a

Guam Bus

The Guam Bus is run by brothers Michael and Jack Lujan Bevacqua from the Kabesa and Bittot clans of Guam. When both were children growing up in the 1980s and 1990s in Guam, there was very little media related to being Chamoru, or telling the stories of their people and teaching them their language. In 2015, after Michael had become a university professor and teacher of Chamoru and Jack had started a career as an artist, they decided to use their talents to create books, flashcards, comics, and games telling Chamoru stories and teaching the Chamoru language. Their initial inspiration was to create for Chamoru children today resources reflecting their heritage. To date, they have published three bilingual Chamoru-English children’s books, three comic books, produced three sets of flashcards for young learners of Chamoru, and released a Chamoru language bingo game in 2021.

 

Today, the mission of the Guam Bus is to revitalize the Chamoru language and empower the Chamoru people. They aim to do this primarily through the production of creative and academic works designed to inspire and educate the Chamoru people about their heritage and future possibilities as a people.




Irushi Tennekoon


Animated Films 

Studying Blue Whales (featuring Asha de Vos, Marine Biologist), 2019, 3 minutes 

The Umbrella Thief (featuring Sybil Wettasinghe, Children's author and illustrator), 2020, 3 minutes

Colombo Wetlands and the Urban Fishing Cat (featuring Anya Ratnayaka), 2022, 6 minutes 


Irushi Tennekon’s ongoing series Animate Her interviews a group of exceptional women living and working in Sri Lanka, sharing their paths of work and life, to lay out alternatives to patriarchal structures created (primarily by men) for women to fall into. Through modes of stop-motion and experimental animation, the series brings to life the stories of a marine biologist, a children’s author and illustrator, a wildlife conservationist, a lawyer and activist, a traditional dancer, an architect, and an ICT entrepreneur. Responding to the invisibility of working women in public spaces and the idea of future heroines and role models with brown skin and dark hair, Tennekon’s heroines come from diverse fields in the arts, sciences and technology who challenge the norms and biases of their fields. As they share their journeys, risks taken, challenges embraced, the larger social and environmental ecospheres that govern one’s life choices become apparent, along with other topics including how Colombo wetlands prevent floods and disease.


Working as an artist, experimental animator, and storyteller, Tennekon strives to inspire more open-ended futures for women in Sri Lanka. While she has a background in English studies, her work seeks to bring visibility to heroines indigenous to Sri Lanka rather than imported from Euro-centric colonial traditions. 


b.1989, Sri Lanka; lives and works in Colombo and London




Jani Ruscica


Not-knot (to stain), 2023

Wood cut and mixed printing techniques


The inked and their Incandescent Irreverence (New Delhi)

Site-specific mural, 2023


Commissioned by Samdani Art Foundation and Kiran Nadar Museum of Art with support from the Finnish Cultural Institute 


Potentially familiar, yet only provisional, symbols, stretch, twist and contort themselves towards the very limits of recognition, extending themselves across the gallery space, almost holding it in an embrace. Like tattoos or graffiti on the skin of a building, appropriated linguistic signs start to take on human, animal, and plant-like qualities, seemingly performing for an audience as they turn and stretch. Refusing their intended meaning and gesturing towards new, freer ways of existing, through illegibility, fragmentation and incoherence, these signs and symbols playfully embody the slippery nature of language and its codifications. Jani’s site-specific mural playfully responds to the architectural spaces of the museum and other installed artworks in the exhibition.

 

Ruscica’s work spans a variety of mediums, using not only video, sound, and performance, but also sculpture, murals, and woodcuts. Looking for common ground between different and seemingly disparate art forms, their practice explores the mutability of meaning, the ties and slippages between interpretation and representation, questioning categories and binaries, and playfully collapsing boundaries of language, animacy and meaning.


b. 1978 Savonlinna; Lives and works in Helsinki




Jessy Razafimandimby


Si Seulement les souvenirs parvenaient du futur, 2022

Found object, bed sheet, pencil on paper

Courtesy of the artist and Sans Titre, Paris


Chants hirsutes, 2022

Found objects, woven straw, acrylic on bed sheet

Courtesy of the artist, private collection, Paris and Sans Titre, Paris


Presentation supported by Swiss Arts Council Pro Helvetia


Jessy Razafimandimby is interested in the stories behind objects and what they have to say about human behavior. He employs notions of the household as a metaphorical framework to question notions of taste, belonging, and power. An avid collector of domestic objects, his work has been described as an “archive of anecdotes,” where the rituals and traditions (of making) of their previous owners meet the personal history of the artist, coming alive in gestural, hybrid works that carry with them the artist’s childhood memories growing up Madagascar. Textiles are a common motif in the artist’s work; they link ornamental practices from paintings to bedsheets and play a role in concealing and revealing fictions and truths in theater and in life. These works are inspired by the artist’s childhood experience as an altar boy in Madagascar as well as his contemporary experience in Geneva. His mother continues to enact imported Christian rituals in her adopted home today when decorating altars for family ceremonies. The act of transmission fascinates the artist; many religious ceremonies use white cloth as part of rituals to purify and seal commitments to higher spiritual powers and to other human beings, as in the act of marriage. Transmission is also part of our hope for transformation, and the artist interprets ritual objects in straw, a kind of alchemy where “poor materials” can become precious through the act of belief. 


Razafimandimby’s multidisciplinary production encompasses painting, drawing, installations, and performance. Often, these practices converge, finding the artist manipulating fragmented decorative objects and textiles, which extend the work beyond its frame. These extensions reveal a clash between sculpture and painting, staged by the artist, as well as clashes of culture. He pays particular attention to the history of interior decoration and ornamentation, as well as social conventions of “good manners” that are traditionally linked to a conservative way of life and promoted by a classist bourgeois system. 


b. 1995, Madagascar; lives and works in Geneva





Joydeb Roaja 


প্রজন্ম কল্পদ্রুম ও অনু দ্রুম, Generation-wish-yielding trees and atomic tree, 2009-ongoing

Photo-drawing collage print

Courtesy of the artist


তরল শিকড়, Liquid roots, 2022 

Pen and color pencil on paper

Collection: Samdani Art Foundation 



Go Back to Roots 39, 2022

Go Back to Roots 43, 2022

Ink pen on paper

Collection: Kiran Nadar Museum of Art


Belonging to the Tripura community from the Chittagong Hill Tracts, Joydeb Roaja’s childhood was not like that of most Bangladeshi artists. He grew up seeing army boot prints on the hills, and tanks haunted his dreams. Generation-wish-yielding trees is a response to his traumatic memories, a series which began as a performance with his daughter in 2009. His performances turned into drawings and his drawings turned into performances. These photo-drawing collage prints are mainly made from the desire to see performance documentation and drawings side-by-side as one work.  


The only source of water in the hilly area of Roaja’s village in Rangamati is a small stream running between two hills but, for the sake of development, the natural forest was cut down and re-planted with teak plantations. As a result, many streams in the hilly areas are drying up. The stream Roaja used to bathe in as a child now has no water except during the rainy season. This is the reason why this jhiri (stream) in Liquid roots transforms into ever-running roots in his drawings, flowing with hope for more autonomous futures. 


Roaja has an interconnected performance, painting, and drawing practice that highlights the challenging social and political landscape of Bangladesh’s Chittagong Hill Tracts. His works are tied to the experiences of indigeneity, often emphasizing the deep and symbiotic connection of indigenous people with their land as well as the fight for recognition and rights. His work is an empowering call to demand autonomy and ensure preservation of minority cultures.


b.1973, Khagrachari; lives and works in Khagrachari




Kabir Ahmed Masum Chisty 


The Story of Water and Labor Pain, 2022-2023

Charcoal and watercolor on paper, performance 

Collection: Samdani Art Foundation


Commissioned by Kiran Nadar Museum of Art and Samdani Art Foundation


Through drawings and body movement, Kabir Ahmed Masum Chisty explores a story of the flood created at the confluence of the Padma and Brahmaputra rivers. People living on the banks of the hundreds of rivers in Bangladesh and India have always depended on the sediments that come with the river, traveling all the way from the Himalayas. Combining mythological events and characters from the region, Chisty created his own narrative of the delta and its natural phenomena of flooding. 


Chisty works with performance, poetry, drawing, and animation. Based in Narayanganj and Dhaka, he explores through his art the depths of the human psyche. Often working through the intricate meshwork of the relationships between mind and body, body and matter, myth and reality, time and space, his practice attempts to install in everyday surroundings a window into imaginary spaces, dreamscapes, and parallel realities.


b. 1976, Narayanganj; lives and works in Dhaka, Bangladesh




Kelly Sinnaphah Mary 


Notebook 12: the Fables of Sanbras, 2022 

Acrylic on paper 

Commissioned by Samdani Art Foundation and Kiran Nadar Museum of Art

Courtesy of the artist and Aicon Gallery


Notebook (2) of No Return, 2018

Acrylic on paper 

From the Collection of Albertine Kopp


Through the lens of science fiction, Kelly Sinnapah Mary often explores the so-called feminine universe; working with floral themes, soft materials, and fairytales, she uses techniques contrasting with her poignant and politically charged subject matter. From this friction, Sinnapah Mary traces her ethnic heritage, while questioning her roots as someone caught in two nested worlds— confronting concepts of ‘negritude’ and ‘coolitude’. ‘Coolie’, an expression coined by Caribbean poet Khal Torabully, is a pejorative name given to Indians who migrated to the Caribbean. Sinnapah Mary invented a character named ‘Sanbras’, a young girl who perhaps stands in for the artist as a young girl, and tries to connect the past, present, and future as a protagonist with agency over her life’s direction. Sometimes she is a schoolgirl on the run who takes a critical look at society and dreams of creating an alternative community with other children. She questions the relationship between human and animal, and thinks of the animal as an ally to build and remake the world she wants to live in the future.


Sinnapah Mary creates images through drawing, painting, sculpture, and tapestry-making that refer to the tales and biblical stories of her childhood, mixing cruelty and enchantment, while exploring postcolonial dilemmas and resistance to self-invention. She embraces her own ethnic heritage as a descendant of Indian indentured laborers, and draws in sexuality, a love of craft, and the social injustice she perceives around her to create mini-worlds with science fiction and fairytale undertones. 


b. 1981, Guadeloupe; lives and works in Guadeloupe




Lapdiang Syiem 


Laitïam, 2022-2023

Video, Loop, 15 minutes


Performance: 3 February, 6.15 - 6.45 pm | 4 February, 5 - 5.30 pm | 5 February, 5 - 5.30 pm 

Co-commissioned by Samdani Art Foundation and Kiran Nadar Museum and Art Dubai


This body-based performance by Lapdiang Syiem, which visitors can experience as a video, explores the Khasi folktale U Sier Lapalang, a story of the stag who climbs up from the plains of what we know as present-day Bangladesh into the Khasi Hills of Meghalaya to find the wild herb U Jangew Jathang, only to be captured and killed by hunters. His mother also ascends in search of her son and encounters the kill. She releases a dirge, a lamentation which is said to be a sound that has taught the Khasi people how to mourn and grieve. The work focuses on memory and retelling, landscape, and grief as an emotion that drives the narrative of border-crossing and how it resonates in the Khasi community. Syiem’s embodiment of the innocent and adventurous spirit of U Lapalang and his journey to the frontiers beyond his learned geography, speaks to us on multiple levels. The performance-video made on site captures the landscape of Sohra, Sohbar (the village between Sohra and the Bangladesh border), and Wahrew (the river flowing between Meghalaya and Bangladesh) which are undergoing a process of tremendous change and erasure with aggressive urbanization, mining, and other interventions. 


Syiem’s practice is deeply physical, drawing on techniques from her diverse training in theatrical arts. She presents and revives indigenous Khasi folktales with a contemporary vision, engaging with questions of gender and identity. She locates her theatrical expression in her minority matrilineal community’s oral traditions, using folk as a resource and performance as a form toward the expression of the oral— where the act of performing means taking part in the passage of those traditions from one generation to the next. 


b. 1988, Shillong; lives and works in Shillong




Leela Mukherjee

 

Recalling Leela 

Organized with the support of Mrinalini Mukherjee Foundation

 

‘The Peacock Stage’ mural at Welhams Boy’s School, 1968. Photograph taken in 2023. Courtesy Mrinalini Mukherjee Foundation


Archival material from the Mrinalini Mukherjee Foundation Archive

 

Set of six wood sculptures, 1950s - 1970s

From the Collection of Kiran Nadar Museum of Art

 

 

Very Small Feelings creates a space to grasp, position and reflect on the life-long work of a pioneering sculptor and educator, Leela Mukherjee. Her art-making practice and contribution to arts pedagogy remains under-researched and overshadowed by the grand gestures of male-centric modernism; her works and her shifts were small, intimate, irregular, and in constant dialogue with her environment. Her career marks a shifting register of practice that liaises between her domestic life, her dedicated teaching practice, and her artistic journey as a life-long learner.  


Her bold personality, directness, and her dedication to her art—which we only know of anecdotally—becomes a starting point to recall Leela Mukherjee today. As an artist whose practice, ideas, and work are only now being archived and researched, Recalling Leela is set as a proposition inviting you to think with us on ways of approaching her practice, work, and ideas. As we continue to imagine this space in different iterations of VSF, we follow the anecdotal, incline towards the referenced, and all that can be pieced together from the memories of Leela Mukherjee’s students, colleagues, and friends, to gather details of her influence as a teacher and person of immense resource. It is a real yet conceptual leap that we take to imagine ways of approaching an artist’s body of work about which history knows very little.


Recalling Leela first dives into Mukherjee’s idea of the Art Room that she instituted at the Welham Boy’s School in Dehradun, at the Himalayan foothills, upon joining the institution as an arts teacher in 1953. She is credited to have modeled the art room similar to art studios of practicing artists, accessible to students at all times including late hours, and with access to a variety of mediums. Embedding such an open invitation into a school curriculum, she shifted arts from a hobby class to a life pursuit for many of her students, filled with discovery, experiences of looking and learning together, and of course the discipline for which she is well remembered. Recalling Leela recognizes the simplicity and impact of such pedagogical efforts and gestures that move arts beyond the rigidity of class hours, percolating into life; and of art as a central motif to engagement with the world, especially for early learners.


While her classes in the Art Room often spilled outdoors, having her students repeatedly sketch the hills surrounding the school, her art practice which occupied the same spaces as her students came to find permanent residence on the walls of the school. VSF anchors this reimagined space for Leela via one such work, The Peacock Stage, an onsite mural made by her in 1968 at the Welhams Boy’s School at the behest of Ms. Oliphant, the founder of the institution. The alumni, her students and the school remember it as an iconic space of “memorable gatherings, assemblies and speeches,” where “the peacock waits silently and patiently, in all its grandeur, with its wings spread wide to welcome all.” This sets the stage, both literally and figuratively, for the presentation of her archive and her work for us to ponder. Dotting this Peacock Stage in the exhibition are photographs of her students holding their drawings, school notice-board exhibitions, and figurines made from soap and wood, and her own documentation of her works. Six wood sculptures by Leela Mukherjee animate this backdrop, with animal figures complimenting the soap sculptures that one sees in the photographs. In these sculptures she draws references from the toy-making tradition and culture of rural artisans of South Asia, and her dedicated study of nature and bodies imbibed during her education at Kala Bhavan, Santiniketan.  Mukherjee learned the skill of wood carving from the famous master artisan Sri Kulsunder during her stay in Kathmandu, Nepal from 1948 to 1950, and became one of the few female sculptors of her time to actively work with wood, and later with bronze.

 

Together this assemblage of a presentation blurs the line between her practice as an artist and as an educator. She approached teaching art to children not as an isolated classroom exercise but as a laboratory for experimenting with learning methodologies and structures, from passing of skills and techniques to attitudes of engaging with the world through art. Leela Mukherjee started working at the Welham Preparatory School in Dehradun in 1953, and continued to create her own work in the same studio as her students until 1974. 


A graduate of Kala Bhavan, Santiniketan, she took in early on the Tagorean philosophy of the study of nature and life, and later extended this attitude into the development of her arts curriculum and classes. She was a student of Nandalal Bose and Ramkinkar Baij. She married artist Benode Behari Mukherjee in 1944 and assisted him to create the famous mural based on the life of medieval Indian saints at the Hindi Bhavan, Santiniketan in 1947.  



b. 1916, Hyderabad, Sindh Province; d. 2002, New Delhi




Lokesh Khodke


Selected pages from Comic Series The Speaking Mountain, 2022-2023

With research inputs and materials from Asia Art Archive (AAA)


Co-commissioned by Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, Samdani Art Foundation and AAA


Khodke’s imaginative leaps into the archive and interest in storytelling is part of a cluster of works that explores different children’s art practices, highlighting local art teachers’ life-long work and institutional histories focused on children’s arts and education. Khodke shares selected pages from his ongoing fictional comic series conjuring, through the artist’s use of humor, a rich ground for exploring different artistic practices and dialogues across geographies. He entangles Hong Kong, Bhopal, and the landscape of the children’s literary world of comics from India in the 1990s with personal insights and episodes that pull in his own earliest memories of the art scene in his native city of Bhopal. The protagonist of the comic, a young boy from Bhopal, travels through time and space, meeting real and imagined characters. He meets artist Ha Bik Chuen in Hong Kong in the early 1990s, and also Nagraj and other popular characters from the comic worlds of India, Hong Kong, and America, traveling onward into the current moment. These encounters spark many ideas and questions in the young boy’s imagination.  

 

This comic series was developed from Khodke’s online artist-educator research residency at Asia Art Archive in 2021, where he was inspired by the photo contact sheets of children's artworks and exhibitions rigorously documented by the artist Ha Bik Chuen in Hong Kong in the 1990s. This visual research material led him to initiate conversations on comics, children, and art with artists Ronnie Wong Lai Keung and Professor Oscar Ho. He also met artist Vinay Sapre who taught and worked at Jawahar Bal Bhavan from the 1980s, teaching aeromodelling and art to children and young adults throughout his life. Engaging with the archival material and stitching his research with popular visual material like children's illustrated magazines, comics, films, news articles, Khodke connects many divergent threads, and plans to further develop the comic and continue his research on Bal Bhavans in India. 


Khodke has been making illustrations for children’s books and comics for almost two decades. As a practicing comic-book artist and educator in the visual arts, he co-founded Blue Jackal, a platform for creating and publishing visual narratives, comics, picture books and interactive tools and programs for learners of different ages. He is also co-founder and co-editor of Drawing Resistance, a Hindi/English zine reflecting on the current socio-political climate. 


b. 1979, Bhopal; lives and works in New Delhi




Marzia Farhana with 270 young Bangladeshi students


The Equilibrium Project, 2022-2023

Video of a multipart project and installation made in collaboration with 270 young students (classes 6, , and 9) from Jaago Foundation, Bangladesh


Presentation realized with additional support from Unilever, and was commissioned by Samdani Art Foundation and Kiran Nadar Museum of Art


The Equilibrium Project began with Marzia Farhana conducting several online workshops with children engaged in Jaago Foundation learning programs living different parts of Bangladesh, including Dhaka, Habiganj, Rangpur, Dinajpur, Teknaf, Bandarban, and Gaibandha. The installation in the Dhaka iteration of ‘Very Small Feelings’ exhibition was a result of a collaborative process developed over several months, and it drew upon historical examples of artist-run pedagogical initiatives in Bangladesh and elsewhere. Reflecting on the figure of artist-educator, and interpreting the relationship between society, art-making and young children, she explored what engaged pedagogy may mean in resource-deprived contexts. Working with underprivileged and hard-to-reach children associated with Jaago, Farhana’s work questions as well as brings into focus aspects of innovative art practice to create a platform of emancipation and resistance for those who are outliers in society. This video documentation captures some aspects of the project as it was showcased in Dhaka Art Summit 2023.



Farhana works with several media including painting, installation, and video. Her practice is time-and-space based, facilitating collaborations, participation and reinforcing the possibility of co-authorship on works of art that reinvent empathy and emancipation. The pedagogical turn of her artistic practice emphasizes fostering social and environmental justice and empowering marginalized vulnerable communities.  


b. 1985, Dhaka; lives and works in Dhaka and Richmond



Matthew Krishanu 


Safari, 2012

oil and acrylic on canvas

Courtesy of the private collection and Jhaveri Contemporary

 

Playground, 2020

Oil on canvas

Courtesy of the private collection and Niru Ratnam Gallery


Verandah (Girl and Boy), 2022

Oil on canvas

Courtesy of the private collection and Niru Ratnam Gallery

Presentation realized with the support of Jhaveri Contemporary


While these paintings contain a sense of childlike innocence, they also speak to fraught power dynamics between white children and brown children and their parents. In Playground, the white bodies ascend over the brown ones on the see-saw— perhaps a metaphor for South Asia and other parts of the world as colonial playgrounds. In Safari, also set in Bangladesh, the two brown brothers are placed between an elephant in the distance and their towering white father in the foreground, equally alien to the landscape. Despondent, they seem unsure of who or what to aim their bows and arrows at. 

Krishanu’s painting practice employs shallow pictorial depth and backgrounds that often veer into abstraction, creating paintings that seem to occupy a liminal zone. His paintings exist somewhere between the precision of a photograph and something looser. He works from his imagination, which he sketches and maps out as preparatory drawings, from photographs given to him from people familiar to these scenes from the past, and from inspirations from the history of painting. This lack of specificity opens up a field “outside of time” and invites viewers to bring their own experience and readings into the work. The institution of Christian-missionary-led education links many present-day and former colonial contexts; reflecting on the indigenous knowledge and systems of producing, preserving and regenerating knowledge, via contemporary artists, scholars and practitioners' work is a noticeable part of Dhaka Art Summit and Very Small Feelings.


b.1980, Bradford; lives and works in London



Matthew Krishanu


Crow (profile), 2018

Crow (Mumbai, green), 2019

Crow (Mumbai, light), 2019

Crow (turning), 2019

Crow (wings), 2019

Crow (Mumbai, purple), 2020

Crow (stance), 2021


oil on board

Courtesy the artist and Jhaveri Contemporary