‘The Earth’s Heart, Torn Out’
Navjot Altaf: A Life in Art

Curated by Nancy Adajania

12 December 2018 to 25 January 2019


National Gallery of Modern Art, Mumbai
in collaboration with The Guild Art Gallery




The National Gallery of Modern Art, Mumbai in collaboration with The Guild Art Gallery presents

‘The Earth’s Heart, Torn Out’
Navjot Altaf: A Life in Art

Curated by Nancy Adajania

12 December 2018 to 25 January 2019

The NGMA, Mumbai is open from 11am to 6pm on all days except Mondays and public holidays.

It is a great honour for the NGMA and the Guild Art Gallery to present the retrospective of the distinguished contemporary artist Navjot Altaf (b.1949). This is her first retrospective and it seems that it is also the very first time that an exhibition of a living woman artist has been presented at the NGMA, Mumbai. With over a 100 works carefully curated and exhibited, this retrospective maps the trajectory of Navjot Altaf’s artistic practice since the 1960s.

Navjot Altaf’s rich and complex career spans over five decades, during which the artist has experimented with a spectrum of media, including painting, sculpture, installation and video, and extended her practice through a series of encounters and collaborations with intellectuals, activists and subaltern artists. From the earliest phase of her career, as a painter emerging from Bombay’s Sir J J School of Art, to the present, when she straddles the worlds of tribal Central India and of global contemporary art, Navjot has sustained ideas and work through a process of intense scrutiny.

Nancy Adajania writes:
“Navjot’s art has never been medium-centric but process-oriented. She has refused to base her art on the creation of individual masterpieces – typically a male prerogative – that can be consecrated within the connoisseurial system. Instead, her art has been premised on the act of searching, plotting and re-structuring the course of meaning through a life of artistic and civic interventions.’

“As an alumna of the JJ School of Art, Bombay (1967-1972), Navjot was trained as a formalist, with the academic emphasis on abstraction. However, her introduction to Leftist politics while still at JJ instilled in her an empathy for the marginalised denizens of society. What began as a behalfist gesture to represent the Other gradually grew into a quest for equitable communication. But having realised that no form of communication or discourse is entirely free of prejudice or power asymmetry, she has deftly deployed abstractionist devices in her work to express the limits and pitfalls of communication. I have elsewhere analysed this as the productive push-pull between the discursive mandate and the impulse towards abstraction in Navjot’s work.’

“The exhibition follows the long arc of Navjot’s practice, showcasing her drawings from the early 1960s, before she had joined the JJ School of Art, as well as never-before-seen student assignments at JJ, rare posters and prints from the 1970s and 1980s, her iconic paintings from the 1990s, and collaborative and new media practice from the 1990s to the present.’ 

“The title of this show is a tribute to all those voices that have been suppressed by an apathetic State, but refuse to be silenced. In Navjot’s video ‘Soul Breath Wind’, Nirupama, a farmer from Chattisgarh, warns us of the final countdown as rapacious mining rips people from their ancestral land and disembowels the earth: “Purein dharti ka kaleja nikaal diya.” ” 

One of India’s leading contemporary artists, Navjot Altaf is a major artistic voice in postcolonial Indian art, her work having been known both nationally and internationally over the last several decades. In her nearly five decade-long practice, she has worked with painting, sculpture, installation, video and collaborative art. She has interacted with a diverse range of collaborators, including artists of Indigenous origin since 1997 in Chhattisgarh, Central India, the transgender community, intellectuals, activists, filmmakers, and academics. Through these collaborations, her work speaks expansively and sensitively about the socio-political conditions of the world we find ourselves in, causing us to reflect on the internal and external struggles we face whilst making meaning of our contexts.

Navjot has been granted an international award for Public Art Project for her work Nalpar and Pilla Gudi in 2013. Apart from, ‘Delhi Loves Me’ (2005), ‘Barakhamba 2008’ and ‘Barakhamba 2010’ in Delhi, ‘Body City Flows’, a part of ‘Geographies of Consumption/The City as Consumption Site: Bombay/Mumbai’ (2016) projects,  ‘Empty Containers’, a part of Yamuna-Elbe Contemporary Flows; Fluid Times, New Delhi, India, Hamburg, Germany (2011) was another of her public art projects. Navjot’s work has been exhibited in world-renowned institutions, galleries, universities in Germany, USA, UK, Norway, USSR, Korea, Belgium and biennials in Australia, China, Japan, Cuba as well as in institutions across India.

Navjot’s work has been written about and curated by some of the art world’s best, including Nancy Adajania who has written a definitive study of her art – The Thirteenth Place: Positionality as Critique in the Art of Navjot Altaf – placing it in multiple art historical and political contexts; Geeta Kapur, Grant Kester, Elena Bernardini, Leon Tan, Roobina Karode and Gayatri Sinha.

Nancy Adajania is a cultural theorist and curator based in Bombay. Since the late-1990s, she has written consistently on the practices of four generations of Indian women artists. Her book, The Thirteenth Place: Positionality as Critique in the Art of Navjot Altaf (The Guild Art Gallery, 2016), goes beyond the mandate of a conventional artist monograph to map the larger histories of the Leftist and feminist movements in India.

Adajania was Joint Artistic Director of the 9th Gwangju Biennale in 2012, and has curated many exhibitions including: ‘No Parsi is an Island; A Curatorial Re-reading Across 150 Years’ (National Gallery of Modern Art, Delhi, 2016); ‘Sights and Sounds: Global Film and Video’, Jewish Museum, New York (2015); and the hybrid exhibition-publication project ‘Sacred/Scared’ at Latitude 28/ TAKE on Art magazine, New Delhi (2014).

Adajania taught the curatorial practice course at the Salzburg International Summer Academy of Fine Arts (2013/2014). She was the juror for Video/Film/New Media fellowship cycle of the Akademie Schloss Solitude (2015- 2017). Adajania has proposed several new theoretical models through her extensive writings on media art, public art, transcultural art and the biennale culture from the Global South. She has lectured on these subjects at numerous venues including Documenta 11, Kassel; ZKM, Karlsruhe; the Centre for Curatorial Studies, Bard College, New York and the 3rd Former West Research Congress, Vienna.

She has recently edited two transdisciplinary anthologies ‘Some things that only art can do: A Lexicon of Affective Knowledge’ and ‘Totems and Taboos: What can and cannot be done’ for the Raza Foundation (2017/2018). 

The idea of establishing the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA) was mooted immediately after India became independent. The first NGMA was opened on March 29, 1954 in the National Capital - New Delhi- at the historic Jaipur House, one of the premier architectural edifices of Lutyens’ Delhi, by the Vice-President, Dr. S. Radhakrishanan, in the presence of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, and artists and art lovers of the city. The NGMA is a repository of the cultural ethos of the country and showcases the changing art forms in the field of Visual and Plastic arts through the passage of the last 160 years starting from about 1857. NGMA is run and administered as a subordinate office of the Ministry of Culture, Government of India; it has two branches - one at Mumbai and the other at Bengaluru. 

The National Gallery of Modern Art, Mumbai was opened to the public in the year 1996. It is located in the precincts of the former auditorium, the Sir Cowasji Jehangir Public Hall, and the Institute of Science. This architecturally marvelous building was designed and built by the famous British architect George Wiet. Subsequently, this building has been completely redesigned by the famous architect Shri Romi Khosla giving it a spiral spin. It hosts various national and international exhibitions. It has its own art collection comprising paintings, sculpture and graphics, with a focus on Indian and International artists, mainly from the progressive art group like K.H. Ara, F. N. Souza, V.S. Gaitonde, S.H. Raza and M.F. Hussain. NGMA, Mumbai has had a great tradition of hosting several spectacular exhibitions in the past, which we are continuing till date. Some of the recent exhibitions include the highly successful Bombay Art Society exhibition, which covered the landscape of the historic Bombay Art Society’s existence over 125 years. NGMA, Mumbai has also hosted several other notable exhibitions which include Rabindranath Tagore, Amrita Sher-Gil, Jamini Roy, Nicholas Roerich, the Parsi exhibition and major exhibitions on A. A. Almelkar and M.V.Dhurandhar.

Established in 1997, The Guild Art Gallery founded by Shalini Sawhney provides a platform for discursive practices, innovation and experimentation. Functioning as a semi-institutional space, the Guild Art Gallery believes in promoting critical and rigorous practices and ideas, with the programming reflecting this critical practice. The Guild’s programming includes film screenings, artists’ workshops, studio workshops, and panel discussions. They continue to produce and publish artists’ books – Navjot Altaf, Sudhir Patwardhan, K. G. Subramanyan, A. Ramachandran – as well as high quality catalogues.

The Guild’s artists have been critically acclaimed in various art journals, magazines, and newspapers.Their artists have participated in significant museum exhibitions and biennales across the world. The gallery works actively with museums and institutions through its program of lending works from its collection.




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