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Installation Art in India

For a lay person, the word art essentially conjures up images of paintings. If a lay person thinks of art in their consciousness, they would instantly think of all sorts of paintings on canvas. A riot of colours, human figures objects, vistas of nature, all these depicted on canvas would come to a lay person’s mind, when they think of art. Installation art of conceptual art is something that they lay viewer perhaps won’t associate with art at all. To him, a random set of objects or props kept or done up bizarrely being called art might not be so appealing, he/she might even have reservations against the idea of calling such a set up ‘art’ since there is no visual pleasure he derives.

Installation art began to make its presence felt in the Indian art scene 1970’s onwards. It drew its origins from conceptual art where the idea of the concept takes precedence over the technical and aesthetic aspects of art itself. It is a sort of an inversion of how we are taught to think about paintings wherein the work might or might not embody specific ideas of the artist. For some paintings, the artist starts with an idea and then spontaneity takes over. Or sometimes, the work displays the technical virtuosity of the artist. But the lay viewer, not so much aware of the techniques and mediums, appreciates the art work in their own way, drawing meanings out of it they can relate to. But in installation art or conceptual art, there is a well thought –out a priori concept, an idea and all objects in an installation are then just a means to execute that idea, that vision. So the art is rooted in the vision or the idea, all the arrangement and conclusion are made previously and implementation is an obligatory concern.

The art world took notice of ‘installation’ art as a distinct genre in 1917 when Marcel Duchamp placed a Urinal in a gallery in 1917. The work titled ‘Fountain’ led to a raging debate over whether this qualifies as art at all. And while there was great controversy over submitting a an object of day to day, seemingly inconsequential mundane reality as an artwork, Marcel Duchamp’s ‘Fountain’ definitely lay the foundations for the wider acceptance of installation art.


In India , installation art is becoming increasingly popular with many new and experimental art galleries promoting installation artists. The unique thing about installation art in India is that it becomes an exciting point of synthesis for critical ideas on politics, culture, society. It also offers exciting possibilities for the interplay of art with different genres like music, the written text, etc. An installation art show offers a viewer an intellectual experience in which art moves beyond the realm of offering sensory pleasure. The viewer can himself/ herself feel like an artist by trying to unravel the web of meanings around various installations. For example, a fairly recent exhibition titled ‘Phantom Limb’ at Triveni Kala Sangam in Delhi curated by Meera Menez explored the sense of isolation, dislocation  suffered by people and communities across the world through photographs, paintings, written text on an artist’s personal wall as well as an installation of a brick wall. So the exhibition merged the written text, paintings, photographs as well as other objects to give the viewer that sense of the dislocation.

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