Vivan Sundaram: Re-take of Amrita reassembles the extended story of the artist’s family as seen in photographs and albums made by his grandfather, Umrao Singh Sher-Gil (1870–1954), a philosopher and amateur photographer. Produced between 2001 and 2005, the digital photomontages of Re-take of Amrita combine images that encompass three generations and incorporate not only Sundaram’s family but also the paintings, mirrors and household interiors of the period, collapsing both time and space into contemporary fictions.
Taken between 1904 and the 1940s, the original photographs by Sher-Gil include his wife and Hungarian opera singer Marie Antoinette Gottesman (1882–1948); their two daughters, Amrita (1913–1941) and Indira (1914–1975); their cousin (and later Amrita’s husband), Victor Egan (1910–1997); and the young Vivan Sundaram (b. 1943), the artist himself. The modern montages that comprise Re-take of Amrita include scenes of Parisian parlors and Hungarian haystacks, as well as unexpected scenes of the loin-clothed patriarch alongside a young woman (his daughter) in a bathing suit. The family story is reconstructed into a complex web of relationships, places, and family dynamics, exposing Sundaram’s “re-take” of these family memories. By remixing the original photographs through Photoshop, the artist creates a tableau that omits space, time, and, therefore, reality.
Sundaram has created a new story where fact and fantasy collide; in unraveling his memories this way, the artist retells his history filtered through ghosts and visions. At the center of Sher-Gil’s family composites, or what Sundaram calls a “photo-dream-love-play,” is Amrita Sher-Gil, India’s most celebrated modern artist. After studying at the École des Beaux Arts in Paris, Amrita returned to India, where she fused traditional European painting with scenes from her Indian life. Tragically, this beautiful, young, and talented artist died suddenly in 1941 at the age of twenty-eight. Her legacy and her paintings, many of which hang as a bequest in the National Gallery of Modern Art in New Delhi, are as much about the story of Indian painting and modern art as about specific family history. Sundaram’s grandfather Umrao’s photographs and Amrita’s oil paintings become the foundation on which he blends fact and fiction through a careful reconstruction of these narratives.
This photograph is part of the Retake of Amrita Series.
This artwork description has been sourced from the Museum Collection at The Crow Museum of Asian Art at the University of Texas at Dallas.
Vivan Sundaram was born in 1943 in Simla. He studied painting at the Faculty of Fine Arts, M.S. University of Baroda (1961–65) and at the Slade School of Art, London (1966–69). Active in the students’ movement of May 1968, he helped set up a commune in London and lived in it till 1970. On his return to India in 1971, he worked with artists’ and students’ groups to organize events and protests. In the 1980s, Sundaram did three large shows of narrative painting and participated in the seminal group exhibition, ‘Place for People’ (1981). Since 1990 he has made installations that include sculpture, photographs and video. Among these are Memorial (1993, 2014), Re-take of ‘Amrita’ (1991–92), The Sher-Gil Archive (1995), History Project (1998), Trash (2008), Gagawaka (2011), Black Gold, (2012) Post Mortem (2013–14); and the collaborative projects, 409 Ramkinkars (2015) and Meanings of Failed Action: Insurrection ’46 (2017).
Vivan Sundaram has had solo shows in many cities in India and abroad. He has exhibited in the Biennales of Havana, Johannesburg, Kwangju, Taipei, Sharjah, Shanghai, Sydney, Seville, Berlin, and in the Asia-Pacific Triennial, Brisbane. A 50-year retrospective exhibition, ‘Step inside and you are no longer a stranger’, invited by the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, showed in New Delhi from February to July 2018. A solo survey exhibition titled ‘Disjunctures’, invited by Okwui Enwezor and curated by Deepak Ananth, was held at the Haus der Kunst, Munich, from June to October 2018.
Vivan Sundaram has organized artists’ workshops and seminars at the Kasauli Art Centre from 1976 to 1991; contributed variously to the Journal of Arts & Ideas (1981–99); and curated exhibitions for the Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust (SAHMAT). He is a founding member of all these organizations. He is the editor of a two-volume book, Amrita Sher-Gil: a self-portrait in letters & writings (2010).
This Artist Bio has been sourced from the Sher-Gil Sundaram Arts Foundation.