Man and Cityscape (1953). (Photo Courtesy: Akbar Padamsee and Priyasri Art Gallery)
In 1954, the Bombay police ordered the removal of two paintings by a 26-year-old artist at his debut solo exhibition at Jehangir Art Gallery. The police found the paintings to be obscene as they depicted a nude couple, with the man’s hand on the woman’s breast. When the defiant young artist, Akbar Padamsee, didn’t comply, he was arrested and the paintings seized. The Esplanade court, however, acquitted Padamsee the same day, on the condition that the two paintings from the ‘Lovers’ series wouldn’t be displayed in public again.
This seminal moment, in both Padamsee’s career as well as the freedom of artistic expression in India, is the subject of a new exhibition at Priyasri Art Gallery in Mumbai. Titled ‘Judgement in the Trial of Akbar Padamsee’, the exhibition opens on January 9 as part of the Mumbai Gallery Weekend (MGW). It revisits the trial and the ‘Lovers’ series through retellings using archival material, a theatrical performance directed by Quasar Thakore Padamsee, and video-projections.
MGW is an annual programme that brings together the city’s galleries and art institutions with several exhibitions opening on the same day. Started in 2012, this year’s edition is the largest yet, with 19 participating galleries. These galleries are spread across Colaba, Worli and Lower Parel, encouraging art lovers to take part in previews, talks and walkthroughs from January 9 to12. All events are free and many of the exhibitions continue till February.
Gallerist Tara Lal, on behalf of MGW, says, “MGW is an effort to reach out to those who would like to learn more about art. We do have national reach now, and certainly do get visitors from other Indian metros.” Gallery Jhaveri Contemporary will showcase Delhi-based artist Manisha Parekh’s recent works, while artist Jitish Kallat’s exhibition of two works — a photographic-and-sound based installation and his largest painting till date — opens at Famous Studios. Sakshi Gallery will show works by Jaipur-based Nandan Ghiya, known to use pixilation and glitches in sepia prints.
This year, MGW has a revamped website and a new map to help visitors manage the extensive schedule. Visitors can expect a variety of exhibitions on design, new media and photography apart from paintings, sculptures and installations. Lal says that this diversity wasn’t planned as MGW does not prescribe themes. “So it’s a happy coincidence. Hopefully, the gallery-going audience will feel like there is something for everyone.”
With Padamsee’s demise on January 6, visitors have one more opportunity to pay homage at MGW. At Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS), Padamsee’s works from the collection of the late Jehangir Nicholson will be on view. The museum’s Jehangir Nicholson Gallery will exhibit over 22 works, offering an overview of the artist’s expansive range of experimentation — oils on canvas, charcoal drawings, lithographs and digital printmaking. Viewed together, these two shows will celebrate the memory of Padamsee, the painter who fought for his art.