Body Art

Human and superhuman images depicted across faiths over the past four millennia are being exhibited at Delhi’s National Museum till June 7.

Published: 26th March 2014 11:26 AM  |   Last Updated: 26th March 2014 11:26 AM   |  A+A-


Human and superhuman images depicted across faiths over the past four millennia are being exhibited at Delhi’s National Museum till June 7. Titled ‘The Body in Indian Art’ and curated by Naman Ahuja, the exhibition displays 300-odd exhibits from ancient to contemporary times, including installations and film clippings

that delve into concepts such as birth, death, rebirth, heroism, asceticism, divinity, rapture and possession of the body.

National Museum Director-General Venu V says that the exhibition has items ranging from mythological characters to historical heroes to even new-era politicians. The show will feature manuscripts, textiles, jewellery and similar articles of day-to-day use.

“The effort is to see and study how the minds in the subcontinent have viewed and perceived the body in curiously different ways,” Venu says about the exhibition that has works ranging from anonymous Harappan sculptors and Gupta-era artists

to works by installation artists of modern times like Subodh Gupta and Sheela Gowda.

The heady mix notwithstanding, the exhibition trail is conceived with its set of yardsticks that teem with novelties. “For one, the galleries don’t follow a chronological order,” reveals Dr Ahuja, an associate professor with Jawaharlal Nehru University. “What’s more, each one of them has a thesis and an antithesis to it — like, if birth is there, death is juxtaposed with it.”

Having done intense research and legwork spanning 18 months, Dr Ahuja and his team ensured that the show reflected the ethos of a broad prism of geography.

The Body in Indian Art will thus have

objects spanning the North-East to Rajasthan, Kerala to the Malwa Plateau to the Himalayas.

As for religions, the exhibits are from Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism and Christianity, while the images range from revered gods to the common man.

“The concept has objects of popular and modern culture jostling with the esoteric and age-old,” says Ahuja, who has curated several exhibitions on themes ranging from ancient to contemporary to modern art and delivered lectures on the subject across the world. 

The Body in Indian Art has exhibits ranging from monumental stone sculptures located in the storerooms of provincial Indian small-towns to Chola bronzes of Tanjore, from manuscripts about magic painted for Mughal emperor Akbar to quaint old talismans and a 290-foot janam patrika (horoscope) hanging from the ceiling.

Overall, the exhibition has its eight galleries exploring how Indian civilisation has contemplated the following respectively — death, beyond the body (Nirguna, Arupa, Nirakara), birth and rebirth, the place of astrology and cosmology that Indians have given in determining the fortunes of the body, the nature of divine bodies, heroism and ideal bodies, asceticism (including practices like healing and yoga) and the body in rapture.

(Poonam Goel is a freelance journalist who contributes articles on visual arts for


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