The Rubin Museum of Art in Chelsea is a human-scale, tastefully designed display and performance venue. The re-purposed retail space (previously a Barney’s department store), with its signature staircase, uses every inch of the place to good advantage, with innovative programming for both art and performances. This summer, two exhibitions of Indian art pulled me in for repeat visits.
Homai Vyarawalla, pioneering photojournalist
“Candid, The Lens and Life of Homai Vyarawalla“, honored the life and work of India’s first female photojournalist. Born in Gujurat in 1913, Vyarawalla captured the last days of the British Empire and was a key visual chronicler through three decades of post-independence India.
The exhibition showcases selected original photographs from the artist’s personal archive, along with copies of images from her student days. Two cameras used by Vyarawalla are included in the exhibition. The photojournalist, who died in January 2012, had intended to visit the exhibition, and worked with museum curators in its organization.
When she went to extraordinary lengths to capture the Dalai Lama’s 1956 visit to a Buddhist congress in India, Vyarawalla made history. Although she covered the career of Jawaharlal Nehru exhaustively, I found images of the Dalai Lama, and those of Mohandas Gandhi and Muhammad Ali Jinnah from the final days of empire, especially moving.
To learn more about the groundbreaking photojournalist, I turned to a video description of Vyarawalla’s career by her friend and biographer Sabeena Gadihoke. A review of the Rubin Museum’s Vyarawalla exhibition from the photo editors of Time Magazine includes most of the images on view at the Rubin.
Modernist Indian art
While Vyarawalla was covering the political spectrum, leading painters in India were going modern and abstract. Six floors above the photographs of the photojournalist, Approaching Abstraction, the second exhibition in the museum’s series Modernist Art from India, presents works by fourteen artists working in diverse media through the 1960s and 1970s. Most of the artists were unfamiliar to me, so it was a pleasure to discover them at the Rubin.
More from me about India
I am an India enthusiast, and earlier this year blogged about meeting local artisans in Gujurat, and about my love of the food of southern India. However, my first visit to the country, in 2009, got off to a rocky start. Read more about that in a short piece, “Almost India”, recently published as an Airplane Reading feature.