If you are one of those people who think there just aren’t enough documentaries about Indian art then you’re in luck. To Let The World In has just been released – a look at Indian contemporary art from the 1960s to the present through the eyes of twelve different artists, most of whom took part in the Place for People exhibition in the early 80s. Sheffield Documentary Festival was lucky enough to have the world premiere.
OK, silence for a minute…
The film begins with artist Arpita Singh unable to remain quiet whilst the director records a minute of ambient sound. She works in watercolours, a famously unforgiving medium, and deliberately leaves the mistakes in. There are no questions asked throughout the documentary, but titles appear explaining what the artist is about to talk about – for example ‘About labels and letters.’
To Let The World In is part of a project looking at the the work of three generations of artists in India and is based on some of the participants in an exhibition in the Lalit Kala Akademi Galleries in Chennai last year. It is a talking-heads documentary constructed from the building blocks of direct to camera interviews. The artists are interviewed in order of seniority and are an amusing and chatty bunch. The director Avijit Mukul Kishore has worked with several of them before and is able to put them at ease and get them to open up and talk about their work and the historical development of their practice. Interspersed with the interviews are shots of the artists’ work and stills of them when they were younger. Bhupen Khakhar is mentioned a lot. A Baroda artist – like many of the people in the film – he died in 2003 but clearly was a big influence on the artists around him.
Each time the film turns to a different artist they speak for a moment before a title page is displayed, giving a brief CV and details about their career. A lot of information is conveyed on these title pages, especially as the artists continue to speak in the background and subtitles of their words appear at the bottom of the scene. This information could have been spread over several titles that would have been easier to read. Short Buster Keaton-esque titles are easy to understand, but when titles are long and include phrases like phenomenological particularity you – or at least I – need longer to assimilate them. The other artists interviewed in the film are Gulammohammed Sheikh, Nilima Sheikh, Nalini Malani, Vivan Sundaram, Sudhir Patwardhan, Pushpamala, Ranbir Kaleka, Anita Dube and Atul Dodiya. Critic Geeta Kapur also appears and gives her views on this group of which she was a part.
This is an informative film about the Indian art world. As such it is definitely a specialised subject, but the hardcore Indian contemporary art fan will be pleased to know that this is only part I. A second volume is coming soon that focuses on younger contemporary artists.