On a recent Saturday, while I was struggling – and failing – to paint a vase of impressionistic flowers, a friend invited me to join her for the preview of an art show at the British Council. Titled Deck of Cards | Taash ke Patte, this is a unique show that juxtaposes the state of Indian art in 2016 with that of the UK from the 1970s.
It all started in 1976, to be precise, when a UK-based gallery sent 54 leading British artists a playing card and asked them to interpret that card using any medium of their choice. The show, when it opened, was a resounding success. Over the years, the entire collection has toured to over 22 countries and resulted in a physical pack of very artful playing cards that are still available today.
On the 40th anniversary of the first showing of The Deck of Cards in London, the British Council has brought the original artworks from the exhibition to India for the very first time. And in an interesting twist, curator Laura Williams invited some of India’s leading and emerging contemporary artists to do exactly what the UK artists did in the 1970s – reinterpret a card in a medium of their choice. This new Indian collection is called Taash ke Patte.
Each set of cards (for example, the fives of all four suits) is exhibited side-by-side – and is an interesting commentary on the art scene in the UK in the 1970s vis-a-vis the Indian art scene in 2016. Some of the older cards look like they could have been done by a child – and it’s interesting to see what was considered gallery-worthy art in the 1970s – some bold colors, almost child-like handwriting, outlining with a graphite pencil. At the same time, some of the cards have a lot of depth, and a number of them were deeply influenced by the tarot. In fact, some of the cards did tell an entire story – much like a tarot card – which I found absolutely fascinating!
Compare these to the Indian interpretations, and that’s when you can really see how much art – and the mediums – have evolved. Some cards – like the nine of hearts – have an almost graphic quality to them. A couple of the cards were heavily influenced by traditional Indian painting styles, but I was really interested to see the more funky interpretations, like the Jack of hearts that has a man’s foot pumping a jack, the seven of diamonds that is made of a ton of staple pins stacked together, and the whimsical Joker – a whimsical mash-up of a sunflower with a stereobot.
The exhibition is on view until 15 May 2015, so you have plenty of time to make your way to the British Council, New Delhi.
Sorry about the poor lighting on the images – the lighting was primed (obviously) to highlight the artwork, not to make it conducive to take photographs! The watermarked images were taken at the venue. The others are photographs from the brochure.