a site-specific installation, Victoria Memorial, Calcutta, 1998
Vivan Sundaram: History Project is a close reading of the first site-specific, architectural-scale installation staged in India. An innovative artist, Vivan Sundaram works with a range of materials, mediums and structural forms. His History Project (1998), marking fifty years of Indian independence, was staged as a complex installation in the grand Durbar Hall of the Victoria Memorial and Museum, a much visited public institution in Calcutta. Sundaram’s choice of setting was by way of a challenge: to ‘occupy’ an imperial edifice and change its orientation; to reflect upon India’s struggle for independence and the emerging nation’s stake in modernity; to engage with post-colonial contradictions through recursive narration. The project needed to be scaled to the proportion and significance of these issues. This book, produced nearly twenty years after the installation was mounted and dismantled, examines how Sundaram conceived of this intervention, how his ideological perspective, the genres and modes he deployed, enlarged the parameters of art practice in India, and how this can be situated within a critical framework of aesthetics and politics today. The book has essays contributed by distinguished cultural theorists and art historians. Its last section reproduces pages from the artist’s notebook and correspondence relating to the realization of the project. There are a large number of annotated images of the artworks cross-referenced with shots from the accompanying video, Structures of Memory, and the itinerary of the multipart installation is recalled in the layout of the book.
Vivan Sundaram (born 1943 in Shimla) lives in Delhi. He studied painting at the Faculty of Fine Arts, M.S. University of Baroda and Slade School of Art, London. Since 1990 he has made installations that include sculpture, photographs and video. Among his major works are Memorial (1993, 2014); History Project (1998); The Sher-Gil Archive (1995); Re-take of ‘Amrita’ (1991–92); Trash (2008); Gagawaka (2011); Black Gold (2012); Post Mortem (2013–14). He moved to co-authored projects with 409 Ramkinkars (2015), staged in collaboration with theatre directors including Anuradha Kapur; and Meanings of Failed Action: Insurrection 1946 (2017), archived, installed and performed in collaboration with cultural theorist Ashish Rajadhyaksha and sound artist David Chapman.
Sundaram has exhibited in the Biennales of Sydney, Seville, Taipei, Sharjah, Shanghai, Havana, Johannesburg, Kwangju and Berlin, and the Asia-Pacific Triennial, Brisbane. He has participated in group shows at Tate Modern, London (2001); Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, Rotterdam (2001); Haus der Kunst, Munich (2006); International Centre for Photography, New York (2008); Mori Museum, Tokyo (2008); Arken Museum, Copenhagen (2012). He has had gallery shows at Sepia International, New York (2008, 2006); Walsh Gallery, Chicago (2008, 2005); and Photographers Gallery, Copenhagen (2003). He had a solo show at Fowler Museum, Los Angeles (2015). Vivan Sundaram is an artist-activist and has been part of many collectives. He was a founding member of the Kasauli Art Centre (1976–90) and the Journal of Arts & Ideas (1981–99). He is a trustee of the Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust (SAHMAT). He is the editor of a two-volume book, Amrita Sher-Gil: a self-portrait in letters & writings (2010). He is managing trustee, with his sister Navina Sundaram, of the Sher-Gil Sundaram Arts Foundation (SSAF), set up in 2016.