Other Shows

Lila: Play in Indian Visual Culture

Lila: Play in Indian Visual Culture


Any thinking person can see at a glance that play is a thing on its own, even language possesses no general concept to express it. Play cannot be denied. You can deny, if you like, nearly all abstractions: justice, beauty, truth, goodness, mind, God. You can deny seriousness, but not play.

~ Johan Huizinga, Homo Ludens, New York, (English edition, 1950)

Chatterjee & Lal is pleased to announce Lila: Play in Indian Visual Culture. Continuing in spirit from an earlier three-part gallery show*, the material exhibited in Lila is drawn from more than 2,000 years of material culture.

In Indian philosophical thought, Lila can be understood as divinely ordained cosmic play that creates and underpins all of reality. The exhibition seeks to position this profound insight alongside quotidian aspects of play: aspects that absorb all living beings throughout their lives. Play provides an interesting optic to consider the boundaries between reality and fantasy; between childhood and adulthood; the original and the mimetic; between the serious and the fun; innocence and subversion.

The exhibition is anchored by a unique archive of material by modern India’s most celebrated artist. Over the last fifteen years, Chatterjee & Lal has been working with the heirs to Fantasy: a Bombay-based company that, in the mid-twentieth century, produced nursery furniture for the city’s elite. From 1942 – 1948, M.F. Husain was employed as Fantasy’s artist. The surviving work from this period incorporates sketches, painted layouts for nurseries, painted wooden cutouts for furniture items, and watercolours painted as designs for newspaper advertisements. This will be the first time that any work from Fantasy has been exhibited.

Giving context to this body of work and, in particular, Fantasy’s range of nursery furniture premised on Indian village life, the exhibition brings together a collection of artworks across mediums and historical moments: North Indian terracotta toys and ritual objects from the Maurya and Sunga periods; medieval Chola bronze sculpture from Tamil Nadu; nineteenth century canvas painting and prints by Raja Ravi Varma. There is special attention paid to the visual representation of Krishna: a god often depicted in Husain’s Fantasy period output.

The exhibition brings together objects from wildly diverse historical moments and social contexts; but, whilst each may be rooted in the worlds of their makers, they share and illuminate ‘play’s’ timeless and enduring presence.

* Simple Tales (2009 – 2012)

Installation views