Everything we do is music


30 November 2017 – 4 March 2018 

Private view Wednesday 29 November, 6-8.30pm, starting with a curators tour with Shanay Jhaveri

Everything we do is music, curated by Shanay Jhaveri, explores Indian classical music as a source of inspiration for a diverse group of modern and contemporary artists.

The exhibition will include the following artists:Sarnath Banerjee, Claudio Caldini,Francesco Clemente,Sabah HusainPrabhavathi Meppayil, Nasreen Mohamedi,Tania Mouraud, Lee Mullican, Michael Müller, Hetain Patel,Lala Rukh, Vidya SagarMohan Samant, Shahzia Sikander, Dayanita SinghMarian Zazeela

The exhibition reflects upon the ways in which something as distinct as Indian classical music is connected with the visual arts. It brings together a host of approaches, from the figurative and graphic to the abstract and performative. Drawing and the act of mark making emerge as a guiding principle within the diverse artistic approaches.

Everything we do is music is not a comprehensive show on the subject of Indian classical music, and how it has been engaged by visual artists over time. Instead it endeavours to consider a diverse group of artistic responses, and to prompt reflections on how an oral tradition like Indian classical music has come to be experienced and represented; to wonder at how artists react and respond to sound to create images that are graphic, figurative, abstract and even sublime.

In Everything we do is music, figurative approaches start with the miniature Indian paintings known as the Ragamalas (a genre emerging in the second half of the 15th century, in which an attempt is made to capture an associated mood or character of raga through a staged tableau). These continue with Mohan Samant’s vibrant drawings of musicians and Shazia Sikander's animation Disruption as RaptureSarnath Banerjee explores how Indian classical music might be represented more contemporaneously, through narrative and figuration in a newly commissioned set of drawings.

Indian classical musicians have been documented during rehearsals and on stage by numerous Indian photographers, including Dayanita Singh who has made the Tabla player Zakir Hussain the subject of her first photo book.  The maquettes she made for this book demonstrate the “rigour and restraint’ that she employs in the editing of her material, an approach she learnt from Hussain.

A more direct presentation of how artists respond to Indian classical music can be witnessed in new work by Michael Müller, made as he listens to Raga interpretations. The rhythm of the production is determined by the music itself and its relation to time, to structure and the sequence of the day. Another method is illustrated by Hetain Patel in his video Kanku Raga (2007), in which the artist assigns each stroke of the tabla drum to a different movement of marking or erasing Kanku pigment from the body. Performing each part, Patel highlights the idea of instilling cultural rhythm physically within the body through repetition.

This inquiry of personalised and performed notation is a thought-provoking one to raise in light of Indian classical music’s relationship to an oral tradition. What are the implications of creating such notational systems? Do they fix the music or do they, rather, represent a subjective experience of the melody at a particular moment, tracing that instant of exchange between artist and composition in which the artist is simultaneously listener and performer? The show will also include works that while definitively not notations of Indian classical music, evoke the improvisational tenets of the music as observed and felt in the drawings of Nasreen Mohamedi, Lala Rukh and the artisanal copper wire works of Prabhavathi MeppayilFrancesco Clemente will be represented by his ‘Evening Ragas’ series (1992) and Lee Mullican by abstract works on paper made in the late 1960s.

The impact of Indian classical music on a range of mid-century avant-garde American composers and underground art-makers will also be explored through the inclusion of concert posters by Marian Zazeela, for performances by the musician Pandit Pran Nath and the composer La Monte Young. Analogously, in 1971, the French artist Tania Mouraud created her Initiation Rooms, a series of white sensory-lit environments in which Pran Nath, Terry Riley, Young and Zazeela were invited to perform. Mourand believed that experiencing music performed in such an environment would create heightened self-awareness. These rooms will be represented in the show through drawings and models. Similar sensory explorations with Indian music preoccupied the Argentinian experimental filmmaker Claudio Caldini whose 1976 film Vadi-Samvadi will also be screened throughout the exhibition.

Everything we do is music is curated by Shanay Jhaveri, Assistant Curator, South Asia, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Recent exhibitions include Companionable Silences (Palais de Tokyo, Paris, 2013); and India: Visions from the Outside (Cultuurcentrum Brugge, Bruges, 2012).

Watch Shanay Jhaveri's Curator's View video here.

The exhibition catalogue includes essays by Saira Ansari, an independent researcher and writer living in Dubai, UAE;  Shanay Jhaveri; and by Alexander Keefe, a writer living in Los Angeles, California, specialising in Sanskrit and Indian studies. It includes 25 full colour images, artist biographies and a bibliography.

We are grateful to the R and S Nanavati Charitable Trust No. 2, Saroj Jhaveri Foundation, for their generous support of the catalogue.

Kanku Raga, (still detail), 2007

Hetain PatelKanku Raga, (still detail), 2007
Single channel video with sound