Humour and satire sit well below the salt on the high table of art. Globally, laughter is largely unwelcome in art galleries, where sober reflection is the preferred reaction to works of art. Humour is not quite absent from the contemporary scene in India: an increasing number of Indian artists use humour and wit in their work. However, art scholars and critics rarely mull over its use and its place in contemporary art. Conceptual art, new media forms and preoccupation with politics and the woes of society take up much of the discourse.

This exhibition sets out to look at the use of humour, wit, satire and irony in contemporary Indian art. The comic strain, though less obvious and ubiquitous in the visual arts, is prevalent in our folk and tribal art–particularly, the 19th century Kalighat paintings which often caricatured the hypocrisy of the westernized middle class. 

Many contemporary artists have continued the tradition of comical satire and wit to critique society and political systems. The paintings of KG Subramanyan, Amit Ambalal and Jogen Chowdhury and the late Bhupen Khakhar expose hypocrisy and the foibles and vanities of society. You can see elements of the biting satire and playfulness of the Kalighat artists in the oeuvre of most of these artists. 

The exhibition also includes the works of younger artists like Ranbir Kaleka, Atul Dodiya, NS Harsha, Manjunath Kamath, Dhruvi Acharya, Prithpal Ladi, Dilip Ranade, and Ved Gupta. Most of them bring into play incongruous juxtapositions to provoke a humorous reaction. Unforeseen and sudden shifts in perception also induce uneasy laughter in many of the works. And more often than not the humour is subversive. Many of the artists have also drawn on black humour and satire to show the dark side of contemporary life.



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