The Center for Contemporary Art in Bedminster has, as part of its mission, a diversity policy “emphasizing its commitment to creating a safe and welcoming space where all voices and perspectives are heard and valued." Until recently exhibiting artists with last names such as Wallace, Evans, Campbell, and King dominated. The current exhibition takes things in a new direction.
Kendra – A Celebration of Work by Contemporary Indo-American Artists, on view at The Center for Contemporary Art through December 8, focuses on the work of artists from the South Asian diaspora. The artwork is bold and colorful, with images of bejeweled goddesses with almond-shaped eyes, lotuses and mandalas, designs suggestive of tapestries and carpets, references to money and greed, and abstractions.
The exhibition's title, Kendra, comes from the British/Celtic word for knowing and the Sanskrit word for center. Curated by artist Shourabh Mukherji, the title serves as a focal point for wisdom and knowing.
“Magdalena,” Acrylic on Water Color Paper, by Nohi V. Mehrotra
"The idea and concept of Kendra came about in discussions with the executive director and previous interactions with the members of the board," says Mukherji, who has served on that board for eight years, in a curator statement. "The Center is focused on expanding art and culture across communities and invites emerging as well as established artists from the region. Kendra is an initiative for artists of all genres from the South Asian diaspora to showcase their art and highlight the rich tradition of their native land through a contemporary art exhibition."
Mukherji reached out to artists who work in painting, sculpture, woodwork, handicrafts, fashion design, and filmmaking. "The objective was to bring together both traditional and modern art of South Asia. Each artist submitted their work based on the theme of Kendra."
The exhibition includes 33 artists from the Indian diaspora and Bangladesh who live in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire and California. When they attended an exhibition reception titled "Artpaloonza," they got inspiration from each other, according to Mukherji.
Nearly five percent of New Jersey's population is South Asian, more than any other state in the nation, with Indian Americans making up the largest ethnic group. Middlesex County has towns that are almost half Indian American. In Bedminster, according to the most recent Census data, 7.4 percent are Asian, with 8.3 percent counted as mixed race.
“Dream Reflections # 09,” Mixed Media/Beads on Canvas, Tejaswini (Alpana Mittal)
Many of the artists in Kendra earned their education in fields such as engineering and pharmaceuticals, and continue to practice in those areas today – Mukherji himself is a software engineer in the banking and insurance industries – though some of the artists' families did encourage their pursuits of the arts. Among the latter is mixed media artist Tejaswini (Alpana Mittal), who put together an intricate graphic work made from beads on canvas.
"In these artworks, (I have) taken a play toy for children and created very mature artwork from it," she writes about this series. "All of these artworks have been created based on (my) visions." She has named the series "Dream Reflections." The series "uses fractals with a flavor of decorative patterns used for community and religious meetings across Asia, ranging from Tibetan Mandalas to Alpna, the floor decoration art of south Asia."
In 2008, Tejaswini purchased an art kit as a Christmas gift for her daughter. Her daughter created small birds and flowers using the beads in the kit, but Tejaswini was visualizing different patterns on the canvas and realized she had found the perfect texture for her designs with these beads.
Tejaswini was exposed to art and its appreciation from early childhood. She majored in fine arts and received an M.F.A. from CCS University, India, and an arts management diploma from New York University. Her specialty is "creating artwork revolving around the modernization of traditional themes including, ancient Indian romanticism, folklores, and legends."
One of the works in Kendra that stands out for its size alone is an eight-foot painted wheel by Jayant Mazumdar and Saumitra Bagchi, both of Princeton. Mostly red, with designs in yellow and turquoise, it evokes a Pennsylvania Deutsch wheel one might see at the Barnes Foundation.
“Timeless,” Sand Coated Expanded Polystyrene Insulation, by Soumitra Bagchi and Jayant Mazumdar
Nohi Mehrotra paints abstract flowers, and her acrylic painting "Magdalena" on view in Kendra looks like a burst of confetti. The Jersey City resident is also a ceramist, yoga/meditation instructor, art therapy practitioner, and, according to her website, a "trauma-informed coach, light language activator, and energy healer – all of these expressions shape my work as an artist."
Curator Mukherji, who has also submitted his own work in Kendra, calls himself a modern Cubist, influenced by the works of Pablo Picasso, Francis Newton Souza, and M. F. Husain. He is self-taught and he aims to evoke vivid, raw, unadulterated emotions. He credits his mother, who painted watercolors, for kindling the artist within him.
He was born in India, spent part of his childhood in Russia, earned his bachelor’s degree in electronic engineering from the University of Pune, India, and has lived in New Jersey for 18 years, where he earned a postgraduate diploma in software engineering from Carnegie Mellon. Mukherji self-published “The Instant Millionaire, A Practical Guide Towards Success.”
“The Eternal Dance,” Acrylic on Canvas, by Shourabh Mukherji
“The Center for Contemporary Art in Bedminster has been my extended family and my expression in many ways,” he says.
Also on view is Counterpoint: Artists from The Arts Access Program at Matheny. The Matheny Arts Access Program empowers artists with disabilities to create art through the use of innovative systems and techniques.
Bedminster | Now until December 8 @ 5:00 pm