Vivan Sundaram: Iconoclast and Icon

By | Published on Apr 1, 2023 | in


Politics and poetics, ethics and aesthetics: the continual crossing of these dimensions defined the forcefield in which the multimedia oeuvre of Vivan Sundaram, which has spanned over the last 50 years. His artistic beginnings coincided with an emblematic date in the second half of the twentieth century: 1968, synonymous with the international protest movements of students, workers and civil rights activists. This was the year in which Sundaram made an important set of paintings, soon after graduating from the Slade School of Art in London. It was a moment that crystallized his conviction that an engagement with the world in all its actuality was the fundamental reason for being an artist. All his endeavors since then, in whichever medium he has explored, had focused on finding the formal means appropriate to this commitment. Sundaram described himself as a political artist and as a critical witness to his times. It is the mediation of the plastic language deployed by him that made his political stance indissociable from a poetics of making.

Vivan Sundaram received his BFA from The Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda in 1965 and his Post-Diploma from the Slade School of Fine Art, London, in 1968. Sundaram’s work has been included in countless solo and group exhibitions and international biennials including two retrospectives at the Haus der Kunst (Munich) and the Kiran Nadar Museum (New Delhi).  His work has been shown in Shanghai, Johannesburg, Kwangju, as well as within institutions such as; Tate Modern, Herning Kunstmuseum; The Queens Museum of Art, New York; Fukuoka Asian Art Museum; National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi; and Tate Modern, London. In 2008 his work was shown in “Archive Fever: Uses of the Document in Contemporary Art,” at the International Center of Photography, New York. The artist has published over fifteen books, most recently, Making Strange, Trash, Amrita Sher Gil: An Indian Artist Family of the 20th Century, Re-take of Amrita and Vivan Sundaram is not a Photographer.

Currently, Kochi Muziris Biennale (KMB 2023) is displaying Vivan Sundaram’s series of drawings in ink, The Heights of Macchu Picchu (1972), which traces the cartography of dialectical materialism, and charts the march of history from the abyss of civilisational rupture to the surge of revolutionary fury through dense and congealed lines. The series takes its name from the 1944 poem with the same name by Pablo Neruda, passages of which inspired Sundaram’s drawings.


Photo credit: Ram Rehman


Curator Deepak Ananth,

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