Sandhini Poddar on ‘Notations on Time’

Sandhini Poddar on ‘Notations on Time’

We have sat down with Sandhini Poddar, the art historian and the co-curator of  Notations on Time.

Anastasia Nysten: Can you tell us briefly about the exhibition “Notations on Time”?

Sandhini Poddar: Where and how do we ‘read’ time? On bodies, skins, landscapes, rivers, machines, stories, images, stars, and so much more. Within the exhibition at Ishara Art Foundation in Dubai, audiences are invited to adopt more than one pathway through which to explore the many artworks on view. Depending on the itinerary you choose, you may come across photographs and paintings which speak to seasonal or cyclical time, such as in the works of Indigenous artists Ladhki Devi and her son Rajesh Vangad, who are practitioners of Warli art in India. Or perhaps you may start with Sri Lankan artist Chandraguptha Thenuwara and his calendar-based sculptural piece from his Beautification series, which marks important years in Sri Lanka’s colonial past and recent political history.


This exhibition is a co-curation with my colleague Sabih Ahmed, and we have been working on developing it over the past few years. The exhibition initially existed as a ‘laboratory of time’, but we decided to move it towards a more notation form. What I mean by this is that the artworks we have chosen to include in this group exhibition are of a scale similar to diary entries or haikus—they are either more intimate than the ambitious or monumental works that many of these artists are perhaps known for, or else form parts of larger series of artworks or prolonged research initiatives. The term ‘notation’ here is akin to writing or sketching and is also related to a musical score.

Anoli Perera, Installation view of Watch Series (2020). Shown in Notations on Time at Ishara Art Foundation, 2023. Image courtesy of Ishara Art Foundation and the artist. Photo by Ismail Noor/Seeing Things.


AN: The exhibition explores the philosophical and political dimensions of time. Can you elaborate on how the artworks in the exhibition address these themes?

SP: I have already mentioned the activist practice of Chandraguptha Thenuwara, but there are several other overtly political artworks in the exhibition, such as those by Aziz Hazara, Amar Kanwar, Mariah Lookman, Raqs Media Collective, and Soumya Sankar Bose, for example. A work, which is perhaps more philosophical in nature, is Zarina’s The Ten Thousand Things III that was inspired by Marcel Duchamp’s famous work, La Boîte-en-valise (box in a suitcase), in which Duchamp included miniature replicas of his artworks in portable suitcases. For Zarina, this ability to miniaturise her output, through archiving and reformulating fragments, scraps, and otherwise discarded bits of paper, enabled her to think through the question of being in constant exile. It also gave her the ability to think over her own biography and peripatetic life as the wife of an Indian diplomat. Given her early training in mathematics, she was very interested in counting, and once told me how she was counting down towards her own death. Questions of mortality and immortality were certainly on my mind even prior to the pandemic, but became more pressing, as our very breadth came into question.

Ayesha Sultana, Installation view of Breath Count XXI, XXII, XXIII (2021). Shown in Notations on Time at Ishara Art Foundation, 2023. Image courtesy of Ishara Art Foundation and the artist. Photo by Ismail Noor/Seeing Things.


AN: The exhibition challenges western notions of linearity, progress, and capitalist domination. How do the artists in the exhibition offer alternative ontological systems for thinking about aesthetics, existence, remembrance, and futurity?

SP: This exhibition arose from a need to visualise time in non-linear terms—as three-dimensional, sculptural even, with several internal pathways linked through entranceways and exits. I have always been interested in time being multiple, archaeological, palimpsestic, given my initial training in Indian philosophy and aesthetics. I have been inspired by ancient Buddhist sites such as those at Sanchi (India) and Borobudur (Java) as well as Rajput miniature paintings and how the trope of ‘continuous narrative’ enabled painters to convey the passage of time within a single wasli folio. I also studied Hindustani classical music for over a decade and have always been interested in mythology, song, and oral traditions of storytelling.

Zarina, Detail view of The Ten Thousand Things III (2016). Shown in Notations on Time at Ishara Art Foundation, 2023. Image courtesy of Ishara Art Foundation and the artist. Photo by Ismail Noor/Seeing Things.


AN: The exhibition includes works loaned from private collections. Can you tell us about the process of acquiring these works and how they contribute to the exhibition’s overall narrative?

Several artworks on view in the exhibition have been drawn from the collection of Ishara’s founder and patron, Smita Prabhakar. We have also borrowed works from the artists courtesy of their representative galleries. In the few instances where we have borrowed works from private collections, this has been determined by seeking very particular artworks by artists we wanted in the exhibition, such as by Anoli Perera, Jangarh Singh Shyam, and Jagdish Swaminathan. In the case of Anoli Perera, she is a leading contemporary artist from Sri Lanka who belongs to the same generation of interlocuters in the country as Chandraguptha Thenuwara—neither of their practices are commonly seen in Dubai or the UAE, so this was an opportunity for us to cast the net wider. We also wanted to set up certain discussions around artists who have influenced or inspired one another across generations, such as J. Swaminathan and Jangarh Singh Shyam, Lala Rukh and Mariah Lookman, and Ladhki Devi and Rajesh Vangad.

Haroon Mirza, Detail view of Light Work xlix (2022). Shown in Notations on Time at Ishara Art Foundation, 2023. Image courtesy of Ishara Art Foundation and the artist. Photo by Ismail Noor/Seeing Things.


Notations on Time

Location: Ishara Art Foundation

Duration: January 18- May 20, 2023




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