Jayshree Lalbhai Revving Up Kasturbhai Lalbhai Museum

| Updated: February 19, 2023 11:07 pm

Jayshree Lalbhai is planning to rev up the Kasturbhai Lalbhai Museum (KLM) this year, with a series of contemporary shows that promise to invigorate Ahmedabad’s cultural life. Chatting with VOI! at the inauguration of the exhibition “Paper: A Cross Cultural Voice,” Ms Lalbhai said the Arvind Indigo exhibition, which occupies one whole building and has been on display at KLM since 2019, will soon move to Arvind’s mill premises in Naroda, thereby freeing up space for other exhibits. “We want to have more shows now. I am not very prolific, but I do want to bring work I really like,” she said.

Jayshree Lalbhai and Anne Vilsboell

Addressing an audience of Ahmedabad’s art connoisseurs at the inauguration on Saturday, Ms Lalbhai said she was “blown away” by the work of Danish artist Anne Vilsboell, who is the curator of the exhibition, which will be open to the public from 19 February to 18 March. “This exhibition is an opportunity to show the public how versatile paper can be,” she said.

Anne Vilsboell

With works by 13 global artists, seven of whom are Indian, the “Paper: A Cross Cultural Voice” exhibition has been three years in the making. Ms Vilsboell was introduced to KLM by friend Manisha Shodhan Basu (a CEPT graduate who has done her Master’s Degree in Architecture from the Royal Danish Academy, Copenhagen). “I was very impressed with the Indigo exhibition and I got the idea that we could do a similar show of art on paper. Many Indian artists are working with paper now and it seemed a good time to bring together their work,” she says.

Work on display at the exhibition Paper: A Cross Cultural Voice

Ms Vilsboell, who has worked with paper for four decades and has been a founder-president of the International Association of Paper Makers & Artists, then approached the Danish Cultural Institute in Delhi for support for the project. The Institute gave the go-ahead, but the project was delayed by two years on account of the Covid pandemic. Meanwhile Ms Vilsboell continued to visit India (she owns a hotel-turned-artists-residence in Udaipur called Makanne), occasionally teaching at Nirma University.    

Jayshree Lalbhai and Anne Visboell

Now the exhibition is finally here, viewers will get to see some innovative work, including a wonderfully risqué piece that involves turning pages to see a royal Indian couple in a Kama Sutra-like posture of copulation. There is also a spectacular sculpture in charcoal and paper titled “Tongue” by Bangalore-based artist Shantamani Muddaiah, who studied art at MSU, Vadodara. Speaking with VO! at the inauguration, she said: “Paper making is very much alive in India, thanks to the Gandhi Ashram and Khadi Udyog. Ahmedabad has always been a centre for hand-made paper.”

Tongue by Shantamani Muddaiah

The artists featured in the exhibition all make their own paper from vegetable fibre. Ravikumar Kashi, another Bangalore-based artist who was present at the inauguration, says there is a good market for this genre. “There are very few of us in India working in this medium and most are here at this exhibition,” he said. For Ms Vilsboell, the exhibition is an opportunity to raise the status of paper in India as a means of artistic expression. “Paper history represents a country’s cultural evolution. India had a culture of hand-made paper in the 15th and 16th century, but the British killed the industry by forcing their industrial paper on the country,” she says.

Shantamani Muddaiah and Ravikumar Kashi

Built by Kasturbhai Lalbhai in Shahibag, KLM was once the residence of the Lalbhai family. The main building houses the family’s own art collection, while the other two are meant for temporary exhibitions. The complex also has an amphitheatre with a seating capacity of 250. KLM organised a soiree on its spacious lawns for the “Paper: A Cross Cultural Voice” inauguration. The event included a delightful performance by Danish composer and percussionist Birgis Lokke, who made music by folding and shredding paper. 

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